The 2015 Ford Mondeo is here at last after an unseasonably long gestation, delayed in part because of a plant closure in Belgium (where the old one was made) and the tooling up of a new plant in Spain (where the new one is made).
And make no mistake, the new Mondeo needs to be good. The mid-sized segment may be struggling against the buyer tide towards SUVs, but this just makes it more hotly contested.
The updated Mazda 6 and new Hyundai Sonata come to mind as rivals — even if Ford’s puzzling confrontational marketing focuses on the fleet-oriented Toyota Camry — but the new Subaru Liberty and forthcoming new Volkswagen Passat also loom. And that’s just a small handful.
Larger than before, yet lighter, the new Mondeo builds on the old car’s cavernous cabin and adds a new sheen of sound-deadening and greater ride refinement courtesy of a thoroughly reworked suspension setup.
The shoes it has to figuratively walk in are made all the more difficult to pull off given the outgoing MC Mondeo was one of the best-handling cars in its class, and a hard act to follow.
Under the bonnets of the three-variant range — Ambiente, Trend and Titanium — are the choice of two 2.0-litre EcoBoost turbo-petrols in differing states of tune, and a 2.0-litre TDCi turbo-diesel, all matched to a six-speed automatic gearbox (dual-clutch on the diesel) sending torque to the front wheels.
No manual gearboxes, 1.5-litre turbos or hybrid powertrains here (as found in Europe), and no upscale Vignale version either.
As before, the hatchback is likely to be the biggest seller, accounting for about 75 per cent of its volume — and no doubt capitalising on the absence of such a body-style from the new Mazda 6 range that comes with a traditional sedan in lieu — while the Euro-style wagon will make up the remainder.
Don’t expect the Mondeo to post huge numbers, the Mazda 6 averages between 400 and 500 sales a month, and that’s the top-seller behind the Camry, which hovers well over 2000 units most months.
But it’s not particularly volume that Ford is after. It’s an image makeover. The company is changing its retail strategy, ditching its focus on fleets and attempting to change what it believes is everyone’s perception of its brand. Ford is doing its best to distance itself from Falcon, basically.
The Mondeo’s role in this is to be a tech leader, given it introduces numerous new features to the brand — inflatable rear seatbelts only available until now on a Mercedes-Benz S-Class, and the latest Park Assist system that parks perpendicular and parallel and can also pull you out, for instance — and to lay the groundwork for an upcoming “product avalanche” for the brand.
There will be 20 new Ford models on sale in Australia by 2020, with others due just this year including the Focus ST, Focus, Ranger, Everest and Mustang. Busy times, and the Mondeo is the first spearpoint in the proposed assault.
It’s a good car and in many ways it's an excellent one.
We attended the media launch this week in Canberra, and had a relatively brief and limited spin in a handful of variants. Naturally, we’ll get the cars through our CarAdvice garage inside a few weeks, but the early thoughts are generally positive.
Pricing kicks off at $32,790 plus on-road costs for the Ambiente hatch petrol, with an extra $4000 for the diesel engine. Getting into a wagon with either engine costs $1850 more than the hatch.
The mid-range Trend starts at $37,290, with the diesel this time adding $3200 and the wagon $1850. The flagship Titanium — the most impressive in some ways — costs $44,290 as a petrol hatch, $47,490 as a diesel hatch and $49,340 as a diesel wagon.
Strangely, you cannot get a petrol version of the wagon in either Trend or Titanium (edit) spec.
You can see a full breakdown of pricing and specifications here, but a quick and brief model walk goes thus:
All variants get satellite navigation and digital radio, which is good — almost as good as the voice control system that understands conversational patter. There are two USB points too. One negative is that a rear-view camera doesn’t come on this spec until June production.
The Trend adds niceties such as larger 17-inch alloys (Ambiente has 16s), adaptive radar-guided cruise control (works well, though cuts out once you slow to 20km/h) and low-speed autonomous braking, electric, heated, partial-leather seats, auto headlights and rain-sensing wipers, push-button start, and a rear-view camera from launch.
The Titanium adds 18-inch alloys, a panoramic glass roof, LED lighting, electric steering column and tailgate and a heap of proper luxury-car safety gear such as blind-spot detection, pedestrian detection with auto-stop, enhanced Park Assist, lane departure warning and nifty adaptive suspension.
The new cabin is well presented, for starters, doing away with many of the naff buttons and oddball shapes found on models such as the Fiesta and Kuga. Instead, you get a clean and simple design dominated by an 8.0-inch touchscreen with Sync 2 infotainment just like that on the Falcon and Territory.
