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Car reviews - Ford - Mondeo - Zetec 5-dr wagon

Our Opinion

We like
Driving experience, cabin refinement, space, wagon practicality, 2.3L/auto’s smoothness, high equipment levels, solidity, premium look and feel, overall design
Room for improvement
No rear vent outlets, no rear cupholders, fuel consumption only marginally better than local 6s, windscreen reflection, electronic dash display’s lack of a digital speedo, lack of mid-range oomph, limited rear vision

24 Nov 2009

YOU could say it was a case of the tail ‘wagon’ the dog.

Up until about a decade ago, any mainstream manufacturer’s line-up would have seemed woefully incomplete without a medium-sized wagon to shake at local buyers.

In just a dozen years from 1985 consumers could choose mid-sized load-lugger breeds with names like Sigma, Bluebird, Corona, Camira, Camry, 626, Apollo (remember that?), Liberty and Mondeo.

Even Honda got into the act for a while with its American Accord Aerodeck.

In fact, so important was this market that Nissan and Mitsubishi actually designed and engineered a couple of wagon versions of their respective sedan-only overseas models in Australia, for Australian appetites.

This explains why you never see Magna, Verada, Pintara and Skyline wagons in Burkina Faso or Kyrgyzstan.

But that’s ancient history because the wheels fell off midsized wagon sales dramatically as the newfangled SUVs stepped in like River Dancers to stomp them almost completely out of existence in the mid-1990s. Wagons became about as fashionable as Culture Club.

Which is a tragedy because a midsized wagon generally lords it over a compact SUV for a. space, b. economy, c. driveability and now d. exclusivity.

Now, as a new decade dawns consumers seem to be becoming nervous about the latter’s shortcomings, particularly in these times of economic and environmental frugality.

That’s right. The tables are turning again and suddenly don’t you look so last year in your Honda CR-V – leaving just the Mazda Mazda6, Subaru Liberty and Ford Mondeo placed to reap the reinvention of cool, wagon style.

And before we get angry emails from Skoda Octavia, Volvo V50, VW Passat, Alfa 159, Citroen C5, Peugeot 407, Renault Laguna or Saab 9-3 ‘Estate’ owners, remember your cars are either not proper midsizers or far too posh for the prollies we’re talking to here … and either way you paid too much as a result.

As the latest Mondeo wagon ably demonstrates.

Here it is, in up-spec $37,990 Zetec 2.3-litre petrol guise (until the TDCi diesel and Titanium versions arrive, we presume), oozing confidence and proving that finally you – yummy mummies, delicious daddies and alt lifestyle lovelies of the world – can have it all (mostly).

Well, you can’t have seven seats actually – but then you can’t in most compact SUVs either and the one or two that do are generally third-row torture chambers.

Instead, the Mondeo’s large rear door rises high to reveal a fabulously low loading lip and a vast floor area that comprehensively gazumps the rather fine Holden Omega Sportwagon’s efforts.

Actually it could even be lower but for the space-saver spare wheel residing underneath, set within an area that could also serve as hiding pockets for small but valuable objects.

So it is a proper boxy load lugger back there then, with 542 litres to play with, myriad tie-down hooks, a 12-volt outlet, a sturdy retractable cargo blind, a trio of child seat latch points and, of course, the mandatory split fold rear seats that unleash 1733 litres of space.

Initially we had hoped for a Mazda6-style handle to automatically flip the backrests down from the tailgate, but then we realised that the Ford requires the seat base to be tilted forward first to make the most of the low flat floor on offer, so we are satisfied with how the Mondeo wagon is as a result.

Staying with the rear seats, proper large-car width accommodates three adults back there. The outboard pews are really comfortable, with a nicely reclined and high-set backrest that you can sink into.

An armrest for both elbows, overhead as well as door grab handles, front-seat map pockets, door bins, and another 12V outlet are all present to make life as pleasant as possible.

However, the windows do not go down all the way, there are no rear cupholders (hello, Ford McFly, what century is this?), and that overwhelmingly black trim ambience (broken up only by the Zetec’s ‘80s dot pattern favoured by a certain former Victorian female premier) does no favours for people in warmer conditions.

Exacerbating the latter is the lack of rear air vents, and this would be a serious drawback if not for the powerful air-con outlets up front that are able to just service passengers out back but note that this comes at the cost of too much fan noise on hotter days. Fix this please, Ford of Europe: Aussies require rear-seat vent outlets.

What a pity because this Euro-visionary wagon would have scored pretty much the full douze point otherwise – even the centre seat is tolerable for a non-obese adult. Ford has ensured that plenty of headroom and vast legroom loom large in this car’s curriculum vitae.

And that’s before you get to the front seat area, which also offers all the space and adjustment you’d expect in a Commodore or Falcon. That’s the German engineering talking here.

Knowing that many of you prefer to sit up high SUV-style these days, we asked a 150cm friend to sit in the driver’s seat, and then using the electrical height adjuster, elevate herself to the point where she felt comfy enough to have sufficient vision out ahead, as well as high enough to almost rub shoulders with some SUVs – thus eliminating one of the wagon’s biggest drawbacks for people used to lofty perches.

