You. Yes, you lot out there. Collectively you are distinctly puzzling. The Ford Mondeo sold nearly 130,000 units during its first year on sale, back when the press wrote it off as the Mundano. Fast forward to 2001, the first full sales year for the Mark Three Mondeo, a car the press hailed as the greatest invention since the opposable thumb and how many do you buy between the lot of you? 150,000? 200,000? Not a bit of it. You rewarded the labour’s of Uncle Henry’s finest with a piffling 80,000 sales. Like I said, puzzling. There had never been a car in the medium family saloon sector that rewrote the rules quite so comprehensively as the Mark Three Mondeo. Comparison tests became academic. They were about as predictable as the outcome of the 2002 Grand Prix season. The Mondeo would win whilst the others scratched around for the minor placings. Before too long almost every new car in this sector had shamelessly cribbed from the Ford which, if one is to be brutally truthful, took a fair bit of interior design inspiration from Volkswagen to begin with. As a used car purchase it’s difficult to recommend the Mondeo highly enough.
The third generation Mondeo was launched at a time of radical shake up in the medium range family saloon market. Industry doomsayers were predicting the whole sector to go belly up as buyers were seduced by premium offerings like the Audi A3 and BMW 3-Series Compact or by mini-MPVs like the Vauxhall Zafira or the Citroen Xsara Picasso. Ford had no contender in either of these markets and Mondeo sales were taking a battering. Time to move the goalposts. Few were ready for what Ford unveiled. With the exception of the unexceptional 2.0-litre TDdi turbo diesel engine, the Mondeo barely put a foot wrong. Keen to rectify this oversight, Ford launched the state of the art common rail 2.0-litre TDCi engine in 2001 and made a series of detail changes aimed to keep the Mondeo at the top of the tree. Electronic Brake Assist, once a £250 option, was fitted as standard across the range. This reduces stopping distances by augmenting the driver’s braking effort with additional hydraulic support thus ensuring that maximum braking efficiency is reached. Tests have shown that EBD will result in a Mondeo in the hands of an average driver will stop between one and three car lengths quicker than a standard car. That’s certainly the difference between a close call and giving the dog a phone. Security was also boosted by the introduction of auto relock. If a locked Mondeo is unlocked using the remote key fob and no doors are opened within 45 seconds, the system will automatically relock itself. In addition to this, convenience features such as automatic reverse wash wipe were phased in. This automatically activates the rear screen wiper if reverse is selected whilst the windscreen wipers are on. Sounds simple, but then the most elegant technical solutions usually are. The range was added to in 2002 with the launch of the 3.0-litre 151mph ST220 sports model. Those who’d felt short changed by the Mk2 ST200 emerged metaphorically beaten over the head with a sockful of quarters after a spell behind the wheel of the ST220, an estate version of which appeared in Spring 2003. A powerful yet economical 1.8-litre SCi engine was added to the Mondeo line up in autumn 2003, alongside Euro IV compliant TDCi 130 diesel engines. Two more new engines arrived in time for summer 2004. A 204bhp 3.0-litre V6 and a 155bhp TDCi engine which was offered in the ST TDCi. Elegant is certainly a word that applies to the Mondeo’s interior. Flick the switches, then check the quality of fit and finish. Take away the Blue Oval badge and you’d probably guess at compact executive class leaders like Audi’s A4 – maybe even BMW’s 3 Series. Except, that this car isn’t compact. You don’t need a tape measure to know that. In fact, there’s as much space inside as Ford offered in its old flagship Scorpio, a car from the next class up. And all of the same gadgets, niceties and safety standards. Not that the new Mondeo looks big from the outside or feels it behind the wheel. Despite the extra 150mm in length (and a huge 500-litre boot), the latest model shrinks around you, much like an A4 or a 3 Series. Not that Audi, BMW or Lexus need worry too much. That angular new shape is pleasing enough, but it won’t get you a reserved space in the golf club carpark. Ford has given that job to its Jaguar X-TYPE and doesn’t want the Mondeo getting ideas too far above its station. Still, against obvious rivals such as the Vauxhall Vectra and Peugeot 406 the shape looks pleasantly clean and crisp. These cars represent the real battleground of course, so let’s get down to basics. There are three bodystyles – saloon, five-door and estate – spread over five familiar trim levels (LX, Zetec, Zetec-S, Ghia and Ghia X). Equipment levels include most of what you would expect – air conditioning, front electric windows, a decent quality stereo and so on. There’s plenty of stowage space around the cabin too, with perfectly-shaped homes for items like window squeeges, atlases, drinks cans, tapes, CDs, owners manuals and mobile ‘phones. Notable options include a facia-mounted CD autochanger and a DVD video system with screens mounted in the back of the front head rests: with films or linked to a PlayStation, that should keep the kids quiet on long journeys.
