By on July 21, 2013

Mondeo05

Perception is a funny thing. It especially shows up when you’re sitting on the fence between two cultures, seeing the world through the eyes of both at once. As a European with close relation to US car culture, I know something about that, and I’ll show it to you with two wagons. Each of them is extravagant and fabled on one continent, and totally boring on the other. And each of them is based on a car I owned and used as a daily driver for several years. So I know them quite well, and I know they rule, in their own different ways.

I will start with the one I have never considered anything very special – until I started reading American car blogs, and recognized the perceived awesomeness of “The Manual, Diesel Wagon”. It is called 2001 Ford Mondeo MkIII, it is powered by 2.0 TDCI diesel engine, and it has a long-roofed body and a five-speed stick-shift transmission. And I will not deny that it is a marvelous car. But its uniqueness is sort of diminished by the fact that in Czech Republic, where I live, it is basically everywhere. If we don’t count Skodas and city buses, it’s one of the most common modes of transportation here. the most common modes of transportation here. Want to see a proof? This picture was taken in front of my house, and it isn’t staged – I just parked in the first free space I found. The fact that there are THREE MORE dark-colored Mondeo wagons (and I’m willing to bet quite some money they are all manual diesels) is just a pure coincidence.

Mondeo01

And it’s not that my neighborhood is full of car enthusiasts, savoring the enjoyable experience of rowing their own gears in a diesel powered wagon. No, their owners are probably just average guys who bought them because it’s the prudent thing to do. Because here, the Average Pepa (that’s Czech for Joe) loves diesels, because they’re cheap to feed (although often not very cheap to keep running). He loves wagons, because he feels he needs to move around unbelievable amounts of crap (or, most of the times, air) and he is scared of automatic transmissions, because of their alleged expensive repairs.

Mondeo07

The last reason is quite funny – when I bought my own used diesel, automatic, liftback Ford Mondeo four years ago, I asked the guys at the Ford dealership whether it is a good buy. They replied they would be afraid of the diesel engine (which I needed, because of huge planned mileage), and that they would never choose an automatic transmission, because of it’s high repair costs. When I asked about a price of a complete transmission overhaul, I was given a price of 35,000 CZK (roughly two thousand bucks). So I asked about the price for a clutch replacement. And I was given a quote of 15,000 CZK. Plus 20,000 CZK for the double-mass flywheel, which has to be replaced with the clutch. I stared blankly, with a huge question mark over my head, but I thought “maybe the Ford transmissions are fragile and they go out often”. So I asked how many they have rebuilt.

The guy said “None, we just had one with malfunctioning electronics, it shifted a bit funny, but never actually gave out.”

Mondeo06

But the other reasons – great mileage and cavernous boots – are for real. During my time with this Mondeo, which is 12 years old and totally clapped out, I drove it in just a moderately efficient way, keeping “American” highway speeds of about 70mph. The average fuel consumption was 5.1 litres per 100km, which translates to 46 mpg. Which included some city driving. On the highway alone, I got 4.8 l/100km, or 49 mpg. And when I had my own Mondeo, with significantly less efficient automatic transmission, it got around 40 mpg in normal driving style with moderately heavy foot, and 30 mpg when I was in a hurry (which meant stuff like constant 100+ mph drives on highway).

And the trunk? Just take a look at the picture with 17” tires in it. Unless you are taking family of five on vacation, it’s nigh on impossible to fill it with stuff. Add comfortable seating for four adults, and you have a wonderful package.

Mondeo11

But — there must be some but, doesn’t it? In this case, it’s running costs. As often happens in the real world, it costs money to save money. In this case, it’s all the clever stuff that makes modern common-rail diesels run so smoothly and make so much power. Turbochargers, fuel injectors, high-pressure fuel pumps and other smaller items that tend to give up, and cost an exorbitant amount of money are the reasons why most experts only recommend modern diesel cars for annual mileages of 20 thousand miles and up. With European fuel prices, of course – in US, this number would multiply.

Mondeo09

But I am still talking money and fuel economy and practicality. What about the European sophistication, the driving experience, the fun of manual transmission? The diesel manual wagon should be the Holy Grail of enthusiasts, so these things surely matter, don’t they? Ahem, nope. I wasn’t talking about driving dynamics, driving fun and other things usually associated with European Diesel Manual Wagons™ by US enthusiasts, because these are exactly NOT the reasons why people buy diesel wagons in Europe.

That’s not to say that all these fabled attributes don’t exist. The fact is that the Mondeo really does drive pretty well. With the suspension tuned on twisty, rutted English roads, it is a prime example of how a European car — or any car — should drive. The way its suspension works can be best described by a comparison to old Jaguars. It has the same combination of comfortable ride and precise handling. Its suspension is able to iron out bumps and potholes, without being too floaty in corners or feeling unstable or road undulations. It’s the kind of ability that cannot be explained or achieved through numbers – it’s product of countless hours and miles spent trying and testing on B-roads. And there’s the delightful way in which the Mondeo allows itself to be steered by throttle, transitioning from understeer to neutrality or even ever-so-slight oversteer depending on the position of your left foot.

Mondeo10

And then there are the controls. It’s easy to find a proper seating position, the steering wheel is even able to relay some information about the front wheels’ grip, the seat is supportive and comfortable at the same time. Even the pedals are well-placed for heel-and-toe shifts, and shifter feels precise (I should probably say something about a rifle bolt here. I have never fired a rifle, but I imagine it works like a good manual shifter…). But there is one thing that is ruining the experience.

Yes, you’ve probably guessed it. It’s the engine. While the common-rail engines represented a quantum leap in refinement, compared to their older counterparts, the important part is always that they sound refined for a diesel. And even a pretty refined diesel still usually sounds like something that belongs to a farm, not highway. In steady driving, this is not a problem – the engine is quiet enough for its sound to be drowned by road and wind noise. But in spirited driving, the diesel rattle makes revving the engine rather unpleasant.

