Ford Mondeo history: farewell to an icon
As the last European Mondeo rolls off the production line in Spain, we chart the highs and lows of Ford’s family model during its three-decade lifespan
Corsair, Consul, Cortina, Sierra, Mondeo. The names have come and gone, but a big family saloon, hatchback or estate has been a constant in Ford’s line-up. But as you read this, the final European Mondeo is rolling off the line, bringing down the curtain on six decades of cars that are part of the automotive fabric of British motoring.
It’s a big moment, but the Mondeo was the victim of changing tastes. In 2001, Ford shifted more than 86,000 Mondeos in the UK; in 2020 that slumped to just 2,400.
The Valencia plant, where the final Mondeo will be built, will switch to sate growing demand for the 2.5-litre hybrid engine that powers the Kuga, and somewhat ironically, the Galaxy and S-Max that shared so much DNA with the Mondeo.
Like its predecessors, the Mondeo was the sensible, affordable car for the average motorist. But unlike the Sierra before it, the Mondeo was immediately hailed a critical and commercial success at its 1993 launch; it should’ve been, too, with Ford said to have spent £3billion on engineering three bodystyles, five trim levels and a new range of engines. In fact, the only thing familiar to anyone trading up from a Sierra would’ve been broadly similar dimensions and the Blue Oval on the nose. The investment clearly meant the world to Ford, the clue being in the name. Mondeo translates from the international language of Esperanto as ‘world’.
Despite the car marking a shift to front-wheel drive, engineering maestro Richard Parry-Jones and technical consultant Jackie Stewart were adamant their pursuit of class-leading dynamics would not be sacrificed on cost-cutting grounds. Their goal of balancing suppleness with sportiness was perhaps best illustrated by the Mondeo’s 1994 European Car of the Year win, when it edged the wafting Citroen Xantia and the upmarket Mk1 Mercedes C-Class.
Ford’s ‘race on Sunday, sell on Monday’ philosophy was retained. New Zealand’s Paul Radisich made the Mondeo a race winner in the 1993 British Touring Car Championship, and claimed third place in the championship behind the BMW pairing of Joachim Winkelhock and Steve Soper.
After three years, Ford rang the changes and delivered a set of revisions so extensive that some thought it was a new car. Ride, handling, efficiency and safety credentials were all improved, while new V6-powered ST24 and ST200 models – the sportiest Mondeos yet – were introduced.
But it wasn’t a technical or marketing development that sealed the Mondeo in the public’s consciousness, rather it was a politician. Mondeo Man was popularised by Tony Blair in 1996, as a term to characterise the upwardly mobile classes he needed to win back. A year later, his party did precisely that in the 1997 General Election.
Buoyed by the technical and commercial success of 1998’s Ford Focus, the Mk2 Mondeo was launched in 2000 with a modern new look, more equipment and prices that were generally lower than before, despite an increase in the standard equipment. It was the first European Ford to be designed using computer simulations to ensure bulky luggage could be carried with ease, while larger doors and a longer wheelbase meant it was easier to live with.
It also spawned the ST220, which remains the most potent Mondeo of all. Alongside the Focus ST170, it ushered in the sporty ST brand that’s still used today. A silky 3.0-litre engine ensured a sub-seven-second 0-62mph time, while a luxurious interior coupled with a firm yet comfortable ride transformed the car into a brilliant high-speed cruiser.
In 2005, the Mondeo had a comparatively subtle mid-life facelift, which included the introduction of the now-familiar Titanium trim as a permanent fixture, while the new ST TDCi, blended much of the ST220’s focus with far more palatable running costs than the thirsty V6.
It became a popular model. It didn’t last long, though, because a year later the third-generation Mondeo was shown at the 2006 Paris Motor Show. Launched a year later, it borrowed heavily from the 2005 Iosis concept and design chief Martin Smith called it “emotional” and “expressive”. Auto Express said it had “rewritten the rules on size, quality and road manners in the competitive family car sector” when it was named 2007 Car of the Year.
It was scaled up to run along the same production line as the Galaxy and S-Max, meaning it was the biggest Mondeo yet. With new infotainment and punchy yet frugal Duratorq TDCi diesel and Duratec petrol engines, it remains the high water mark for the nameplate.
The final Mondeo to be sold in Europe had a laboured birth. Launched in the US as the Fusion in 2012, it took two years to come to Europe. When it did, it was a disappointment; it lacked the dynamic sparkle of its forebears, while the quality didn’t feel quite as strong as was hoped. But by then, the writing was on the wall.
The market for large family cars was in decline. While rumours about the death of the Mondeo as we know it had been circulating for some time, the news was made official in March 2021, a year to the month before the final model would roll off the Valencia production line.
Mondeo Mk1 (1993)
Genesis. The original Mondeo represented a seismic leap over the ageing Sierra, and Ford knew it. It set the die for all future Fords with an unerring focus on dynamics: out went the Sierra’s live rear axle, and in its place came a multi-link rear suspension set-up.