Prices start at around £7,100 for a 2000X registered Mondeo 1.8i LX saloon. The hatches command another £150 with the desirable estates tacking on another £750. A 2.0-litre Zetec model of similar vintage will be £7,800 in saloon guise, £7,900 in hatchback form and £8,400 if you need an estate. The 2.5-litre cars offer a beautiful V6 warble and the Ghia X starts at just under £9,100 in saloon form on the 2000X plate, £9,500 for a hatch and £9,700 for an estate. Should you fancy a diesel, the 2.0 TDdi model opens at £7,800 for an LX trim, but we’d recommend stretching that bit further and going for an ex-demonstrator or low mileage TDCi. You’ll thank us for it afterwards. The Series Three Mondeo has proved commendably reliable to date, although owners have commented on cold starting issues with the TDdi diesel engine and the occasional duff driveshaft. There was a recall on petrol engined Mondeos in August 2001 when 5,500 cars were brought in to have their cruise control systems adjusted as there had been an instance when the system had failed to disengage. On the whole, the Mondeo is a quality product at mainstream prices. Timing has a lot to answer for. Tony Jarrett would have been a national hero had Colin Jackson not been around at the same time. Likewise, nobody will remember 2001’s Academy award winning movie because of the clamour for Harry Potter. The Mark Three Mondeo is perpetually overshadowed by its illustrious junior sibling, the Focus. Had the Focus never turned a wheel, the Mondeo would make hot cakes look like a sticky product line. A used example may not be the most individual automotive choice you could ever make, but it might just be the best. When Jaguar salesmen surreptitiously inform you that the X-TYPE shares the same basic architecture as a Mondeo you know the Ford is all good.
(approx prices for a 1.8 excl VAT) A front wing costs around £95 and a windscreen just under £135. Tyres are just under £90 and a complete exhaust system (including catalytic converter) would set you back about £450.
Were it not for that Blue Oval staring back from the steering wheel boss, you might well mistake the interior if the Mondeo for a VW Passat whose owner had a penchant for showy clocks. It’s all scarily logical, although not quite perfect, especially if your hands are anything less than dainty. If this is the case, whenever you select third or fifth gear the back of your hand will change the radio station. The handbrake is badly positioned with not enough roiom for your knuckles or your thumb. You’ll forgive the Mondeo its minor ergonomic pratfalls when you hit the road. Most of the engines on offer were all-new at launch, the exception being the 170bhp 2.5-litre V6: fair enough – there wasn’t much wrong with that. Since then, a second 217bhp V6 has been developed for the flagship ST220, this being 3.0-litres in size. The all-alloy Duratec HE 1.8 and 2.0-litre petrol units used in more humble Mondeos are superb, developing 123 and 143bhp respectively and feeling faster thanks to strong low-down torque. They’re a sack of potatoes (20 kgs) lighter than rival engines, which helps performance (sixty from rest takes 9.8 seconds in the 2.0-litre) and are very rigid, which helps to achieve Passat-levels of refinement. Whilst refinement isn’t the keynote of the 2.0-litre TDdi 113bhp Duratorq turbo diesel engine, it produces extremely decent fuel figures (up to 48mpg on the combined cycle). It’s still not the quietest unit of its kind (the Transit associations show through here) but the performance (rest to sixty in 10.6s on the way to 121mph) is some recompense. Mind you, if you really want to see a step forward in the diesel stakes, then you need to try the TDCi common rail turbo diesel unit: refined and fast, this is a far more impressive proposition and a tribute to Ford’s Centre for Diesel Excellence based in Dagenham. Whilst not as quiet as the 1.8litre TDCi unit fitted to the Focus and easy to stall when emerging from junctions, it’s otherwise a crushingly competent engine, quick, tractable and almost comically economical. As with all Mondeos, the handling is beyond reproach. Whilst other rivals have made ground on the Ford in terms of interior quality, packaging and engine technology nothing in this class approaches the Mondeo’s ability to tackle a corner.