The new Ford Mondeo is bigger, bolder and even more enjoyable to drive than its predecessor
It's bigger, bolder and even more enjoyable to drive. But is the new Mondeo better than its predecessor? In terms of its engineering and chassis design, the answer is a resounding yes. Yet much more than that, it offers a clear sign that there is still a place for large family cars. While this saloon may not be as practical as other models in the range, it's a measure of the Mondeo's strength in depth that it still gets a maximum rating.
It's no secret that large family cars are under fire in the UK sales charts - and saloons are taking the biggest hit of all. Many drivers are downsizing or looking to MPVs, SUVs or 4x4s as an alternative.
But the Ford Mondeo is showing there's still a future for the traditional models. In Issue 958, we raved about the all-new version, praising its great driving experience, quality and cabin space. Quite simply, we concluded, it's a fine return to form and the best car in its class.
That was the hatchback, though. The saloon driven here looks likely to have a far tougher time - not least because UK buyers prefer five-doors (Ford estimates that the four-door will account for only four per cent of Mondeo sales). But while it's not the most practical car in the range, the booted model has plenty going for it.
For starters, it's good looking. The tail is neat, the bootlid short and the overall shape is sleek and cohesive. Driven here in Ghia trim, it features a simple three-bar grille, too, rather than the fussy mesh chrome finishes of the top-spec Titanium X versions.
Measuring 4,844mm, the saloon is 66mm longer than the hatchback, and when you open the boot, you'll marvel at the space inside. At 550 litres, it's even bigger than the five-door's and can swallow huge loads. And although it lacks the latter's versatility, seats that split 60/40 make the most of the considerable room available.
Inside, there's no more cabin space than in the hatchback, but that's no problem. Thanks to the new Mondeo's dimensions - the saloon is about the same size as BMW's 5-Series - even adults should find the rear seats provide a generous amount of room.
Drivers won't be as grateful when it comes to parking. That high bootlid makes reversing tricky and, at £400, radar assistance is a pricey option. Mind you, in Ghia trim there's plenty of equipment, with climate control, a six-CD changer and auto wipers and headlights as standard. Bluetooth is a worthwhile £150 option.
Up front, the highly adjustable driving position is first class. Ford's new Human Machine Interface system, with its dash-mounted display and steering wheel controls for the stereo and trip computer, is easy to use, too.
Material quality and seat comfort are impressive, and the only negative point of our car was the centre console's unconvincing plastic 'wood' trim - Titanium X models get a better-looking metal-effect finish.
Hit the road and the Mondeo shows off its trump card. Featuring updated front suspension with a new multi-link rear layout, it rides brilliantly, displays excellent body control and corners with agility and real poise. Our car was fitted with the £500 optional Sport pack - which includes 18-inch alloy wheels, a lower ride height and stiffened suspension - but lacked the clever adaptive dampers of more expensive versions. It's a clear sign that Ford has got the Mondeo's basic ride/handling compromise spot-on.
The engine also deserves praise. The 138bhp 2.0-litre TDCi diesel provides plenty of pace with supreme refinement at all times. Thanks to an extra 20Nm of torque under overboost conditions - taking the peak output to 340Nm - there's lots of urge for overtaking, while a well spaced six-speed gearbox makes for relaxed motorway cruising. The only disappointment is the price. The saloon costs no more than the hatch, but at £19,645 for our Ghia-spec model, it looks expensive - particularly when you consider that the four-door won't hold its value as well as the hatchback.
However, it's a fantastic family car - and one which proves traditional large models still have their place.