Mondeo08

And it doesn’t end with the sound. The power delivery is anything but linear, with tremendous torque low-down and quick fade in the top end. This means you need to shift more often when you drive “enthusiastically”, and it’s harder and less enjoyable to do so with proper precision. In fact, turbodiesel engines feel much more at home teamed up with automatic transmission. Not only does the slushbox take away the need to constantly keep the engine in narrow powerband, but the torque converter is able to smooth out the power peak, making for much smoother and more pleasant experience. With automatic, it feels almost like large gas engine, only with ugly sound.

Mondeo09

Here, I should probably remind you that the car I tested was 12 years old, and used an engine which went out of production four years ago. But even though diesel engines have made great leaps forward in recent years, both in terms of power and refinement, everything I said about the Mondeo is still true for today’s cars. Of course, there are extremely refined diesels nowadays, and a few of them are even quite fun to drive fast – BMW engines spring to mind here, as well as a few others – but even the best of them are still noticeably less refined than anything that burns gasoline.

Which is not to say that this car is a bad choice for the enthusiast. It’s really pleasant to drive, and fun enough for you to take the long and winding road from work. And with the frugal diesel engine, it can save you lots of money if you have to drive 20,000 or 30,000 miles, or even more, in a country where a LITER of fuel costs almost two bucks. But for every one of those many miles, you will be reminded that you were to cheap to buy a proper engine.

Mondeo02

And, if you are into driving and cars, and you can even remotely afford not buying a diesel, you should buy something else. Actually, a used car I recommend most often to other people is this generation of Mondeo, but with 1.8 or 2.0 petrol engine – which offers a best compromise of fuel economy (still over 30mpg in mixed driving), driving enjoyment and reliability. But the enthusiasts’ choice in the Mondeo range was the ST220 – powered by, wait for it, a 3.0 V6 engine. This may sound boring in US, but ten years ago in Europe, it represented a real powerhouse with its 220 horsepower.

Which makes it quite funny for European to watch people from the other side of the pond lust after the slow, rattly, disgustingly rational cars we have here, while scoffing at the plethora of overpowered V6s and V8s which they can afford to run, while we have to make do with the oil-burners! In Part Two we’ll talk about an American wagon in Europe…

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81 Comments on “A Tale Of Two Wagons, Part The First: 2001 Ford Mondeo 2.0 TDCI, or “The Famed Manual Diesel Wagon”...”


  • avatar
    mies

    The grass is always greener on the other side of the pond :)

  • avatar
    vaujot

    Diesel cars are so prevalent in Europe because Diesel fuel is taxed much lower than gasoline. And part of their mileage advantage compared to gasonline is due to Diesel containing more energy than gasoline in relation to its volume.

    • 0 avatar
      Vojta Dobeš

      It’s not that much of a difference. I don’t know what the taxes are from the top of my head, but in the end, diesel and gasoline cost pretty much the same at the pump. It’s all about the fuel consumption – you get 30mpg with gasoline and 40 or 50 mpg with diesel…

      • 0 avatar
        vaujot

        I don’t know about fuel taxation in the Czech Republic. In Germany, Gasoline gets taxed at 65.45 ct/liter while Diesel is at 47.04 ct/liter. The difference is even bigger if you look at tax per energy contained. For gasoline it’s 7.3 ct/kWh, for Diesel 4.7 ct/kWh. And I think this is prevalent pretty much all over Europe. The origin of the lower tax for Diesel was to support farming and transportation. The European Commission has proposed to get rid of the difference but the member states wouldn’t have it, probably because they feared upsetting all of the Diesel car drivers.

    • 0 avatar
      Battles

      In the UK, petrol is generally cheaper than diesel.
      Makes no sense…

    • 0 avatar
      jb78

      Not necessarily true. I live in Germany and to make up for the reduced cost of fuel, I have to pay 450 euro per year “Diesel road tax” In truth, it actually costs more to drive a Diesel unless you commute 100’s of kilometers daily.

  • avatar
    Caboose

    That was hilarious. And brilliant. A well-reasoned lambasting of the endearing quirkyness of some American enthusiasts for the Holy Grail of Cars.

    But, in the end, the author is totally wrong, because he didn’t properly compare a *BROWN* diesel manual wagon.

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    This was long overdue. Thanks so much for this. It was really great.

    The idea that someone would trade something like an MS3 for a Mazda3 TDCi Sport Elegance Navigation SE 1.6di is ridiculous. As far as cars go, from a geographically relativistic view, Americans have it MADE. I can’t think of a better place for car guys. Canada might allow imports but it’s cold and salty up there.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      Elegance Navigation = Royal Brougham?

      Lol the NAME of that car is ridiculous. Where are you from?

    • 0 avatar
      dolorean

      sporty, I think you’re missing the point. If I had my druthers, I would always choose the least useful and most fun car (Ford GT comes to mind) much as Kevin Spacey opined in ‘The Ref’ 20 years ago that ‘you don’t think I don’t wish I would wake up every morning as a 30 year old rock-star with a 24 hour hard-on over my life now?’ I would choose the Mazda diesel 6 spd wagon over the MS3 precisely because its the most useful and most fun car that my life calls for right now. Sometimes you get to be pragmatic and interesting at the same time.

      • 0 avatar
        Spartan

        dolorean, you say he missed the point, but I think you missed his point. He didn’t mean choosing one over the other, he said giving up an MS3 for a Mazda 3 Diesel. Completely different argument, and quite frankly, I see his point.

        I don’t see the obsession with diesel wagons anyway, or wagons period but that’s another story. Diesel wagons are usually slow, sound awful and spout black smoke after years of use. There’s absolutely nothing exciting about a diesel wagon except the MPG ratings.

  • avatar
    Johannes Dutch

    4 cylinder diesels always have a certain farm/truck feeling, comes with the package. Personally I don’t consider that as a drawback.
    A 4 cylinder gasoline engine doesn’t sound and drive like a 6 or 8 cylinder either.

    On top of that, both Ford and Opel have never been “King of the Hill” as it comes to building diesel engines for cars. They just followed the leaders, just because they had to.

    A few years ago I was given the pleasure to drive a 2006 Mercedes C-class 320 CDI (3.0 ltr. V6) with a 7 speed automatic. I can guarantee that’s another experience, both sound-wise (idling and acceleration) and as it comes to the whole driving experience. Drive 40 mph and step on it (I mean: pedal to the metal), it will catapult to the skyline.

