It’s easy to take the Ford Mondeo Estate for granted. Even with healthy annual sales, few who’ve yet to get behind the wheel of a Mk 3 Mondeo realise quite what a superb vehicle it is. The press lavishes praise over the latest shiny faces in the medium estate class whilst the Mondeo continues to represent the true benchmark for dynamic excellence. As well as being a hoot to drive, the Mondeo Estate fulfils its role as a load lugger with aplomb. If you’re not overly concerned with a premium badge stuck to the snout of your car, the Mondeo Estate takes some beating. Used examples are relatively plentiful and there’s a wide range of engine and trim options from which to choose.

Just as many were predicting the imminent demise of the medium range estate market, Ford launched a car that was just too good to overlook. The explosion in popularity of medium sized MPVs like the Vauxhall Zafira and Citroen Xsara Picasso squeezed the medium range estate market from below while premium sportwagons like the Alfa 156 and the BMW 3 Series Touring further eroded Ford’s market share from above. Although the Mk2 Mondeo had been a serviceable load lugger what was needed was a car that could still fulfil its practical remit but offer an upmarket feel. 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. 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 spring 2003 with the launch of the 3.0-litre 151mph ST220 sports estate. 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. 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. As for overall space, well the rear load bay offers a generous 0.54 cubic metres with the rear seats in place, and is refreshingly free of the boominess that often afflicts this body shape. All right, so you could get more by opting to go the MPV or 4×4 route – but then you’d have to sacrifice driving satisfaction. 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 £7,150 for a 2000X registered Mondeo 1.8i LX estate. A 2.0-litre Zetec model of similar vintage will be £7,800 in saloon guise, £7,800. The 2.5-litre cars offer a beautiful V6 warble and the Ghia X starts at just under £9,000 on the 2000X plate. The ST220 estate is still a very rare find but you’ll have a lot more luck tracking down decent diesels. If funds are really tight, the 2.0 TDdi model opens at £7,750 for an LX trim, but we’d recommend stretching that bit further and going for an ex-demonstrator or low mileage TDCi. 115bhp LX estates open at £10,000 on an 02 plate but our advice would be to find a 51-plated 130bhp model which will cost about the same. 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. In bringing much of the premium estate sector’s quality down to mainstream price levels, the Mondeo should be applauded. The fact that it brings with it the best driving dynamics in its class, a worthwhile load bay and the security of the Blue Oval badge propels the Mondeo to the top. The TDCi models are probably the pick of the bunch but if you choose a well looked after car it’s difficult to go wrong.

(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 room 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 Ford 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.

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