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.
Traction is so good from the 225/40 Continental SportContact tyres that the standard ESP is rarely troubled, and the Mondeo feels nimbler than its huge internal dimensions would suggest. You soon get used to letting the torque haul you out of corners rather than dropping a gear and using the revs, making the ST a convincing cross-country weapon. Only the brakes disappointed with their woolly pedal action, though our test car had covered very few miles and they should improve as they bed in.
Here’s the clincher. Ford reckons the ST will return 46.3mpg over the combined cycle. That’s 19.1mpg more than an ST220 can muster. And with CO2 emissions of 151g/km – that’s 3g/km less than the 2.0-litre – it sits 16 company car tax bands lower despite the three per cent weighting added for its lack of Euro4 compliance.
Style, space, economy, handling and huge mid-range performance. It’s even safe, with a four-star Euro NCAP rating, and front, side and curtain airbags. Still want that 318d?