    If I would live in the US I would never drive a 4 banger diesel, unless it was in a van or light truck. In a car or SUV it would have at least 6 cylinders.

    • 0 avatar
      Battles

      LOL at your C320CDI experience. Sounds like my test drive, owning it was another matter entirely. I was very close to swearing never to own another Benz again.
      Limiting my criticism to the engine (OM642) and transmission alone, I replaced loads of coil packs, I used to have to do fortnightly “Italian Tune Up” runs at 70mph with the transmission locked in 4th to clear the DPFs and when the 7G gearbox started getting clunkly the MB techs and my friends in the trade told me to torch it for the insurance money.
      The OM648 straight six diesel from the W220 S class is a much better unit. Much smoother and far more reliable.
      The four cylinder diesels are far smoother and more reliable than even the OM648 workhorse.

  • avatar
    Jean-Pierre Sarti

    excellent post but i suspect the manual diesel wagon fanbois will not except this entry because besides everything else it must have “right” wheel drive. i believe the mondeo is fwd?

    • 0 avatar

      Nah, the wagons fanbois are often unrelated to the RWD fanbois, since the value of stick-shift diesel wagons is highly based on practicality and RWD isn’t especially practical. AWD would be the only additional desired feature.

  • avatar
    lilpoindexter

    I’ve been thiking of a Diesel Jetta to replace my recently blown up Subaru Legacy Wagon, but I think I will probably just get a gasoline engine…the extra cost is hard to justify…who wants to keep a car for 20 years just to break even, anyway?

    • 0 avatar
      seth1065

      I have an 11 JSW TDI that I bought new, and I doubt it takes 20 years to come out even, yes the TDI JSW cost more that a gas JSW, but you also get more standard equipment so the real cost is about 2,000 more out the door apple to apple comparison ( or as close as one can get) Fuel here in NJ is about 10% more than reg unleaded most times ( it has been less but that is very rare) I drive about 35,000 miles a year so the mileage is a huge deal for me and I get about 40 mpg real world driving fast 80 % highway, I would guess a gas JSW would get me about 26 combine so the TDI pays for it self with in a few years for me. The big upside to a TDI is resale value, resale value resale value, they hold their value very well and will get you more money when ever you trade it in/sell it. If you drive less than ten k a year a gas engine is a much better bet but if you drive a lot a oil burner is a better car to eat up the miles. 65 k on mine no issues yet knock on wood.

      • 0 avatar
        mikeg216

        And then when it goes down for repairs, because it will. There go all your theoretical savings. At best it is now a break even proposition. If this were not true. Medium duty truck fleets would not have the option of gassers in their trucks for the first time in a generation.

        • 0 avatar
          jpolicke

          My Jetta TDI experience exactly. Seth, at about 35k/year you will have not quite 2 fuel filter changes, and if you have the DSG will be doing approximately an annual trans fluid change. You will not be able to DIY this for less than $120 after the initial ~$65 for tools. Also, good luck finding VW 507-spec oil for less than $9-10 per liter. And if you’re lucky the expensive emissions parts will fail during the warranty period. The financial proposition only works as far as comparing MPG vs. relative fuel costs.

    • 0 avatar
      30-mile fetch

      Seth1065 makes some good points, but I only drive 15,000 miles per year and bought a 2010 Sportwagen with the 5 cylinder gas engine. If you are happy with the base “S” model (low on infotainment tech, but rich on stuff I like–heated seats, heated mirrors, perfect driving position, little interior touches VW used to be known for), it’s a killer deal at about $21K. The cheapest TDI is nearly $5000 more.

      Without the AWD hardware to haul around, the gas Jetta is probably a bit quicker than your Legacy and will easily get 30 mpg highway.

      Do it!

    • 0 avatar
      justgregit

      I have a Golf TDI so I can’t exactly compare, but the TDI is more fun to drive than the inline 5, and comes with better options, so in that regard the price is justified. For a true enthusiast, I would go for GTI hands down of the three, but if you want something practical but still enjoyable, I think there is good justification for the TDI. Even if its not that fast, the high low end torque makes it feel much faster than it is. Being pushed back in your seat is an enjoyable experience, even if it only lasts a moment. Plus a 600 mile range is nice; breakeven costs aside its convenient. I only fuel up about once a month (I probably don’t drive enough to “justify” diesel, but enjoy it anyway), and I have no issues with that. Also, 10k oil changes are nice (not sure if the standard Golf/Jetta have that long an interval).

  • avatar
    stephenjmcn

    This generation of Mondeo was praised to the heavens in the car media at the time, with many saying the driving experienced bettered the premium makes. It’s exceptionally fit-for-purpose: roomy, reliable, well-equipped, and cheap (especially secondhand).

    But it’s just a car. Something you’d rent, or buy because you have to. There’s no joy or flair in the styling, or interior, and they blend into the background.

    Familiarity does breed contempt.

  • avatar
    Summicron

    There’s nothing about this Mondeo I wouldn’t love long time.

    I’d happily pay the local diesel surcharge to enjoy the load space, simple reliability and “disgusting” rationality. Plus, great greenhouse.

    I drive slow, I haul stuff and I don’t want to feed a bloated V-6 minivan.

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    It’s funny how you’re molded by your life’s experiences and how those stay with you your whole life. My boss at my first job out of school invited me and two other engineers out to lunch. We took his 240D. It was summer and this was Atlanta and it was hot, but we didn’t mind driving with the windows down because that’s what the boss wanted (there was no a/c to speak of). On our way back to the office there was, by Atlanta terms, a small hill to climb just before the office, we couldn’t make it up that hill until me and my co-worker in the back seat got out of the 240D and walked the rest of the way, so that my boss could get his little 240D back to the office, did I mention it was Atlanta in summer?… never gave diesels another thought

    • 0 avatar
      Summicron

      Know nothing about diesels, just like this Mondeo wagon.. maybe gas would be better.

      But re that 240D, where was all that much ballyhooed low end torque diesels reputedly have? Just too small an engine, diesel or not? Is this why passenger car diesels all have turbos today?