The Mondeo dashboard is a sturdy piece of design, dominated by rubbery soft-feel surfaces up top, liberal splashings of chintzy silver finishes in the centre console area, and an instrumentation cluster that is glitzier than Piccadilly Circus on Christmas Eve.

Bookended by an analogue speedo and tachometer is a large LED screen that really is a wasted opportunity, as Ford has not installed the digital secondary speedo that other car-makers are increasingly doing.

Instead, you look at a rather busy hodgepodge of secondary vehicular functions that – at first acquaintance – contrasts markedly to the rest of the Mondeo’s neatly presented dash.

We did work it all out quite quickly, and then appreciated the relative simplicity of scrolling through the many and various vehicle, trip and audio functions that are controlled via the screen. But it smacks of gimmick. Give us the base LX wagon’s ‘70s Cortina-style sunken dials and a straightforward trip computer screen anytime.

Otherwise – except for the limited rear vision created by the rising waistline (you’ll be forever praising the standard audible parking sensors as a result) – the Mondeo Zetec wagon’s cabin has it all down pat.

For starters, it feels premium. The hefty doors open wide and close with a solid thud. Squeaks and rattles were absent, and that long-time Ford bugbear of tyre noise intrusion has miraculously vanished from the Mondeo.

There are real convenience features such as Bluetooth, voice control for the various audio and telephony functions, lane-change indicators, auto-on/off headlights and ‘Easy Fuel’ capless fuel filler. The air-con is strong (better than the last Mondeo we tested soon after the 2007 launch), the night time fascia has ample lighting, there’s tons of storage space, and the cruise control is even easier to fathom than Obama’s election victory last year.

However, two potential quality issues did raise an eyebrow: a loose bit of footwell carpet and a piece of exterior trim that worked its way off a fastener in our admittedly used and abused press car.

Both are minor items in an otherwise appealing wagon. But does the wagon match its sedan and hatch siblings as the midsizer driver’s car of choice?

You know, we’re constantly delighted at how sweetly yet authoritatively the Ford feels from behind the lovely steering wheel.

From the first corner you realise that no similarly priced rival turns into corners with such control or precision you can hustle the Mondeo wagon along at a pace that would start to unsettle many SUVs.

More importantly as a family car, it feels absolutely rock solid and in total control. The fact that it also stops emphatically and can soak up road bumps easily for a relaxing ride is just the icing on a deliciously dynamic cake.

In our previous Mondeo test, we said the front-wheel-drive chassis was so competent that it felt as if the car could easily handle twice the power of the Mazda-sourced 2.3-litre four-cylinder petrol engine – and so it is with the Zetec wagon.

Delivering 118kW of power at 6500rpm and 208Nm of torque at 4200rpm, it is smooth and refined, and feels well-matched to the six-speed automatic gearbox’s fairly tightly-spaced gear ratios.

The Tiptronic-style sequential shift option seems a bit of a waste in such a focussed family car, but we did find that the ‘Sport’ function (all you need do is tap the lever to the right but not down or up) does hang on to each the lower ratios for performance that is a bit sprightlier than we left in Drive.

Some testers feel a bit more oomph would not go astray – the coming TDCi diesel should provide the necessary torque boost – but on the open road the Mondeo is a quiet, swift and effortless cruiser.

The downside to having a relatively small, revvy and smooth four-pot petrol engine in a car weighing 1570kg – about 20kg more than the hatch version – is that you have to bury the throttle pedal more often, and so the 12L/100km urban average we managed is some way off the official fuel consumption rating of 9.5. We even saw 13.3.

On the other hand gentler driving will bring that down to well below 10L/100km, and it is worth keeping in mind that the big 6s would be approaching the 14s over the same driving route to which we subjected the Mondeo.

Before we tested the Zetec wagon we wondered if it was worth the extra $5K over the base LX wagon, until we looked deeply into the specification sheet.

While the base car includes air-conditioning, Bluetooth, cruise control, electric windows in the front, radio/CD/MP3 audio and 16-inch steel wheels with the world’s ugliest hubcaps, the Zetec’s 17-inch alloys are necessary if your neighbours aren’t to think you’re a sales rep.

Add the front fog lamps, dual-zone climate control, premium Sony CD sound, USB music port, front and rear parking sensors, rain-sensing wipers, automatic headlights and rear electric windows and you just have to stretch to the Zetec.

Anyway, we don’t want to recommend the LX because somebody at Ford thinks it OK for a 2010 car to have wind-down rear windows as it struggles to find a mooring in a market where consumers sneer at such blatant penny pinching practices.

But the Zetec wagon … now that should be the first and last car you test drive list if it’s a compact SUV that you’re looking for.

The Euro Ford looks fine, drives great and is cleverly packaged.

Mondeo also beats Liberty and Mazda6 for design, interior refinement, spaciousness and – crucially – dynamic capability.

In fact, we’d go as far as saying that the Zetec eclipses the Audi A4 Avant and co – let alone the Passats and V50s of this world – with its sheer breadth of competence.

Yes, resale value probably won’t be fantastic, but the wagon is one of our favourite new cars of 2009 … just as the sedan and hatch versions did it for us back in ’07.

Ford invented the medium sedan segment with the original Cortina back in 1962 almost 50 years on the Mondeo has what it takes for the firm to nab the moribund wagon class by the scruff of the neck and give it a great big shake up.

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