From £17,850
Ford's traditional favourite takes big steps forward on class, space, quality and comfort

What is it?

One of the most important new cars of this, or any other year, this is the all new Ford Mondeo.

Ford replaced Sierra with Mondeo in 1993, and since then this car has become an institution to motorists in the UK. Few will need reminding, but before the Ford Focus began its domination of the British registration charts, the Mondeo was our most popular new car. Despite the fact that the market for this size of family car is shrinking, Ford estimates that there are still around four million potential customers for this new saloon. In Ford of Europe CEO John Fleming's own words, there is no Ford product more important.

Our first taste of the car comes in a close-to-top spec left-hand drive 138bhp diesel model. At launch this July there will be three less powerful oil-burners below this in the range, as well as four petrol powerplants to choose from. This, however, is likely to be one of the biggest sellers, and if you've got a fleet car of its size to replace this year, it's sure to be the one you're most interested in.

What's it like?

It's big; that's what'll strike you hardest when you first clap eyes on the new Mondy. At 4778mm in length, it's 47mm longer than the last one, and a generous 74mm wider too. This is the five-door hatchback version; both the four-door saloon and the five-door estate, which launch at the same time as the hatch, are longer still. And inside, it feels that bit bigger too, particularly in the back, where there's now more than enough space for most adults to find comfort.

It's also bold. The Mondeo follows the S-Max, Galaxy and recently-facelifted C-Max in the adoption of Martin Smith's 'kinetic design' language, although in many ways it feels like the prime example of Ford's new look because it's so much like the Iosis concept that ushered in the new styling philosophy. Where uncomplicated straight lines characterised the last Mondeo, delicately cut chrome trim, tapered headlights, sharply-creased, shrink-wrapped panelling and a large trapezoidal grille distinguish this new one. It looks upmarket and much more buxomly attractive than its immediate forebear, and in a way that seems to reference the first two Mondeo generations much more effectively.

Making this car that bit more easy to want has evidently featured highly among Ford's priorities, because the equipment list is now more impressive too. You can dress this Mondeo up to come with keyless operation, a new trip computer, adaptive cruise control, adaptive dampers, tyre pressure monitors, a capless refuelling system that stops you putting the wrong fuel in it, and an auxiliary audio input in the glove box for your iPod.

However, you could have learned as much on the Geneva motor show stand; so how does it drive? Well, fans of the agile, supple, fuss-free way in which Mondeos have hitherto conducted themselves will recognise many of the same dynamic qualities in this new one. In many ways, this Mondeo is easier to thread down through the corners than the last; its steering is better weighted, it's more precise too, and unlike many of its competitors, it's not lacking in feedback.

However, there has been a bit of a shift in handling character with this car, brought about partly because of the increase in size. When the road begins to really buck and twist, this car is slightly less nimble, that little bit less quick to change direction, than the last. As pay off, the driver of this new Mondeo gets much better refinement. Both wind and road noise are much better suppressed, high-speed ride quality is excellent (especially with the adaptive dampers in comfort mode), and motorway stability close-to-unflappable.

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He just doesn't quite get the same fleetness-of-foot than he did in years gone by and, even with this top-level diesel, he doesn't quite get the kind of thrust that makes overtaking a worry-free enterprise either. The engine is quiet and vibration free, but it delivers only average performance.

Should I buy one?

If you mean "should my boss buy one for me," the answer's a resounding yes. As a working car, this Mondeo is streets ahead of the last. It's more spacious, more refined, more comfortable, better equipped – everything you'd want of a car to spend serious time in.

But should you buy one with your own money? Well, there are now far fewer good reasons not to. Lower volumes, better quality and that extra dose of desirability are likely to keep residual values on this version of the Blue Oval's big family car stronger than they ever have been.

Although it's not quite the athlete it once was, this new Mondeo sets a new class standard for space, comfort, refinement and a lot else besides. It's now up to the competition – Vauxhall, Peugeot-Citroen, Toyota et al – to respond with a middleweight family car this classy. That's because this car really does bear comparison with pseudo-premium options like the Honda Accord and VW Passat; in some respects, it surpasses even them.

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