The revolution is over. With help from the Chancellor’s deputies – fuel and company car taxation – diesel’s aggressive coup has been a success. Even the most committed petrol drinkers – luxury saloons, chic coupés and hot hatches – have reformed their ways and are now available with diesels under the bonnet.
But until now there has been a small pocket of resistance. While the family saloon is a staunch supporter of the new regime, its more sporting brethren have preferred turbocharged 2.0-litre and V6 petrol engines to the torquey diesel option. The BMW 330d Sport provides a compact sports saloon that delivers real verve from its derv, but at over £30,000 it’s an expensive experience. Only Vauxhall’s 150bhp Vectra 1.9 CDTi SRi has attempted to bring a sporty diesel family car to a wider audience.
So the new 153bhp Mondeo ST TDCi could be viewed as a knee-jerk reaction to the Vectra, its old adversary. But it’s really much more. For a start, there’s significantly more punch from the revised Duratorq common-rail turbodiesel, enlarged from 2.0 to 2.2 litres to provide 295lb ft of torque to the Vauxhall’s 232lb ft. It’s wearing the right clothes, too. The deep front and rear bumpers, flared wheelarches, side skirts, spoiler and 16-spoke 18-inch Ronal alloy wheels are lifted straight from the ST220’s wardrobe. The suspension, too, comes from the ST, which means it’s lowered and stiffened in an attempt to give Ford’s family favourite the muscle and credibility to punch its way into the premium diesel market, dominated by BMW’s 320d.
On paper the Mondeo has a lengthy head start. With half-leather trim, heated seats, six-CD in-dash autochanger, cruise and climate control and automatic headlights and wipers, it’s better equipped than even the £26,175 320d Sport, yet its £21,830 price is just £205 over that of a basic 318d. Then there’s the performance. With 153bhp and 266lb ft of torque, rising to 295lb ft at just 1800rpm on overboost, the Mondeo’s 8.7sec 0-62mph sprint and 137mph top speed shame the 318d.
But surely the BMW is a better drive? Well, it definitely has a better driving position. Even on the lowest setting the Mondeo’s (supremely comfortable) sports seats leave the driver perched too high, and the gearlever is a real stretch away. The cabin’s soft-touch dash top and overall solidity gives a quality feel. But it’s let down by some cheap details and dated ergonomics, such as a stereo that’s positioned at the base of the centre console, making it hard to see and easy to turn off every time you select third gear.
Despite the figures, Ford’s most powerful diesel doesn’t feel particularly fast off the line. There’s none of the wheelspinning punch of, say, a Skoda Fabia vRS and though the Durashift six-speed ’box is positive, it is marred by a springy and abrupt clutch. But the 2.0-litre TDCi isn’t Britain’s best-selling diesel for nothing, and in 2.2-litre form it’s even better. There’s usable power throughout the rev range, pulling from under 1500rpm and revving willingly to the 4500rpm red line. In-gear performance is massive, and there’s a perverse pleasure in leaving Jaguar S-types floundering in your wake on the motorway as the torque kicks in.
Refinement, however, is not this engine’s strength. Fire up and there’s a diesel clatter – though it soon settles — and over 3000rpm things start to get rough and noisy. There’s none of the smooth and sporty edge of BMW’s twin-cam diesels, and when you lift off engine braking is uneven. This is less of an issue in a car with such a sporting focus, but this motor is also to be offered in the luxury-oriented Ghia X.Fans of previous performance Fords will be glad to know that the Blue Oval’s chassis engineers have created another gem with this ST. It steers beautifully, the rack is well-weighted and responsive with 2.75 turns lock-to-lock and no wrestling is required when all that torque feeds through the front wheels. Body control is excellent and the ride, though firm, is well damped and never crashy, only getting slightly fidgety on the motorway.