      • 0 avatar
        Johannes Dutch

        A turbocharger (often combined with an intercooler) is a common and proven way to add power and torque to a diesel engine. Started with big truck engines and I think it’s safe to say that now ALL diesel cars and trucks have a turbo or a turbo/intercooler. Or more: BMW for example has a 3.0 ltr. diesel engine with 3 turbos.

      • 0 avatar
        Piston Slap Yo Mama

        I had a ’72 Mercedes 240d not all that long ago. AC converted to R134 and had a (gasp) row your own gears transmission. As clattery and gutless as it was, it never failed to get me where I was going. I even got a speeding ticket in it, downhill of course. After cycling through five Mercedes cars when I realized I had a penchant for flipping them at good profit I’ll say this about Lie2me’s boss’ Benz: something must have been dreadfully wrong with it. Many owners of this car with an automatic transmission don’t realize that there’s a button under the accelerator pedal than actuates 1st gear. If you’re not stabbing the go-pedal to the floor it will always start in 2nd. This button is also prone to failure. I don’t think Lie2me’s sampling of diesels was exhaustive enough and his boss needed to apply some engineer problem solving to his dilemma.

        • 0 avatar
          Lie2me

          My next encounter with diesels involved a 1980 Eldorado… and a lot more walking in the Atlanta heat

          It’s quite possible that the kick-down switch was faulty or in need of adjustment. I have no way of knowing and was just relaying a personal experience

    • 0 avatar
      vaujot

      Having driven Mercedes 240Ds, the story of not getting up the hill with two passengers sounds to me like your boss’ car was either defect or he didn’t know how to drive (put it in first if that’s what it takes).

    • 0 avatar
      Vojta Dobeš

      I have driven a few 240D and even 200D. They are slower than turtles, but in the end, they get where you want to go – I have never experienced any problem with going up hills, and 240Ds were even commonly used to tow trailers. Compared to their measly horsepower (around fifty), they really have lots of torque.

    • 0 avatar
      Big Al from Oz

      @Lie2me
      I’m not questioning your integrity, but really?

      Your boss he would have taken the vehicle to a mechanic to determine what the problem was. If you know anything about diesel you would have realised the 240D would idle up the hill with everyone on board towing another 240D.

      Since, he was your boss, what did he tell you the problem was after he took the 240D to the mechanics?

      Really, the story appears to have some unanswered holes.

      • 0 avatar
        Lie2me

        My boss was not the type to admit that his 62hp, 100 lbs/sq” torque, 3300lbs, automatic, $9500.00 (1976 dollars), Mercedes with four adult men inside and the A/C going that from a dead stop could not get up a hill had a problem. The three of us in the car were also smart enough not to suggest that it did. I rode in that car many times after, though never under the same circumstances and it always struggled getting up that hill. The subject of why was obvious, but it was never discussed

      • 0 avatar
        DC Bruce

        I dunno, Al. The automatic in this car could have been pretty primitive with an insufficiently low first gear to pull the hill and the a/c all at once. My daughter’s former fiance had a manual (4-speed) 240D and he drove the two of us (along with himself, obviously) around LA without any problems of that nature.

        I owned a similar vintage (1980) Audi 5000 diesel (IIRC, 2.1 liters displacement with 5 cylinders). The car had a manual 5 speed, and first gear was so low, that the engine would hit the RPM limiter at less than 15 mph. This engine was normally aspirated and had a hard time maintaining 60 mph on rolling terrain with three adults and a small child in the car. I installed an interrupt switch on the a/c compressor that was triggerd by flooring the accelerator. IIRC, my car was slightly faster than the 240D but not by much. It would not exceed 70 mph, even with a slight downhill grade.

        Reminded my of my summers driving a truck when I worked construction.

  • avatar
    burgersandbeer

    Nice story about the cost of repairs for automatics vs manuals. I like to point out the same thing whenever the issue comes up.

    I prefer manuals myself, but I realize the only reason to choose one is because you like driving them. The majority of modern automatics seem to have eliminated any practical reason to choose a manual instead.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      You can change a clutch and flywheel in your garage. You probably cannot rebuild a modern automatic yourself, the makers don’t even sell parts for them – replace as a unit for $$$$$.

      • 0 avatar
        burgersandbeer

        Fair point, though I don’t think there are huge numbers of people that have the time and ability to do something like that. It isn’t a DIY that any idiot can do with just a cheap socket set that you assume they already have.

        If you have the tools, skill, and time, then sure, a new clutch/flywheel is no big deal.

  • avatar
    gearhead77

    I don’t know if it’s the “all European things are better” view taken by some or just the desire to get something we don’t have in the US. I don’t see a diesel wagon as a Holy Grail but as a very versatile, useful and efficient tool.

    For those of us on limited budgets and garage space, it sounds like a well executed wagon could be useful and occasionally entertaining to drive. 2 people and lots of stuff? 4 people and the back full? The ability to put oddly shaped items in the car? My first hatchback was an 01 Focus and I try to keep at least one hatchback in the driveway now. Yes, most of the time you’re hauling nothing, but those times you do need it, that extra capability is nice.

    I, for one, would like to see a diesel minivan or diesel CUV that doesn’t say VW or Audi on it. I just did 1200 miles in my folks 2011 MDX that returned a 19.1 mpg average for the trip (according to the computer, which seems close) On premium fuel. With mountains, hills, stop and go, 80 mph cruise and occasional blasts to 100 for passing, that’t not bad but…

    The same vehicle might have given easily given 20 or more mpg with a diesel engine. At one point, nearly 75 miles at a steady 65 mph, the average rose to 21.5 mpg on the computer. An Odyssey or Town and Country, not weighed down by AWD or hampered by high ground clearance, that could deliver 35 mpg highway and mid 20’s in town? Sign me up.

    • 0 avatar
      Vojta Dobeš

      I absolutely love wagons. But a diesel wagon is always a compromise, something you have to buy because you’re too cheap to run a proper engine. And I would much rather drive a LPG-converted V6 or V8 wagon than a diesel one.

