It was 17 years ago when Ford of Europe hit rock bottom with the universally derided 1990 Escort. Three years later it pulled off the first Mondeo, which won it back a lot of praise, and in 1998 found success again with the Focus.

It might be argued that Ford was then a little becalmed with the second Mondeo, the long-delayed C-Max and the rather tepid current Fiesta. It's now burst back out of the traps, and back onto top form, with the ground-breaking S-Max MPV.

In the first seven months of this year, the S-Max came very close to outselling the Renault Espace by 2-to-1 in Europe. What's more, Ford dealers ­ including those how have spoken to Autocar directly, say that the S-Max is enticing Audi, BMW and Merc owners.

Renault, hitherto king of the MPV,­ is not too pleased. The new Espace isn't due for two years, and there has to be some doubt as to whether it can match the manners, styling and packaging of the Ford.

Respect for Ford's European engineering team is now such that the Blue Oval is said to be in talks with BMW over a city car project. And in the future Ford of Europe's engineering will be used to form the basis of much of Ford's global model line-up. The Focus and Mondeo familes will be re-packaged and rolled out across North America and beyond. There are many who are tipping the new Mondeo to scoop the prestigious European Car of the Year Award for 2008. Ford of Europe, it seems, has never had it better.

It's 17 years since the 'Dagenham Dustbin' Escort, and 13 years since the first Mondeo. That shows how long and demanding the road is to take a brand from junk bond status, to mainstream respect and then to global acclaim.

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