Ford has announced that its Mondeo will die in 2022 and not be directly replaced. It’s not the biggest surprise in the world as it’s seen its sales sharply decline in Europe in recent years. Yet it still marks a watershed, as the Mondeo came to have cultural and political meaning as, in the UK at least, a marker of ‘Middle England.’ But times have since changed. Join us for a close look into the Mondeo story:
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The Ford Mondeo began its life in 1993, when it was launched as the replacement for the Blue Oval's ageing Sierra. It was billed as the first 'car for the world', with Ford hoping the model would gain the same affinity with the public as the iconic Model T.
The chief engineer on the project was Richard Parry-Jones and at its press launch in Belgium he waxed eloquently about his new creation, Ford’s first true global car and one that really revived Ford’s “Fun to Drive” mantra. Coming just three years after the deeply mediocre Escort Mk5, we were sceptical.
American innovations, like the inclusion of a driver's airbag, were brought over for the European version of the Mondeo, which was to be offered in three body styles. Buyers could also pick from one of five trim levels: Base, LX, GLX, Ghia and Si. Initially, the Mondeo was offered with three petrol engines, including a 1.6-litre, a 1.8-litre and a 2.0-litre unit. The 1.6-litre unit had 104bhp which allowed for a 0-60mph time of 12.5sec, while the 1.8-litre had 114bhp and a 0-60 time of less than 10 seconds.
The 2.0-litre engine offered up 134bhp, which allowed the Mondeo to sprint from 0-60mph time of 9.6sec. The Mondeo shared little with the Sierra that preceded it. For one thing, rare in that day as well now, the Mondeo was shorter - by 50mm - than its predecessor the Sierra, making it more suitable for British parking spots.
On the road
Sceptical we may have been, but all doubt was banished when we got behind the wheel. The Mondeo was absolutely smashing to drive with a poised, supple chassis that was a complete gamechanger versus rivals like the Vauxhall Cavalier. Ford had learned its lesson from the Escort Mk5 and it had a hit on its hands.
It won the Car of the Year award from our sister title What Car? for 1993, and as you can see here, won its class by a mile when we tested it too. It won the official Car of the Year prize in 1994, the same year saw Ford put its V6 petrol variant of the Mondeo into production.
As the name suggests, the Mondeo was very much an attempt by Ford to create a car that would sell successfully in all the major global car markets. Ford like its GM counterpart had long struggled with the fundamental differences between the European and North American car markets, with the former’s emphasis on smaller, economical cars as opposed to the latter’s preference for larger, more powerful cars, spurred on by the space and cheap petrol on offer in America.
Thus the Mondeo arrived for the 1995 model year as the Ford Contour (pictured) and Mercury Mystique twins. Alas those differences wouldn’t go away and they were a dud in America, deemed too small for their target market. Sales for the Mondeo in Europe were, conversely, very strong.
Three and a half years into production, the Mondeo received a facelift that brought around changes inside and out, some people naming it as the ‘Dame Edna’ update in homage to that television comedy character’s famous spectacles. The new Mondeo shed up to 18kg from the previous model, improving performance and economy.
In the UK the Mk2 Mondeo had a base price of £12,395 for the 1.6-litre Aspen version, rising to £20,850 for the V6 Ghia X. With improvements made to the ride, handling and engine, the Mondeo stayed ahead of its competitors.
In 1997 a new sporty V6 variant, the ST-24, was introduced. Featuring a 2.5-litre 168bhp V6, it launched the ST-24 from 0-62mph in 8.0sec and onto a top speed of 148mph. This car was Ford's first ever ST-badged car, thus starting a new nameplate that would become as famous as its XR forebears in the ‘80s.
That same year, the term ‘Mondeo man’ came into being. Originally termed ‘Sierra man’ in a speech by aspiring prime minister Tony Blair in 1996, it was coined for the sort of aspirational middle-income voter that his Labour Party needed to win over to win elections. The media renamed it ‘Mondeo man’, and the New Labour message clearly got through as the party won the general election in a landslide in May 1997.
The next ST variant, the ST200, was introduced in 1999. The car was named after the engine output of its 2.5-litre V6 engine (although the engine actually produced 202bhp), and was sold with Recaro seats and sports suspension. Police across Europe quickly started using the ST200 as a pursuit car.
The millennium brought with it an all-new Mondeo, which came with a big incentive for buyers as over £800 of previously paid-for equipment was added to the standard model. The car was notably longer, too, increasing in length by almost two inches compared to the second generation car. The seats were also raised, which made for improved all-round visibility. There was a greater emphasis on safety, and the car remained a good drive.
All this kept the model humming along in the sales charts, with a cool 86,500 examples being sold in the UK in 2001. But some writing was already being written on the wall; Ford had already had to retreat from the executive class above as buyers embraced the posher badges of mainly German rivals. If this trend was to continue to smaller cars, then Mondeo and its everyman blue oval badge faced the same threat.
In 2002 along came the introduction of Ford's ST220. With 226bhp from a newly developed 3.0-litre V6 engine, the 0-62mph sprint was dispensed in 6.6sec. The ST220's top speed was also an impressive 155mph. Despite the power, the ST220 managed 27.7mpg on a combined cycle.
