It’s not what the Mondeo does, it’s the way that it does it. There are bigger cars, quicker cars and more economical cars. But none combines the Mondeo’s sharp responses, impressive comfort, superb stability and remarkable practicality.
Without a caravan, the Ford Mondeo corners with amazing agility for such a big car. Deft steering helps the driver place the car with millimetre precision, and taut suspension keeps body movements in check no matter how much the road twists and turns. With a van in tow, the big Ford still makes you smile: the caravan just follows obediently behind it.
In our lane-change manoeuvre, the Mondeo was a class apart. Although the cornering generated high G-forces in the caravan, the smooth shape of the graph shows how the car remained firmly in control of the van.
The outfit accelerated from 30-60mph in 18.1 seconds – not quick, but assured enough for easy overtaking. The extra power of the manual version (138bhp instead of 128bhp) would probably shave off a few tenths, although there’s no doubt the auto made life easier on the test hill.
Inside, the Mondeo is simply huge, with plenty of space for adults to stretch out in the rear seats. The enormous boot comfortably swallowed every item of luggage. If the handbook contained any useful information on towing, the practicality score would have been even higher.
Picking one car from 53 isn’t easy. Several cars stood out this year, but our judges were all in agreement as to the very best.
The Ford Mondeo does so many things so well. Let’s start with its interior. Compared with the old car – already large by family car standards – the Mondeo is huge. Cabin space isn’t far behind some luxury saloons. In estate form, there’s impressive luggage space, too: 542 litres with the rear seats in place, and 1733 with the seats folded forward. Sometimes the official volume figures can be misleading, as an awkward shape can reduce the usable space. Not so in this case; the Mondeo easily found room for all our holiday luggage.
The cabin isn’t just big, it’s well put together, too. The plastics and fit and finish stand comparison with many prestige saloons, yet the price tag is firmly rooted in the mainstream.
Settle in behind the wheel, and you’ll find plenty of adjustment for the wheel and seat. Short or tall, wide or thin, any driver should be able to find a comfortable driving position. The dashboard is clear and logical, with sensibly placed controls and clearly labelled buttons. It doesn’t take long to feel at home.
Turn the key, and you’re in no doubt that there’s a diesel engine under the bonnet. Yet it’s a smooth engine – it doesn’t get too vocal under hard acceleration and there’s plenty of muscle for towing. There are quicker cars in this year’s test, but the Mondeo’s 2.0 TDCi never feels overwhelmed. At a steady 60mph it’s unstressed and quiet, happy to hold the legal limit from Newquay to Newcastle.
However impressive the Mondeo is on the motorway, it’s when the road twists and turns that it really shines. The lane-change manouevre is probably the toughest aspect of our tests. Across all five weight categories, only a handful of cars could match the Mondeo’s poise, and most of those cost more than £40,000. The Ford’s stability is superb, the steering as precise as a surgeon’s knife, and the grip seems never-ending. The ride is firm but comfortable, with or without a caravan in tow.
Our 1-in-6 test hill proved the come-uppance of many cars, especially front-wheel drive models like the Mondeo. Even in damp conditions, however, the Ford coped well. The handbrake held the outfit without needing a second, firmer pull, but the optional Hill-Start Assist system will do the job if you’re ham-fisted with the clutch and accelerator.
Leave the tourer behind and the driver can really enjoy the Mondeo to the full. For such a big car it’s remarkably agile, and the superb suspension keeps body movements in check, however bumpy the road.
The numbers add up, too. A price tag the wrong side of £20,000 couldn’t be described as cheap, but there are big discounts there for the asking. Remember, too, that this is a high-spec Titanium model, loaded with goodies such as an eight-speaker stereo, a six-CD autochanger, dual-zone climate control and 17-inch alloy wheels. There are enough airbags to raise the Titanic, and stability control is standard. The crash-test experts at Euro NCAP gave the car a five-star rating for occupant protection.
Fuel bills should be reasonable as well. Even with an automatic transmission, official figures promise 39.8mpg on the combined cycle. Choosing the manual will knock £1250 from the price and improve the fuel consumption to 47.9mpg.
Perhaps the most telling thing about the Ford’s success is that it had to beat last year’s overall champion, the Volkswagen Passat 4Motion, to win its weight class. Although it lacks the VW’s four-wheel drive, it’s a better car in almost every other way. A truly worthy winner of the Tow Car Awards 2008.