The conservative design incorporates some excellent storage solutions — the hidden area behind the fascia, for one — and the general lack of clutter is most welcome. There is also a big console and big door pockets, plus good cup-holders ahead of the electric park brake.
Dislikes? There’s no digital speedo (a notable issue on the Titanium, in particular, with its different instruments) and this variant’s reworked ventilation controls looks cheap. As do the Microsoft and Sony badges glued on. It’s just not as ‘premium’ as the almost German-feeling Mazda 6 cabin, basically.
These areas are frankly nitpicking, but what’s a little more notable are the somewhat average plastics, particularly the shiny black surfacing surrounding the cupholders and the silver-effect covers that bookmark the storage area behind the fascia.
Where the Mondeo really shines is cabin space. The rear seats are vast — and heated in the flagship car — in terms of legroom, and those inflatable seatbelts are actually really comfortable and, because they increase the belt’s surface area, they protect the neck and chest better to boot.
Headroom in the hatch, and visibility through the small windows, is more middling than the excellent wagon. Also, you don’t get rear air vents in the Ambiente, unlike the other variants, which seems anachronistic.
Moving into the cargo area, you notice right off the bat the benefit of the hatch body style, which offers a longer and more versatile loading area than almost any sedan — about 560 litres with the seats up and an impressive 1356L with them folded.
Better still is the wagon, which offers 730L/1605L, though it does forgo the hatch’s full-sized spare in favour of a space-saver. All versions get a divider mounted on rails and a tie-down net, though. It’s a superior loading area in all aspects bar loading height to most large SUVs.
The overall impression is of a spacious and practical cabin that comes well-equipped but, perhaps due to its actual development vintage, doesn’t feel quite as upmarket as you might hope.
Behind the wheel, the Mondeo is immediately both quieter and more refined than before, and continues the old car’s legacy of excellent ride compliance. The all-round independent suspension soaks up bumps beautifully, even on 18-inch wheels, making this a lovely long-legged cruiser — even without adaptive suspension.
It’s not quite as sharp as the old car though. The new electric steering is direct and quick, but devoid of feel and feedback and a little too reluctant to load up beyond the realms of urban twirling.
This, plus the almost inevitable chirps from the front tyres under heavy throttle and the slightly less tied-down feel mid-corner, mean the Mondeo still bows to the Falcon when it comes to eating up a twisty piece of tarmac.
The petrol engine powering the Ambiente is a 2.0-litre EcoBoost engine from the same family as that used in the Falcon four-cylinder and Focus ST. In low-grade guise it produces 149kW at 5400rpm and 345Nm from 2700rpm.
In the other models it makes 177kW/345Nm (the latter across a wider torque band), though the difference in punch is less noticeable than you may think. Both engines are smooth, refined and deliver their power in a linear fashion, though neither is blistering.
That might be because the petrol versions weight (kerb weight) between 1607kg and 1638kg, which is about 150kg heavier than a Mazda 6 and not a great deal lighter than a Falcon.
The claimed fuel use of 8.2L/100km is higher than a number of rivals too, despite aero improvements. It’s hard on a quick launch drive to verify economy, but await our garage review coming soon for our findings there. We'd also point out that the 179kW EcoBoost Falcon uses 0.1L/100km less...
The six-speed auto with paddles is effective and particularly free of indecision around urban climes.
Perhaps a more pleasant option — and, for full disclosure, I rarely recommend diesels — is the 2.0-litre TDCi oiler, which makes 132kW and 400Nm (from 2000-2500rpm). It’s beautifully refined and free of clatter and oozing punch. It’s too expensive over the petrol to be easily justified, however.
It also has a relatively smooth and jitter-free dual-clutch auto from Ford’s Powershift family that makes the most of things.
As an ownership proposition, Ford Australia has stepped up its game. You get seven annual services at a pre-arranged capped-price, free auto club membership and a free loan car at each dealer visit.
So that’s the Mondeo. It’s an impressive first impression, albeit a brief one that will change with more familiarity.
Ford has delivered a car with good equipment levels, hugely spacious interiors and sublime comfort, tempered by a slightly less engaging driving experience and a less diverse powertrain line-up than some may wish for.
It’s particularly impressive as a wagon, given the clever loading solutions, cavernous rear space and slick Euro styling. It’s also not a huge extra financial stretch.
The segment led by the Mazda 6, Sonata, Liberty and Passat has an equally or even more accomplished newcomer to deal with, at least. No doubt we’ll be pitting it against some of these when we can in our next mid-sized vehicle comparison test. Expect a tight race.