At £21,745, the ST220 came with Recaro heated leather seats and more aggressively styled bodywork. But it was still a practical car to use every day and to live with.
Facelift & ST TDCi
The 10th anniversary of the Mondeo saw another new model of the car, one that had come some way from the original. Updates to the new model included a re-profiled bumper, trapezium shaped fog lamps, larger mirrors and puddle lamps that shone on the ground.
The Smart Charge Injection Duratec engine further improved fuel economy and was Ford's first direct-injection petrol engine. The Durashift 6-speed manual transmission was used on higher powered Mondeo specs whilst an automatic paddle-shift option was also available. A warm 152bhp diesel variant, the Mondeo ST TDCi (pictured) arrived in 2004, sold in the UK only. 2005 marked ‘peak Mondeo’ – there were just under 900,000 or so examples in total on UK roads that year.
The Mondeo Mk3 was first introduced to the world in a brief sequence in Casino Royale, the 2006 James Bond film that saw a first outing for actor Daniel Craig. The film was something of a triumph of product placement for Ford’s soon-to-be-dismantled global empire, with virtually every other scene seeming to feature Jaguars, Land Rovers, Volvos and Aston Martins, all owned by Ford at the time.
And the Mk3 itself reflected that empire, being built on a new platform called EUCD that would also find its way into cars like the Volvo S80 and V70, and the Land Rover Freelander 2.
The new car had to raise its game against premium-badged rivals like the BMW 3 Series, and indeed the car had a much improved interior (pictured). Drive-wise, the Mk3 remained a very engaging one.
And indeed, when we tested it against the BMW 3 Series E90 in June 2007, we reckoned it was a better steer than the German car, which was clearly a major triumph for the Ford. However our cover-line plea to ‘forget the badge’ would fall on deaf ears. Truth be told, the average driver would not register the fact that the Mondeo was better to drive; but the average driver very much understood that the BMW badge had greater cachet than the blue oval. The 3 Series began outselling the Mondeo in the UK as early as 2005.
Another development that would cause trouble for the Mondeo was the launch of the Nissan Qashqai in 2007. This car led to an explosion of interest in - and sales of - family-friendly crossover SUVs. Before too long, people wanting a large family car ended up buying one of these instead.
Mondeo Mk3 Titanium X Sport
Ford was not about to sit around and allow the likes of BMW and Nissan to eat its lunch, so responded in 2010 with a new trimline called Titanium X Sport, models which were loaded down with premium car features like adaptive cruise control, ventilated seats and powered tail hatches.
The Mondeo Mk4 was unveiled at a glitzy Ford corporate event in Amsterdam in September 2012. It brought modernised styling and a new interior. However, the new model was to be heavily delayed. The Mondeo’s previous production base in Genk, Belgium, was closed down, and it took much longer than planned for production to begin at the model’s new production home in Valencia, Spain. This meant we didn’t actually get to do our first drive review of the Mk4 until 2014.
Mondeo Mk4 v BMW 3 Series
The Mk4 was larger than ever; the hatch version was now 4869mm long. And that size reflected the fact that the Mk4 was designed and engineered in America, the first time that happened for the Mondeo; it would be badged Fusion in that market.
The American input predictably did little for the car’s dynamics; in our roadtest in January 2015 we reported that it was less engaging to drive than before. And we didn’t think much of the interior nor the multimedia system – neither of which we thought would keep buyers away from premium rivals like the BMW 3 Series (pictured left).
End of the road
And indeed it did not. Changing dynamics in the car finance markets did not help either. Personal Contract Purchase (PCP) became the norm for making a new car purchase in many places including the UK during the 2010s; PCP is a type of finance that essentially means paying for the depreciation in value of the car rather than the car itself.
Since cars from premium brands like BMW depreciate slower than mainstream ones like Ford, the former became much more affordable in comparison, with greater badge status, driving dynamics (usually) and posher interiors into the bargain. And if that wasn’t enough, then the Mondeo had the rise of the SUV and crossover class to deal with at the same time. Either challenge would have proved tricky; both proved fatal for the Mondeo.
Ford’s success with the Mondeo may have laid the groundwork for its demise. It became ubiquitous, omnipresent, deeply mainstream. If you wanted to stand out like you did with your clothes, your makeup, your jewellery, your tattoo, the Mondeo wasn’t for you. And while the 3 Series is now as ubiquitous as the Mondeo once was, the blue-and-white roundel seems to save it from the same fate.
Just 2400 new Mondeos found a home in the UK in 2020 – admittedly a nightmare year all round – against 86,500 in 2001. On 25 March 2021, Ford announced the end of the Mondeo. Production will continue until the end of March 2022 when the name itself will die, with the car not quite making it to its 30th birthday. It will not be directly replaced. When traditional buyers like police forces – not to mention ‘everyman’ himself – drive BMWs instead of a Mondeo, what is the point of it? But we must in the final analysis salute the car, for it proved for a long time that the most popular could also in many ways also be the best.