Car reviews - Ford - Mondeo - Zetec sedan
Drives like no other affordable mid-sized family car on the planet, yet does all the sensible stuff at least as well as a Camry
Room for improvement
Air-con could be colder cruise-control could work better rear vision restricted Mondeo a resale uncertainty
25 Jan 2008
FROM the Mazda2 and Hyundai i30 to the Audi R8 and Mercedes C-class, the contenders for the best car of 2007 are as formidable as they are varied, to say the least.
But one stands out as “freakishly good” to quote the English motoring publication Autocar. For once the Brits are not exaggerating. And for once, a European car translates brilliantly on our roads too.
Imagine a Toyota Camry that steers and handles like a BMW 3 Series, and a BMW 3 Series that cossets and rides like a Mercedes-Benz C-class and a Mercedes-Benz C-class that is priced and packaged like a Toyota Camry.
Well... stop imagining Australia, and open your eyes to the latest Ford Mondeo.
No, it isn’t perfect.
For starters, we do not rate the air-conditioning as much chop. It struggles to keep the vast cabin cool.
The big Ford’s cruise control (which should be standard on the base LX) cannot keep the car from accelerating on even moderately steep inclines the back side windows don’t retract all the way down there’s an annoying reflection from the dash-top vent on the windscreen and... and we can’t really find much more to whinge about.
But these are small things, for you will not find a finer family car for the money – or even for under $70,000, which is the price of the cheapest C-class that we would buy, the C220 CDI.
Designed and engineered in Germany, built in Belgium and priced against the Camry, Mazda6, Honda Accord and Holden Commodore, as well as every compact SUV you can think of, the Mondeo is a colossal effort by a desperate company with its back to the wall.
Desperate? Ford, inventor of the modern medium-sized family car (that was once known as the 2.0-litre segment) with the 1962 Cortina, has not only pulled a rabbit out of its hat, but the wand, hat stand, magician and whole show too.
Imagine if the 3 Series suddenly outsold the Camry in Australia. Toyota would probably have to respond by making the next Camry a much sharper drive.
This is exactly what has happened to the Mondeo in its European heartland, where the once-exclusive Bavarian branded sedan’s sales are comfortably ahead.
So Ford has risen to the challenge to make the new MA model fit to take on the BMW. That’s why the standards – both in quality of design and dynamic aptitude – have been lifted so much.
Driven with enthusiasm (and this is easy because the Ford’s rorty character encourages it), the Mondeo’s amazing responses and body control mean that it will easily keep up with a BMW 320i. That’s because the steering is so linear, so fluid and so interactive.
Armed with the whole gamut of electronic driver aids, this car actually does handle like a sports sedan, yet soaks and muffles up road bumps like an old-school Mercedes. And just like a German car, some surface noise permeates the cabin, but only a bit.
There is no point comparing this with any other mid-sized sedan for the money (with the exception of a Mazda6) because nothing else gives you such high levels of both comfort and corner-carving capabilities.
Press on the brakes and their smoothness and progressiveness will recall the anchors found on top-line Volvos.
Cliché alert! That old motoring truism applies here as far as the 2.3-litre four-cylinder engine is concerned too.
So good is the front-wheel drive chassis that it can easily handle much more power.
As it stands, the ex-Mazda6 four-pot petrol unit is strong, revvy and well-matched to the six-speed automatic gearbox, but must be prodded a little if you want your performance to go from sparkling to strong.
The Tiptronic-style gear-shifter does give the automatic a level of driver interaction, and it correctly holds on to each gear manually right up and beyond the rev-limiter.
Of course, such driving does nothing for fuel economy, but we were averaging a fairly respectable 12.0L/100km in stifling heat, during peak city driving conditions, with at least two souls on board.
We dare buyers of the C200, 320i, base Audi A4 and Lexus IS250 to drive a Mondeo before making up their minds. We think that more than a few will come to the conclusion that the Ford is as rounded as the best of them.
Let’s get real though. For prestige buyers, the badge on the slightly too-garish grille is as alluring as a tax audit.
But back in its price bracket, the Mondeo is miles ahead of the competition, with only the (unrelated) new-generation Mazda6 looming as a threat.
Will the Japanese car offer the incredibly spacious interior, complete with the perfect driving position for everybody from jockeys to basketballers?
The cabin is dominated by a handsomely designed dashboard finished in quality plastics, excessive and detractive metal-look trim on the console, even less likeable reflective chrome on the steering wheel spokes and a very smart set of instruments.
The latter’s fuel and temperature gauges are reminiscent of the same items found on the 1971 TC Cortina’s dashboard, by the way, creating a connection to this car’s long-forgotten predecessor.
But, by golly, the Mondeo’s fit and finish, as well as general ambience, are leagues ahead of any previous medium-sized Fords. With the exception of the curiously flimsy glovebox lid, this car feels as tight as a drum inside.
And the cabin’s effortless ability to swallow five adults just like a Falcon’s is matched by a boot with an appetite that challenges the Leyland P76’s famous/infamous 44-gallon drum capacity.
Like the doors, it opens wide, has a low loading lip and is nicely presented. Split/folding rear seats further increases the boot’s practicality.
Interestingly, unlike many other cars in this price range, driving with those back seats down does not greatly increase the amount of road noise entering inside, showing just how quiet and refined this Mondeo really is.
In the metal, the Mondeo Zetec is an attractive, proportioned three-box sedan. Its BMW X5-style 17-inch five-spoke alloys fill in the athletically large wheel arches well the headlight treatment recalls that of the latest Jaguar XK sports car the chrome trim highlights – though perhaps a little too liberally applied here – do give the Ford a more upmarket appearance.
But will it seduce people out of their Camrys, CR-Vs, Commodores and C-classes?
It certainly deserves to, with only the more powerful 190kW Commodore V6 and upper-spec Mercedes matching the astounding talent and capability of this most humble family-focussed Ford.
In a year of strong competition, we cannot recommend the standard four-cylinder petrol Mondeos more highly.
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