There's no doubt that the driver's seating position is a key factor in whether you like or loathe a car.
In this car, the driving position is snug and cockpit-like.
I have the seat pulled forward to allow me to depress the clutch fully, and the side bolster on the cushion touches the centre console, adding to the cockpit-like feel.
The seat cushion has a protruding centre section that provides excellent lower thigh support yet is soft enough not to irritate the underside of your knees.
I adjust the seat back to get my arms at the right distance. The top of the seat provides good support for my shoulder blades, the side bolsters on the seatback give good lateral support during vigorous driving.
And vigorous driving is one of the new Ford Mondeo Zetec five-door hatchback's strong suits.
This car thrives on winding roads, and its beautifully-designed driving position just adds to the pleasure.
I like to sit relatively low and have the steering wheel relatively high and the Mondeo allows me to do that.
The leather-wrapped steering wheel has an ideal diameter and rim thickness that reinforce the good seating position.
The cleanly-styled circular instrument are where they should be - straight ahead of the driver - and are easy to read.
In city driving the Mondeo Zetec is very user-friendly, the power-assisted, variable-rate rack and pinion steering light in use but positive.
On the motorway heading for country roads the car cruises quietly and efficiently at 100km/h, the greatest noise being the roar from the P205/55 R16 tyres on patches of chip seal.
But it's on winding country roads that the Mondeo Zetec really comes into its own.
The communicative steering keeps you well-informed about what the chassis is doing.
Being front-wheel drive, the basic handling trait is understeer; but it's understeer that's well controlled. Even tight corners taken hard don't result in sledging.
Turn-in is crisp and instant and the car retains a pleasantly neutral feel with little in the way of rear-end movement.
On a favourite sequence of demanding uphill corners that ends in a progressively, then suddenly tightening left-hander the Mondeo acquits itself well.
This final corner is a real test of chassis finesse, but the Mondeo treats it with disdain. Just another corner, no need for mid-corner steering adjustments.
Roadholding is excellent and a damp road on a tricky, long radius, slightly off-camber left-hander gives no cause for concern. The Mondeo handles everything the road can throw at it - and more.
Ride quality is good, the suspension firm enough but never harsh.
Front suspension is by MacPherson struts and there's a four-link system at the rear.
Clutch action is light but retains good feel. Bite is instant and the car gets off the line easily and cleanly.
The five-speed manual gearshift is precise and the synchromesh unbeatable. Gearshifts are quick and accurate and the 'box is a pleasure to use in a cross-country sprint.
The 1999cc Duratec HE double overhead camshaft four cylinder engine is of all alloy construction. It has electronic, sequential multi-point fuel-injection.
The engine provides a useful 105kW of power at 6000rpm and 185Nm of peak torque at 4500rpm.
It's an engine that likes to rev, though its exhaust note is not especially evocative.
The car is quite heavy at 1392kg, but the lively motor gives reasonably quick acceleration. It will hit 100km/h in a shade under 10 seconds.
Official figures quoted by Ford put fuel consumption at 11.5 litres per 100 kilometres on the city cycle and 7.3 litres/100km on the highway cycle.
We managed to get a fair distance in before the fuel gauge moved far off the full position.
The fuel tank holds a handy 58.5 litres.
Brake performance was good even under fairly sever use. The system, which includes ABS, uses 300mm diameter ventilated front discs and 280mm solid rears.
The Mondeo is a moderately-big car, though its exterior packaging is so good it doesn't look big. It's 4731`mm long, 1931mm wide (with mirrors), and 1429mm high. The wheelbase is 2754mm. Front track is 1522mm and rear 1537mm.
Cabin comfort levels are good and there's good head and legroom, though the latter diminishes for rear seat passengers if the front seats are pushed right back.
The four-speaker audio system provides good sound and has a single Compact Disc player. The dashboard-mounted audio controls are augmented by steering column-mounted remotes.
The safety package includes dual front and side airbags for front seat occupants; anti-whiplash head restraints, and anti-intrusion beams in the doors.
Luggage capacity in the covered cargo area is 460 litres which expands to 1300 litres when the rear seat backrest is folded forward.
The car will tow 1725kg on a braked trailer and 700kg on an unbraked one.
Wheels are nine-spoke 16-inch diameter alloys.
Standard equipment includes heated, electrically-adjustable exterior mirrors; rear centre armrest; three rear seat head restraints; CFC-free air-conditioning with climate control; electrically-wound front and rear windows with bounce-back sensors; leather wrapped steering wheel; cruise control, and remote central door-locking.
We particularly liked the auto up and down switch on the front windows.
We know people who drive old model Mondeos and don't particularly like them (we, in fact, thought them not too bad).
It's been too long since we drove an old Mondeo to draw comparisons with the new model, but on its merits alone the Zetec is an impressive entry in the 2.0-litre hatchback sector.
The styling is distinctive and athletic-looking and follows traditional sedan lines - thankfully there's no question of monobox here.
The Mondeo Zetec costs $39,600, goes well, is comfortable, handles superbly and is quite refined - a good all-round package.