      • 0 avatar
        Lie2me

        This same boss of mine also had a bi-fuel LPG Ford Fairmont (circa 1980) and was heavily invested in a company that produced the equipment to retro-fit existing cars for bi-fuel operation. I spent a lot of time with that car taking it to various demos and sales events. I agree, I would be much happier with a bi-fuel over a diesel because of my positive experiences with the system

      • 0 avatar
        gearhead77

        Part of the problem in the US is that we haven’t had much wagon choice in the past,well, let’s say 20 years. The BOF SUV came to popularity in the late 80’s early 90’s at the expense of minivan and station wagon sales.

        The Taurus/Sable were last built in 02(03?), Crown Vic in 91. I think the GM wagons died in the mid 90’s, the J-cars first, then the Century/Ciera cars(97 maybe, I worked for Enterprise then and I remember them in the fleet) and finally the “bubble” Caprice and Roadmaster.

        So we were left with Subaru or BMW, Mercedes or Audi/VW. Not much choice for simple, inexpensive wagons. And in the US, no one wants to buy a BMW or other German marque in wagon form, as the hatch is still considered “cheap”.

        I still prefer the minivan however. My 08 Mazda 5 is powered by the 2.3 158 hp 4 cyl gas engine as the only choice and I wish it had been available in diesel. Mostly city driven with hills, the torque of the diesel would have been great for me, as well as the mileage increase.

        My big reasons right now for minivan over wagon is sliding doors (two kids)and not having to stoop to get them in the car seats( bad back). Also, since most wagons get close to the same rated mileage as a “mini” van, the mileage penalty for the extra space isn’t too severe.

        A Honda Odyssey is within 1-2 mpg city or highway of a E-class or 3 series wagon, doesn’t take premium and no real power loss. No, not sporty at all, the minivan, but not the penalty box it once was. Not in my eyes, who remember 100 hp Dodge Caravans and Plymouth Voyagers.

        • 0 avatar
          CoreyDL

          -The Century wagon died long before 97.
          -You could have a Focus wagon in the 00s.
          -You could have B-body GMs (Caprice/Roadmaster/Custom Cruiser) through 96.
          -X-Type estate.
          -Saab wagons.
          -Volvo wagons.
          -TSX wagon.
          -Lancer wagon.
          -Dodge Magnum.
          -CTS wagon.

          • 0 avatar

            2004 thru 2007 Mazda 6 also came as a wagon here in Canada with either 2.3 I4 or 3.0 V6. No diesel though

          • 0 avatar
            gearhead77

            SAAB and Volvo wagons weren’t inexpensive brand new, neither was the Mondeo-based X-type. Granted you could pick them up off lease for a song after two years, but we aren’t talking a generic wagon wearing a Blue Oval, Mopar or GM marque here.

            The Magnum was close, but the cargo area suffered due to the styling of the car. CTS is the same and it’s not an inexpensive ride.

            TSX wagon is only a year or two old. The last Honda Accord wagon in the US would have been the 96-98(?)

            I had an 04 Lancer wagon, good car for me, but it was one of only 5000 or so in the US. Only recently has it come back. I bought mine after it sat for a year on the dealer lot and 5000 off MSRP.

            I guess the theme here is that wagons have sold poorly compared to their minivan or CUV counterparts. Also, not many of these cars are contemporaries.

            Not saying you can’t find them, but the X-type, Magnum, and all the above mentioned had no overlap or little at all being brand new cars. Or they were not likely to be cross-shopped by minivan or SUV buyers.

            Lexus IS300 Sportcross? I did forget the Mazda 6 too.

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        I have other cars for when I want to have fun driving. My wagon is used for long trips. I would rather it got 50mpg in that use than the 30mpg my 328i actually gets. A BMW 320d/328d is still plenty fast enough, and in a different league to an old Mondeo. Despite still sounding like a diesel at idle. I spend very little time idling anyway.

        I’ve owned an 02 Golf TDI and even in wheezy 90hp trim found it more than adequate. If I want to drive a sportscar I have four to choose from in my garage!

      • 0 avatar
        Johannes Dutch

        Vojta, you’re not really comparing apples to apples here.
        Compare a mediocre and outdated 4-cylinder 2.0 ltr. diesel to a V6 or even V8 gasoline engine ? I’m very sure that I also would prefer the gasoline engine as the proper engine, wagon or not.

        At least compare classmates: a modern 3.0 ltr. 6 cylinder diesel to a gasoline engine with the same displacement. You may even compare that one to a bigger V8 gasoline engine.

        • 0 avatar
          Vojta Dobeš

          The same Mondeo I drove was available with 2.5 V6 or 3.0 V6. Costs the same, is faster, more reliable, and with LPG, about as cheap to run.

          • 0 avatar
            Johannes Dutch

            Yes, but you’re still comparing a 2.0 ltr. 4 cylinder diesel to a much bigger V6 gasoline engine.

            Compare it to Ford’s 2.0 ltr. 4 cylinder gasoline engine they had in those years, then it’s apples to apples. As far as I know there has never been a V6 diesel in a Mondeo.

            Personally I like the characteristics of a modern diesel engine. But that’s just my opinion. A lot of people like high revving small gasoline engines and others like the biggest gasoline engines mankind has ever seen. No objective “right” or “wrong” involved here.

          • 0 avatar
            Johannes Dutch

            About LPG. Available here on every street corner, but I’m not so sure about the rest of Europe.

            Then there’s the pathetic fuel range due to the LPG tank’s capacity, certainly with a big thirsty engine. Also that tank is often in the trunk, so you offer space. Or the spare tire if they put a little tank there.

            Also you’re often not allowed to enter a parking garage and/or drive through a tunnel. (The Channel Tunnel is one of them I’ve read)

            And, very important: the automaker’s warranty. Often NO factory warranty if you run your car on a LPG-system that (in most cases) isn’t theirs.

            LPG was very popular here say 25 to 30 years ago, in the pre -direct injection and later common rail diesel injection -era.

  • avatar
    markholli

    Enjoyable read, Vojta. Very interesting to hear your perspective. We will always want what we can’t have, and for me that means small trucks and SUVs with turbo diesels.

    I suppose I just need to do as the song suggests and “love the one [I’m] with.”

