A new Mondeo... isn't that supposed to be a snore-worthy non-event?
Definitely not. The very mention of Mondeo might not raise the heartbeat, but this is an important car for Ford. Not only does it sell in huge numbers (easily top 10 fodder in the UK, despite declining sales), but it defines the middle market. If Ford gets the Mondeo right, the Blue Oval is in good shape. It's the bedrock of its range. The Mondeo has even entered the national lexicon here in the UK. Although apparently misquoted (he was pointing at a Sierra, according to some reports), prime minister Tony Blair coined the phrase Mondeo Man when on the political campaign trail; the Mondeo is the very essence of transport for the masses. It's Everyman's favourite wheels and therefore A Very Important Car.
This new Mondeo looks pretty slick... for a Ford
Car companies love a good design label. BMW invented flame surfacing, Lexus came up with the crazily titled L-Finesse and Ford has been guilty of its own grandiose-sounding design catchphrases. New Edge was the brand's 1990s philosophy and heralded landmark models such as the Ka and Focus Mk1. But tastes have changed and Ford now talks of Kinetic Design, ushered in by its latest design overlord Martin Smith. Out go the bold, geometric shapes of the '90s, replaced by a more sober, classier lines. It works, too. In the metal, the new Mondeo looks slick, sophisticated, quite German even. And who'd have thought we'd ever write that about a humble Mondeo? There's wedge aplenty in the side profile, and the kicked-up rear window line helps provide a sporty stance. It ain't beautiful and it ain't head-turning, but it might be enough to persuade Jo Public out of their Passats and 3-series.
So does the new Mondeo go as well as it looks?
The Mondeo's problem has always been a cosmetic one. Even seven years after launch, the outgoing model remains a sharp drive. It's just one you in which you don't want your neighbours to see you arrive. Today's Mondeo is a fun car to point from corner to corner, but its ubiquity and unashamed mass-market DNA makes it as fashionable as a McDonald's restaurant. Thankfully, new Mondeo has a dash more gloss - and it's lost none of its forebear's athleticism. Ford has carved out a signature chassis feel in the past decade and this latest arrival is just like a bigger Focus. Moments after you set off down the road, you sense that familiar firmness to the ride: the Mondeo feels planted, agile, but just the right side of firm to remain comfortable. Even on our top-spec, Titanium X trim's shallow 235/45 17-inch rubber, the ride is untroubled by bumps, ridges and other corrugations that threaten to upset your extremities.
What are the engines like?
We've driven only the most powerful diesel so far. It has the 2.0-litre turbo we've already seen in other Fords including the S-Max, and develops 138bhp (a lesser 128bhp is also available). Performance is brisk and it serves up a dollop of overboost with brief squirts up to 251lb ft for overtaking. The sportiest model will be the 2.5, using the Focus ST's engine. We haven't driven the smaller engines yet, but would recommend the diesels for their extra twist - the Mondeo weighs between 1360kg and a lardy 1690kg, and even the most powerful diesel is noticeably slower than a 320d. Stirring the six-speed gearbox is easy, although one driver found the cross-gate bias too weak, making it easy to slot the wrong gear. Top-spec models come with a very handy hill-start function making it easy to pull away on steep inclines; it's a great bit of technology that works simply and fuss-free in the background.
It's a Ford. Does it handle?
Imagine the change from Focus Mk1 to Mk2 and you'll quickly get the gist of the new Mondeo. It steers accurately, feels agile and is a decent companion on your favourite back road - but it doesn't have quite that raw sportiness that permeated the old model. Mondeo Mk4 is a bit too mature for that, and the engineers concede that they've tried to make it a tad more pampering than pointy. The steering (fully hydraulic across the range) is slightly less direct, but you'll still enjoy driving it more than any mainstream rival. Our Titanium X test car was fitted with adaptive dampers, but there's strangely little discernible difference in the three different suspension settings. I can't remember a car with less change between Normal, Sport and Comfort. What's the point in forking out for such a system if you can't even spot the difference?
A Mondeo cabin; I'm imagining cheap plastics, uninspiring design...
Well, no actually. Okay, so we drove the top-spec Titanium X model, whose dashboard teemed with switches for gadgets and luxurious soft-touch plastics with a texture most pleasing to prod. Will the boggo, stripped-out 1.6 Edge feel quite as smart at 8.00am on a rainswept M25 motorway? We haven't had the pleasure yet, so can't answer that question. But the new model is light years away from the old Mondeo's rather drab, penny-pinching cabin. You'll be comfy front or back (this is a seriously roomy car) and there's the usual, vast Mondeo boot for family clobber or workmen's wares. Downsides? Not much, really. We could hear the fuel sloshing around in our test car's tank at city-low speeds, and if you run your hands all over the cabin (do only road testers do this?) you'll notice some cost-cutting the lower down the trim you feel. But in an age of budgets and multinational building, that's the same on every mass-market car. Look past the cheap-feeling sun visor and sunglasses holder, and the quality is generally very impressive where it matters.
Are there any surprise-n-delight features?
Glad you asked me that. In an age when every new car packs the regulation airbag count and they all ape Euro chic style, manufacturers race to have stand-out gadgetry. The Mondeo packs one or two features of note, including a new patented fuel filler neck that makes it impossible to fill up at the wrong pump. We tried it at French petrol stations and couldn't fool it. Very clever. Other stand-out features inside? The colour graphics on the trip computer (again on our top-spec Titanium X) are cool and sophisticated, and Ford can still build powerful stereos with Play School-simple usability like no other. No need for recourse to the manual on a Ford stereo.
The Mondeo has grown up, and in all the right ways. The new model is a bit more comfortable, a lot more spacious and a barrel load better built. It's a very modern makeover and Ford's big seller is better placed than ever to persuade buyers back from their (rather common) 3-series and C-classes. Will that ever happen? Not when Ford is seen as a bland brand and the Mondeo as automotive white goods. That's a shame, because the new car is among the class leaders and a damn good car in its own right. And remember the new range is an average of £300 cheaper than its predecessor. Honestly, Mondeo man has never had it so good.