Ford's new Mondeo range of five-door hatchback, four-door sedan and wagon is pivotal to the brand's success in Europe. But this latest model is more than just a successor to a range that has sold 1.1 million examples since it was originally launched in 1993.
What you're looking at is the clearest manifestation of Ford's new European -- and Far Eastern -- styling trend, dubbed "Kinetic Design" by Martin Smith, Ford of Europe's executive design director. Although a brand-new model, it won't be making its way across the Atlantic for a number of reasons: It would be too costly to reengineer to meet U.S. crash standards, and to be financially viable it would have to be built in America. Currently, no plant can produce the European C/D structure. "But," Smith said, "we're researching the American consumer's reaction to Kinetic Design to see if we get the same positive view as we have had in Europe and the Far East."
Equally important, and highly relevant to Ford CEO Alan Mulally's efforts to drive Ford of North America into profitability, is the Global Shared Technology engineering strategy that underpins the Mondeo.
This car shares vital structures and components with the new Volvo S80, the Land Rover LR2 as well as Ford's Galaxy and S-Max MPVs, cutting costs and development times dramatically. Steve Adams, vehicle line director, admitted there "could be" opportunities for GST engineering in the U.S. and admitted they were in the "early days" of discussion with American engineers on how best GST philosophy could be applied to North American products.
This is not "top hat" engineering as pioneered by Volkswagen that puts distinctive bodies on common platforms. Every car that shares GST with the Mondeo is unique, and faithful, to its own brand values.
The new Mondeo is a good-looking car in all three versions with, arguably, the wagon being the most handsome. Its bold face with an inverted trapezoidal grille is echoed in design elements throughout the car. A rearward rising waistline gives the car a confident athletic stance. "We wanted to express our class leadership in dynamics through the [exterior] styling," explained Smith.
Equally impressive is the interior: There's been an upgrade in materials that easily puts the car at the top of its European sector, while the thin-blade fascia and flow-through console are stylish elements. Quality might not yet quite be at Audi's level, but Ford is knocking at their door with its policy of "affordable quality."
It's also extremely roomy and capable of easily seating a quintet of 6-ft.-plus adults in comfort.
At launch there were just two powertrains available: a 217-bhp/236-lb.-ft.-of-torque, 2.5-liter 5-cylinder, which started life as a Volvo power unit but has been reprogrammed to suit Ford's parameters, and a 2.0-liter diesel producing 129 bhp and 236 lb.-ft. (with 250 available on overboost). Both come with a 6-speed manual gearbox; a 6-speed automatic and other powertrain combinations will come later.
The 7-year-old Mondeo was still its class leader in the handling stakes, but this latest version has just upped the ante for both Japanese and European rivals who probably thought they were edging up on Ford.
On sweeping, fast Sicilian roads the Mondeo outshone its rivals: Front-wheel drive it is, but not that you would really notice. Naturally it understeered at the limit, but that was so high the average Joe won't even get there. The steering is well weighted through corners, and it's just so easy to adjust its trajectory if the bend starts to play tricks on you.
The ride, too, was exemplary even when the tarmac disintegrated into ridges and bad patches.
While the straight-5 rewarded high revs, the torquier diesel had terrific midrange punch.
Next time you visit Europe, rent a new Mondeo to see what you're missing. If its values can be transferred across the Atlantic and adopted by Ford, then you're in for some great cars.