Medium -sized Fords were a mainstay of the New Zealand car market before the arrival of Japanese cars and the subsequent proliferation of models that came with the end of import licensing and the advent of used imports.
Not that anyone should suggest the only reason family-size Fords ruled supreme in the 1950s and 1960s was simply a lack of opposition. The European-sourced Fords were good cars in their own right and, for the time, represented rock solid value from a trusted make. Today’s Mondeo traces its origins back to the Ford Cortina that was once New Zealand’s top-selling model. Mechanically and design-wise, the front-wheel driven Mondeo is a world away from the rear-drive Cortina that would be superseded by the Sierra. The first generation Mondeo arrived in 1993, and the latest is the third in the line of impressive middleweights – there hasn’t been a dud Mondeo. So will the generation three model shake the market like the Cortina did for a decade from 1962? Well, no, simply because we’re spoiled for choice. The Cortina was always good value for money and the same applies to the new Mondeo. An entry-level price of $35,990 for a manual transmission Mondeo sedan offers impressive buying when you consider the total package.
However, the Mondeo deserves to be doing better than it is, given its impressive refinement, comfort, driving manners and interior packaging. With sedan, hatch and station wagon versions, Ford NZ sells 15 different versions of the Mondeo. A further four – three diesels and a 2.5-litre turbo five-cylinder X5 hatch – are coming. In the first quarter of 2008 Mondeo sales almost doubled compared to the same period last year, but a solid increase is expected given the second generation model was on run-out in 2007. The Mondeo is running second in the medium size class, and is being narrowly out-gunned by the handsome Mazda 6. This is shaping up to be a tough sales battle between these two, with Toyota’s Camry trailing in third spot. Once the full range is in place, the word is out on how well the Mondeo drives, and the supply improves, it could post big sales gains. You only need to drive the Mondeo a few metres to realise it’s something special. Instead of increasingly common electrically assisted steering, the Mondeo has hydraulic power assistance which has the edge in feel and response. The carefully honed rack and pinion system is geared to 2.7 turns lock to lock, but it’s the superb weighting and feedback that impress. We sampled the $37,990 sedan auto on the standard 16-inch diameter steel wheels and 215/55 tyres, and the $40,990 Zetec hatch on 17-inch alloys and 235/45 rubber. Both were precise and agile, although the lower profile Bridgestone Potenza tyres were very noisy on coarse seal, with the rumble drowning the sound system. Certainly the MacPherson strut from suspension and multi-link rear with isolated subframe worked superbly on both versions, with no sacrifice in ride comfort on the larger diameter wheels.
The car’s ride and body composure are key reasons for including the new Mondeo on your shopping list. It offers a welcome compliancy over rough surfaces, making it ideal for our roads. It’s good enough to rank the Ford on equal footing with the best of the more expensive European models, offering real driver satisfaction for a lot less money. Dynamic stability control – standard on all Mondeos – has electronic brake assist and traction assist. The four-wheel disc braking is solid and reassuring, even if there’s too much servo assistance. Torsional stiffness of the hatch is up 116 per cent over the old model; the sedan improves by 130 per cent, the wagon by 159. Yet intriguingly both test cars creaked quietly in some situations, such as entering a driveway at slow speed. Until the X5 arrives, the only manual gearbox Mondeos in New Zealand are the 2.0-litre sedan and wagon. All other petrol Mondeos have the 2.3-litre Duratec engine, producing 118kW at 6500rpm and 208Nm of torque, and six-speed automatic gearboxes. Most sedan buyers are likely to opt for the automatic, and the $2000 price premium includes the larger engine. Both engines are DOHC fours with alloy blocks and cylinder heads. The 2.3-litre might only be 10 per cent more powerful and provide 12 per cent higher torque but seems more appropriate given the Mondeo’s Falcon-like weight. One of the test cars had an occasional hesitation under heavy acceleration, but generally performance was strong enough to allay fears that the 2.3-litre Mondeo is underpowered. The Mondeo hits 100kph in 10.3 seconds, and the six-speed auto is smooth, responsive and instinctive. Top speed is 208kph. Our test cars averaged 11.3 litres/100km (25mpg), a reasonably good result even if it fell short of the 9.3 litres/100km (30.4mpg) Ford quotes for the combined fuel economy cycle. The Zetec hatch can be optioned up with a $4500 Sports pack – body kit, leather upholstery and 17-inch spoked alloy wheels.
There’s much to like about the new Mondeo. It has a huge cabin and standard gear includes follow-me-home lights, cap-less refuelling and cruise control. However, the driving position is less than perfect, visibility is poor and styling borders on bland and, from some angles, awkward. You’ll struggle to read the trip computer or trip meter on a bright sunny day, and with sunglasses legibility is nigh impossible. The Belgian-built cars’ standard of finish and paintwork fails to match the driving manners, but you tend to dismiss any negatives once behind the wheel. Forget badge snobbery and the driving dynamics present a real challenge to BMW 3-Series and Audi A4 – high praise, indeed. Ford’s biggest dilemma is that the new Mondeo may steal sales not from Mazda and Toyota but from the Falcon. Robbing Peter to pay Paul is no way to increase sales.