  • avatar
    lothar

    loved all the diesels I drove on stints in Europe, my fav being the Citroen D5…..tons of room, manuals of course so more fun than my auto boxes I’m essentially forced to own here in the US, the growl of the low end torque and of course I kept close track of milage 40s mixed town to upper 40s-50 on highways 70-80 mph.
    Whats not to like? To some degree I think it’s sort of like the thing you can’t have……or resenting you don’t have the option or choice……but I think all of this is slowly changing. Cruise, Mazda6, VW, BMW, Audi, Benz….thanks low-sulfur diesel

    • 0 avatar
      Johannes Dutch

      You probably drove a Citroën C5 with a 2.2 ltr. Bi-Turbo 4 cylinder.
      The PSA-Group (Peugeot and Citroën) is one of the leaders I mentioned above that Ford only could follow.

      Or, even better, was it their bigger V6 engine ?

  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz

    The allure of diesel has hit our shores in Australia. It has taken 30 years to get there.

    The diesel’s of old were quite under powered for any form of high performance driving. But they were quite reliabe and frugal on fuel.

    The modern commonrail/turboed diesel is another story. The more commercial and cheaper diesels currently fitted to most affordable everyday cars do rattle. But that doesn’t bother me.

    Australia has been fortunate enough to be in a position to have the best of all worlds, from US, Asian and Euro inspired vehicles.

    Oddly enough the Euro style is winning out with diesel. Why?

    Because the new diesels are a much different animal that what was available 10 years ago.

    The power and torque figures out of a ‘cheap’ everyday diesel is what the prestige Germans were getting a decade ago. And I do believe what the Germans are getting now in their prestige vehicles we will have in a decade.

    Just look at the Porche Cayenne 4.2 lite diesel, 287kw and over 750nm of torque and the Cayenne is getting over 30mpg in a vehicle that weighs nearly 5 000lbs.

    Diesel technology is where gas was in the late 80s. Gasoline is nearing its zenith. Not much more can be done with it.

    With diesel you can keep on cranking up the compression, if you can contain NOx levels. You can’t do that with gas.

    Also, fuel is a finite resource and I do know there are some who say the world is flushed with crude oil. But the reality is, its costing more and more to retrieve it.

    • 0 avatar
      Johannes Dutch

      Let’s say that the Audi Q7 with a 6.0 ltr. V12 TDI was a bit “too much”….

      Who could have thought 15 years ago that Porsche, Jaguar and even Maserati come with a diesel engine ?
      Let alone a BMW 5-series diesel with an “M” on the trunk.

    • 0 avatar
      Vojta Dobeš

      As a motoring journo, I have experienced most of the modern diesels as well – and especially the BMW inline sixes are wonderful

      BUT, there’s a catch. Modern diesels are much more refined even compared to the first generation of common-rail units, they are even a bit more powerful (although not much – average 2.0 diesel still offers 100-120kW), but they are also much more complicated, which leads to them being very fragile and costly to repair. And they have DPF filters, which are a royal pain to use.

      But what’s worse, modern diesels are, probably because of emission standards, less fuel efficient. And with Euro emission standards tightening in the coming years, the diesels are going to get even more expensive, even less efficient and harder to keep running.

      Add the new downsized gasoline turbo engines to the mix, combine it with rising popularity of hybrids in Europe, and it’s highly probable that we will see decline of diesels in the rest of the decade.

      The best example can be Mondeo again – with new 1.6 Ecoboost in the lineup, the 2.0 TDCI suddenly became much less compelling option.

      • 0 avatar
        Big Al from Oz

        @Vojta Dobeš
        I agree diesels are becoming more complex. But the biggest killer of diesel is the mass of the engine.

        Remember petrol engine complexity is rising also. Ford is going the way of Eco-Boost, Fiat/Chrysler-Multi Air, Mazda-Sky Active etc. To manage the fuel/air and emissions on a gas engine will become almost as hard as diesel. Also CO2 is less in a diesel for work achieved.

        Europe will see an increase in petrol powered vehicles because of this. But diesel will always offer 30% more economy than a petrol engine. I found an interesting discussion paper on the net completed by a professor for Ford. He stated that gas will only be attractive for bottom end vehicles because of the initial vehicle costs and a turbo petrol should be the direction Ford head in, even in Europe (read UK). This was written in 2004 prior to the Eco Boost move by Ford. The paper went into great lengths comparing diesel vs gas.

        The survival of Hybrids is dependent on government handouts. Some auto manufacturers are dropping hybrid research. Hybrids will be more complex than diesel and only offer a slight FE advantage with a large cost impost.

        DPF is only a problem if you drive for less than 10-15 minutes, but this is also being addressed. Google what Cummins is doing with the 2.8 litre ISF diesel, you should find some interesting details under SinoDiesel. DPF is easier to resolve than NOx management.

        Diesel is here to stay, like gas, but there will be some competition between them.

        Smaller efficient engines equals less emissions. That is the future globally.

      • 0 avatar
        Big Al from Oz

        I’m sorry I should have added that small vehicles will use gas. Eventually vehicles that require V6 or V8 would be moving more towards diesel.

        The initial intent of the Eco Boost discussion paper I read was to produce small 3 and 4 cylinder engines, not the 3.5 litres that is being used in the US.

        In a tiny car it will be more attractive for a gas engine. Sort of like commercial vehicles now run diesel. That’s why the last vehicles to run on diesel will be motorbikes.

  • avatar
    Nick_515

    Thanks for the article – wonderful read. My take from your article is that there are two things at stake. First, we idealize what’s not really available to us, and that’s certainly true. But closer to the point, though not the holy grail, diesel wagons, or everyday diesels in general, do represent a completely different ownership experience to gas-powered cars, and we long for that. Even though I know full well how you’re not too impressed by it at the end of the day – trust me, I loved stick shifts until I bought another car with an excellent tiprtonic about a month ago, and not I am not so sure I would give me sweet new transmission up for another stick.