Hatchback, saloon and estate models were introduced from January 1993, as were new petrol and diesel engines, while in 1994 a 2.5-litre V6 engine was launched with engineering input from Porsche. Trims ran from Base to fleet-favourite LX and GLX, and on to the plush Ghia and sporty Si.
1993 TOCA Shootout
Billed as “the British motorsport event of the year”, the TOCA Shootout was a one-off event at Donington Park that ran alongside the 1993 BTCC season. But all eyes were on reigning F1 world champ Nigel Mansell, driving a Mk1 Mondeo Si. Mansell was running well, but pushed too hard through the Old Hairpin.
Trying to regain control, he was unavoidably tapped by Tiff Needell, forcing him hard into the bridge. The race was stopped, and Nigel was taken to hospital, but almost 30 years later, it remains one of the defining moments of BTCC history.
There hadn’t been a fast, large Ford since the Sierra Sapphire Cosworth 4x4 launched in 1990, but the Mondeo ST24 emerged to fill the void. Based on the facelifted Mk1, the ST24 packed a 170bhp V6 with, as its name suggests, 24 valves.
Like all good performance Fords, it wore an extrovert bodykit and smart alloys. A 0-62mph time of eight seconds appealed as much as a 148mph top speed. The ST200 was an evolution of the ’24, offering 202bhp, firmer suspension and a limited range of colours. Both are now rare sights, with less than 500 thought to be on the road.
The Mondeo had been part of the BTCC since 1993, but it took seven years to take the driver and team titles. Ford men Alain Menu, Antony Reid and Rickard Rydell claimed 11 out of 24 victories that year, ensuring they finished first, second and third in the championship. The dominant performances marked a swansong for the iconic Super Touring regulations, which were ditched for the 2001 season, a decision that disappointed fans.
There were lots of excellent, affordable and fast hatches in the early noughties, so when Auto Express assembled the new ST220 with the MG ZT+ 190, Vauxhall Vectra GSi and Honda Accord Type R, readers eagerly awaited the results.
The Mondeo blitzed them all, blending composure on the road with a premium-feeling interior, its classic Recaro seats and a big boot. Power and performance were very similar to the Sierra RS Cosworth, but in a discreet package. It was a great all-rounder, yet the diesel version was more popular.
Not only did the 2005 Iosis concept showcase Ford’s latest ‘Kinetic Design’ language, but in the following years morphed into the Mk3 Mondeo. Squint a bit, ignore the butterfly doors and sleek, almost Aston Martin Rapide-like profile, and the connection is clear to see.
The Iosis’s sloping centre console was refined for production, even if the 50p coin-shaped steering wheel didn’t. Against the tautly styled production car, the Iosis looks bloated from some angles, even if many of those rakish looks made it onto the nation’s driveways.
It didn’t matter one bit that an Aston Martin DBS was James Bond’s daily driver in the reboot of Casino Royale; all eyes were on the then-new Mk3 Mondeo for Daniel Craig’s first outing as 007.
It wasn’t the first time Bond had been behind the wheel of a Ford, but the global headlines it generated were unprecedented. Ford knew it, and the car featured in the film was understood to be a pre-production model flown to the Bahamas specifically for filming. At last, real drivers could get a taste of life as a globetrotting spy.
Car of the Year (2007)
The Mk3 Mondeo wasn’t just a hit with James Bond. Auto Express named it Car of the Year for 2007, saying it was “Ford’s finest ever car”. Even today, its quality and all-round ability impress. They should do, too, because Ford’s plant in Genk, Belgium benefitted from a 715m Euro investment to build the Mondeo alongside the Galaxy and S-Max.
The new car offered exceptional dynamics, vast interior space and an engine line-up that ran from a 1.6-litre to a 2.5-litre V6, plus smooth yet frugal diesels. Perhaps above all, it was a stylish model that, in higher-spec trims, was a credible rival to far more premium models.
Where do you go if so many buyers choose your top-end trims? That was the question on the lips of Ford’s execs nearly a decade ago. The answer was give them more. Like Ghia, Vignale was a successful coachbuilder whose name was acquired by Ford.
Vignale Mondeos wanted for little; handcrafted trim, quilted leather and soft-touch dash panels were part of the package, as was a near-£5,000 premium over Titanium cars. A VIP concierge service was core to the offering, but it never took off, so Vignale became just another top-spec trim.
Will the Mk5 Mondeo be its swansong? Unlike in Europe, there’s a big market for large saloons and hatchbacks in China, so it’s possible the badge could last another three decades. Information about the new car is scarce, but its striking design has a boldly styled front and rear, and some complex surfacing in profile.
Power is likely to come from 1.5 and 2.0-litre petrol engines, and the full-width digital dashboard from the Chinese-market Ford Evos electric SUV is also possible. Will it offer the same dynamic excellence as its predecessors? Time will tell.
Will you miss the Mondeo? Let us know in the comments...