Before emailing a rave review of the new Ford Mondeo, I wanted to understand why an automaker with such great products in the Eurozone has such a mediocre reputation. Posing as a potential purchaser, I phoned to make an appointment for a test drive. Employee of Dealership A: "We have one Mondeo you could try out, but we are booked for the next ten days, I think." Sales guy at Dealership B: "Sorry, I just started here six months ago, the guy in charge is on sick leave.” His stand-in? On vacation. “Please call again in a week or so.” See? It’s NOT all about the product. But I digress…
The Ford dealer experience is miserable, but the Mondeo’s visual delights are marvelous. For me, a handsome car needs three basic characteristics: strength, cleanliness and character. The Mondeo nails all three. The four-door Ford’s long wheelbase (much longer than, for example, the Passat) accentuates its wide, muscular stance. Its sleek headlamps and taut taillights render it instantly recognizable; the detailing is flawless. It's just what America needs: a non-bland, better-proportioned, more modern Taurus.
The Mondeo’s interior may not be a high-style zone, but it’s a satisfying, well-thought-out piece of work. Plastics invite intimacy, sound good to a rapped knuckle, smell fine and are aligned to the dot. The ergonomics excel, in that thoroughly unobjectionable way you expect from a carefully-considered mass market appliance.
On the downside, from a back-seat perspective, the middle console looks like it has labia (not an association its designer should be trying to achieve when there’s a stubby gear shifter in view). The cabin’s fake-aluminum steering wheel buttons look cheesier than Cheddar. And the three-quarters rear visibility is poor. But let's concentrate on the fact that the Mondeo has impressive (above E-class, better-than-Fusion) space for five, and a giant trunk to boot.
In case you were wondering, the Ford Mondeo is a front wheel-drive (FWD) vehicle. The sedan completely violates the pistonhead principle that FWD’s packaging and weight advantages exact a major penalty from the driving dynamics.
My tester holstered Ford's 2.0-liter, 140hp diesel. The oil burner is an extremely refined unit, significantly smoother than the highly respected Volkswagen TDI. On paper, the diesel Mondeo’s 10.6 second zero to sixty sprint time seems, as the French are wont to say, insupportable. But the Mondeo serves-up a wave of torquey thrust from 1800 – 4500 rpm that helps Mondeo man maintain momentum. Using the standard light-action six-speed manual, I never ran out of gears. No matter how hard I thrashed the powerplant, I never saw less than 29 mpg. At a more sedate pace, I averaged 35 mpg.
Thanks to Ford chassis guru Richard Parry-Jones, the Mondeo’s handling is a revelation. Accelerating briskly from rest on a dusty back road, there was a bit of scamper from the inside front tire. But the Mondeo’s electronic damper control system, which pitches the car forward on low-traction surfaces, gave great grip. During a pedal-to-the-floor exit from a roundabout, the feedback-intensive tiller produced a slight tug and then… nothing.
When I lifted off the gas pedal in a high-speed curve, and then floored it, the Mondeo remained unruffled, with no nonsense from the electronic stability Nanny. While we’re at it, how about a 90-degree merge and full-thrust run into an uneven-camber secondary road? Well, in this case, the steering wheel needed a bit of coercive correction, and, to paraphrase Dorothy, I have a feeling we’re not in a BMW anymore. But the Mondeo is inherently fun, agile, and composed– aside from the snatchy brakes (the bane of so many contemporary cars).
The Mondeo rides well, too. On the freeway, over secondary undulations, the Mondeo is bettered by world-leading softies from Lexus, Mercedes and Citroen. In all other conditions, the Ford product rides like the low, long-wheelbase, wide car that it is: well-controlled, comfortable and calm. On a quiet Autobahn morning, I found myself passing other cars as if they were standing still. I peeked at the odometer and saw an indicated 135 mph. Bliss.
So what is the Mondeo? We could quote Germany's famously chauvinistic Auto,Motor & Sport, who said the Ford family sedan is better than the C-Class Mercedes. But let's just say it's a lower-profile, less-roomy Ford S-Max with slightly better handling and somewhat better fuel economy.
But more than that, the Ford Mondeo is exactly what its American admirers believe it to be: four-wheeled proof that Ford can build a world-class, value-priced car that satisfies both practical and emotional desires. So why haven’t they? That’s a discussion for another time. For now, I’ll say this: if Ford can’t send the Mondeo stateside at a profit, they should send the people who built it. And if they build it, customers will come. It’s as simple as that.