    I do want to add to what someone above said about a 3 liter diesel MB V-6. My experience is about 15 year old at this point, but for a few hours I drove an opel kadett (1.6 diesel) and a late 1990s BMW 524 tds. The opel was clattery to high heavens, and I didn’t care about it. The BMW… I will never forget turning the key multiple times, not realizing the engine had come alive THE FIRST TIME I DID SO. What a gorgeous ride. Easy 200 kph for over two hours on the highway. That experience alone ensured I read something about cars every day of my life for years now. So… no all diesels are born equal.

    Thanks again for the article. Keep writing!

  • avatar
    Spike_in_Brisbane

    I had a Citroen C5 V6 petrol which got sandwiched in a three vehicle nose to tail between a Mitsubishi Pajero and a BMW X5. (Ironic seeing a French car ruined by the combined forces of Germany and Japan!) I loved that car and used Citroens are great value so I went looking for another but this time I thought I would try the turbo diesel and save on running costs. I test drove a few and although the low speed torque is interesting, they just are not zippy. I finally bought another V6. It may cost a few more cents per km but it is quieter, smoother and more fun to drive.

  • avatar

    Diesel is notably less expensive to run, at least in Germany. We drove a 320d and a 318i the same route, and the 318 ended up using a tank and a half more gas. That was about $200.00. The diesel was also faster on top where it mattered.

    The writer hits a great point. Having been lucky enough to drive across most of Germany, two things are clear.

    1. Potholes are a choice. They don’t exist over there. No one puts manhole covers in the road. That too is a choice.

    2. The average American drives a way better car than the average Euro. Don’t bore me with some “cherry on top” sport package for your car that does not get over here and makes up .000001% of the market. For the vast majority, the car is bigger and has a bigger engine, for less money than the equal middle (or other) class Euro would pay. We also pay way less registration, and we aren’t charged more for marginally larger engines…VW in France has a variety of engine sizes for that reason alone.

    • 0 avatar
      vaujot

      Let me know next time you’re in Europe. I’ll show you some choice potholes and manhole covers here in Frankfurt am Main.
      If you take Europe as a whole, we are poorer than the United States. So no wonder that we drive lower standard cars. However, if you compare continents, you have to include Mexico and the caribian nations. Few European nations are as poor as Haiti and Cuba. As an aside, I find it remarkable that Canada has a slightly higher nominal GNI per capita than the US.

  • avatar
    niky

    I actually love the 2.0 PSA motors that Ford uses in the Focus and Mondeo. Not much up top (135 hp in the Focus my father just sold), but over 230 ft lbs of torque. More on overboost. Made shifting a joy.

    The silliness with dual-mass flywheels is unfortunate. It’s at that point that automatics make more sense… except when they’re dual clutch automatics and a clutch change costs that much more.

    That said, the PSA unit seems to be relatively strong, and so far, most of the failures here have been turbo failures… mostly due to… ahem… more-than-spirited use. The engine and fuel system themselves have proven quite durable.

    • 0 avatar
      Vojta Dobeš

      Old TDCI isn’t the PSA unit. The PSA engine first appeared as 2.2 TDCI in this generation of Mondeo, and 2.0 TDCI was replaced with the PSA one when the Mondeo MkIV appeared.

  • avatar
    Mark_Miata

    I am surprised and pleased by this review – I drove this exact same type of car, down to year and color, while on academic exchange in Denmark. It was new then, and we had it on lease for 3 months.

    From what I remember, everything Voyta says is true, especially when it comes to practicality. It was nice to drive, it was economical, and it had lots of space, especially passenger room. Our friends visited, and I remember the 6 foot 4 inch husband sitting in the front passenger seat with his 5 foot 8 inch wife very comfortably seated behind him. My wife and I, with a height difference of a foot, could both drive it with no problem.

    Having grown up with my Mom’s series of Mercedes diesels from the 1970s and early 80s, I actually thought the engine was rather refined. Of course, I didn’t do anywhere near the mileage that Voyta does, so I may not have driven it enough to be annoyed (my driving was mostly Autobahn cruising).

    If it had been for sale in the USA, I would have bought one as soon as we returned. It’s the car I think of when folks on the internet talk about diesel wagons, and helps me understand the appeal. I will say that it was not a sporty car (my E30 BMW and my Miata are much more fun), but for everyday use it was hard to beat.

  • avatar
    luvmyv8

    Funny you mention the Mondeo ST220 and how it was revered. True enough, 220 hp was pretty good back then. If I remember correctly, Jeremy Clarkson was quite fond of it.

    My other car is a ’06 Ford Fusion SEL V6. I’m not sure, but I really think some parts of it came out of the Mondeo’s parts bin, it’s comfortable and it handles great. Plus the dash on mine looks almost like the one on the featured Mondeo, the exceptions being the Fusion has a hide away compartment in the middle of the dash and on the Fusion the defroster vents are square instead of being round as in this Mondeo.

    My Fusion had the 3.0L DOHC Duratec in it, good for 220 hp, it’s probably the same as the ST220’s engine. Only thing is on the Fusion, you can only get the manual transmission on the 2.3 4 cylinder. All the V6’s got the 6 speed auto and to be honest, it’s a little underpowered in my opinion. It’s not horrible, but I see why Ford later added the 3.5 V6. Plus it’s odd, it’s torquey and will easily spin the tires at take off, but past 3500 RPM, all it does is make noise, no upper RPM power. Aside from that, it’s a very satisfying car to drive, just wish they took a page out of the ST220’s playbook and offered a 6 speed stick…. and as Clarkson would say……. “POOOOWWWEERRRR!!!!”

  • avatar
    burgersandbeer

    I’m actually a lot less enthusiastic about the idea of getting diesels than I used to be. Manufacturers were too slow to bring them over. The difference in gas mileage is not big enough anymore.

    Diesels were a lot more attractive when C-segment cars were lucky to break into low 30s mpg. The difference between 32 combined and 37 combined doesn’t add up that fast. These numbers are from looking at cars like the recent Mazda3, Focus, and Civic vs the Jetta Sportwagon. Furthermore, fuelly suggests that all the emissions equipment required of new diesels has them significantly handicapped against older diesels (98-05 Jettas are all averaging over 40 mpg).

    Newer gas engines do give some ground back in the sound and refinement department – the new direct injection 4-cylinders sound like diesels at idle.

