When you arrive late to a party you can often be ignored and blend quietly into the crowd. Ford found that out in 2007 when it launched the new-generation Mondeo. As the new-look hatch and sedan shuffled into the mid-size party pack, buyers glanced over their shoulders for a peek but then promptly went back to the easily recognised Japanese and Korean competition.
Initial sales were slow and the car struggled to find its place, largely overshadowed by a widely held - but misplaced - perception of Ford as the ‘Falcon car company’. The dominance of the Mondeo's mid-size competition did not help either.
Sales improved last year but the perky Ford still lags behind the established bluebloods like the Toyota Camry, Mazda6, Subaru Liberty and Honda Accord Euro.
Ford admits it initially had trouble convincing buyers that its car had the looks, price and equipment to be taken seriously. This time around they might have better luck. With the MB model update, Ford has put the Mondeo under the microscope and essentially relaunching the brand.
It has dropped the sedan, refreshed the hatch and added a wagon. As before there is a choice of the entry LX, sporty Zetec and turbocharged XR5 models. The Titanium is only available in a hatch, which seems a pity, particularly given Holden's success with its Commodore Sportswagon.
Drivetrains and pricing
Ford has also launched the up-spec Titanium version with the choice of a 2.3-litre petrol four cylinder or 2.0-litre turbodiesel mated to a six-speed automatic. The 2.3-litre Duratec four cylinder petrol develops 118kW/208Nm while the 2.0-litre turbo-diesel, shared with the Focus, develops 103kW/320Nm.
At $42,990, the Titanium petrol version sits below the XR5 and blends that car's sporty looks with some premium luxury features not before seen in the segment — and some of which are not even available in the Falcon.
At $45,990 for the TDCi, it sits at the upper end of the price scale against the Japanese and Korean diesel opposition and smack in the middle of some performance Falcons. But if you want a roomy Ford with a diesel, it is well worth the extra. There are plenty of inducements to get buyers to look at the Titanium too.
Equipment and fit-out
The Titanium gets voice control, adaptive cruise control with forward alert and dynamic headlights with low beam headlights, as well as cornering lights. Like the other sporty Mondeos, there is a sports body kit, foglights, to sports suspension and 18-inch alloy wheels. Inside there are alcantara/leather sports seats with five-phase heating, sunroof, keyless start and smart key entry, Bluetooth and B-pillar mounted air vents for the rear passenger compartment.
Safety conscious buyers also get a full suite of airbags, including a driver's knee airbag, as well as traction and stability control. These safety features and a strong body deliver a five-star crash rating.
The previous Mondeo had a lot going for it and there is little reason to question the performance or packaging of the new one. Prices have risen slightly but it remains a well-styled vehicle with plenty of room for a family. The mid-size Ford delivers a strong case as a roomy, classy car backed up with precise steering, strong brakes, supple suspension and almost Falcon levels of cabin and boot space. Adding high-end equipment like voice control, adaptive cruise control and dynamic headlights are more than a talking point; they are recognised safety features.
The petrol version costs $3000 less but for our money the turbo-diesel Titanium is the pick, delivering strong performance and excellent fuel economy of 7.3 litres/100km. In a mix of mostly city driving we achieved 7.9 litres/100km.
Apart from economy, the relatively small TDCi engine is strong on performance, particularly in the mid-range from 80km/h upwards. It is a good commuter but also a relaxed long-distance tourer with plenty in reserve for overtaking. The Titanium's 2.0-litre TDCi is particularly peaky down low, so much so that it is easy to induce the traction control system in the wet as the front wheels scramble for grip.
Initially there is an ever-so-slight lag as you pull away from traffic lights but once rolling the diesel is responsive. Like all the latest-generation common rail diesel engines, it is quiet and refined at highway speeds. The Mondeo copes with Australian roads well. Even with the 18-inch alloys and low-profile rubber there is a reasonable degree of suppleness in the suspension. The Continental tyres are grippy but over coarser surfaces some road noise does find its way into the cabin.
At highway speeds there is some booming noise in the cabin but we suspect that is because of the large hatch area. Like some of its Japanese opposition, the Mondeo is an engaging drive. The steering is well weighted and direct and supplies plenty of feedback. There are no complaints about the six-speed auto either. It is silky and kicks down effortlessly when you require more urge.
Inside, the superb leather and alcantara heated front seats do a great job in the comfort stakes and there is plenty of leg and headroom in the back. The boot is huge enough to challenge the Falcon, particularly with the 60/40 split rear seats folded. The cabin presentation is top-class too. The faux alloy and piano black mix of trim gives the cabin a classy look and the mostly soft-touch plastic trim is on-par with the best out of Japan.
However, some of the cartoon-style colour graphics in the centre cluster - Ford calls it the human machine interface - are not as polished as the Germans. They are however, intuitive and easy to master using the steering wheel mounted controls.
The Titanium's parking sensors come in handy because the hatch's swoopy silhouette makes it difficult to judge the car's extremities from the driver's seat. The directional lights are also an unexpected bonus, providing a good spread of low beam light as they swivel through 15 degrees around corners.
For those buyers who want wagon-levels of load capacity the Mondeo will not disappoint. There is absolutely no reason it cannot grab sales from the Toyota Camry, Mazda6 and Honda Accord Euro. By reorganising the range and adding the Titanium, Ford may finally have a better chance of weaning buyers off the Japanese and Korean fare. It has the right gear and something the others so obviously lack - European cachet. And there’s just enough bling to make it worthwhile.
Ford Mondeo Titanium TDCi
Price: from $45,990 (2.0-litre TDCi)
Engines: 2.0-litre turbodiesel,
Power: 103kW @ 4000rpm
Torque: 320Nm @ 1750-2240rpm
Transmission: Six-speed sequential automatic
Economy: 7.3 litres/100km combined
Mazda6 Diesel Sport 76/100 (from $44,840)
Honda Accord Euro 79/100 (from $34,990)
Toyota Camry 75/100 (from $29,990)
Skoda Octavia 2.0 TDI auto 74/100 (from $39,915)