  • avatar
    JD321

    Just wait until Euro6 kicks in next year. The diesel advantage will be gone just like in the USA. The current USA emissions are much more stringent than Euro6.

    A friend had a 2000 Mundano wagon…Lease, don’t buy!

  • avatar
    mightytall

    So the authors experience may be a completely different one than many other peoples experience.
    I for one spent 8 years working in the US and wishing every moment that I had a manual Diesel Wagon instead of my crappy 4.3V6 automatic S-10 pickup, that I so enthusiastically purchased in my first year of residence in Michigan.
    I drove that thing from 30,000miles to over 100,000miles and went through ALL the painful repairs. Dexcool radiator gunk, suspension issues, engine stalling, alternator blowing up, etc. despite regular maintenance.

    Now, back in the fatherland, I have my manual Diesel Wagon… 140hp 2.0 Liter Turbo 2007 VW Passat that I love a lot… and it loves me back.
    I purchased it at 113.000km in 2011 and now I’m approaching 160.000km and besides normal maintenance I have had only the minor issue of the connector hose from the turbo to the intercooler developing a minor tear (~€100 incl. parts and labor at VW dealership).

    I get 35-40mpg in regular driving(50/50 city/country roads), 45mpg if I stay at 120km/h on the highway.
    Power is good enough and cornering as well as brakes.

    Now as far as the Mondeo, my best buddy owns one and if all the Diesel Wagon experience of the author comes from driving the Ford, I can understand that he thinks the Diesel Wagon is a rough uncomfortable thing.
    Also agree on the repair costs then … My buddy had to replace the turbo once and then the turbo ecu due to electronic issues.
    Mondeo is really one of the worst Diesel Wagons … too bad the Author used this as the base for his comparison.
    Maybe his report may have looked entirely different if he had also driven some other Diesel Wagons.
    Passat would have also been a good choice of working class automobile, and the BMW 5series or Mercedes E-class would have definitely painted a very much different picture.
    I often get to drive 530d or 535d and E350 CDI station wagons.
    With auto transmissions though … but these things are rocket ships.
    Power nearly without limits and you will not feel like you’re driving any kind of farm implement.
    Instead you will hear the hum of a well composed concerto of fiery self ignition and the soft whistle of multiple or variable turbo chargers promising (and delivering) strong thrust in any situation.

    • 0 avatar
      Vojta Dobeš

      I have to disagree. In my view, the Mondeo MkIII is one of the best non-premium wagons around – I like it better than the MkIV, which I find too bloated, to hard to se out of, and I dislike the “cosmic” interior.

      And both Mondeos are just about the best there is when it comes to handling – although the latest Passat comes surprisingly close, the current generation of Accord is probably on par with them and I have never driven the Mazda 6, sadly.

      Big BMWs or Audis are great, but a) they don’t come with manual transmissions any more b) there are also gasoline powered variants, which are even better.

      And, for the record, I have been working as a motoring journalist for last four years, so I have driven most LOTS of diesel manual wagons. For the most part, they are wonderful. But they’re not the enthusiast’s choice – they are just a compromise for those who cannot afford to run proper engine.

      • 0 avatar
        mightytall

        I guess we will have to agree to disagree on this one.
        So your personal taste plays very much into your assessment, just as does mine into my opinion.

        The one point I will not agree on is the Mondeo being a good car.
        Even if those things last easily over 300 thousand km, they are still the loudest most clattery beaters out there.
        When it came time to purchase my diesel wagon upon returning to Germany I did a lot of test driving and comparing.
        Mondeo is definitely the cheapest by far, but they are all just garbage.
        Value is significantly better on the Passat, even if they are often twice the price.
        The interior is much nicer, the ride is more comfortable and much quieter.
        And in repair cost by km driven my Passat is beating my buddies Mondeo very easily.
        Even though in a direct comparison he has a bit more power up top and would pull away when starting at 60km/h to 150km/h on the highway.

  • avatar
    brettc

    I drive a DSG equipped diesel wagon (apologies to the manual lovers). I love the engine in that car. It won’t win the horsepower wars, but it will win torque wars with other 2.0 litre engines. Torque is where it’s at and diesels make a lot of low end torque.

    I often chirp the tires unintentionally as I pull away from a stop line as a giant grin washes over my face. Based on my yearly mileage, I could have bought a 2.5 litre gas wagon and saved some money, but why would I want to torture myself with that boat anchor? Eventually I plan to do a Malone Stage 1.5 tune, which is good for 179 hp and 290 ft-lbs. Then I’ll have a permanent grin.

    Interesting to read a European’s take on something so common over there. It would be like me writing an article on a GM/Ford/Chrysler SUV for a European audience. I personally like to differentiate myself and have fun while driving, and a diesel wagon fits that criteria well. Plus it can haul a lot of computer equipment for my job and it can haul a lot of stuff for long trips. And mileage in the low to mid-40s is a nice benefit too.

    Thanks for the perspective from Europe!

  • avatar
    Beerboy12

    Interesting perspective indeed. I think the diesel manual wagon, the one revered on this site anyway, is an enthusiasts dream, not in the “exciting to drive” sense but more in the ultra academic perfect car sense. Actually it’s revered for the same reasons Europeans like them but don’t tell any one here ;-)
    Also, it should be brown and AWD because the Jetta Sport wagon TDI (FWD only) is for sale in the US.

  • avatar
    BigOldChryslers

    A very interesting perspective, but it doesn’t diminish my love for diesels at all. I’ve owned 4 of them, two VW Rabbits, a GM 6.2L V8 and my current Cummins. Obviously, the “agricultural” sound doesn’t bother me.

    I spent two weeks vacationing in Germany in 2007. We rented a Mondeo sedan with the turbodiesel and 5-speed stick for 1 week and I thought it was excellent. Not so impressed with the Opel diesel-stick we rented for the second week though.

    We were shopping for a vehicle for my wife in 2010 to replace her 2001 Civic. Had heard rumors of Honda bringing an Accord wagon to North America, possibly with a diesel. Instead they presented the Crosstour. I voted with my wallet and bought an off-lease 2006 CR-V with the 5-speed.


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