2007 Ford Mondeo 1.8 LX (GB)

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Ford sold more than 2.8 million Cortina models in the UK during the car’s 20 year life. With the exception of 1976, a model transition year, when it was narrowly beaten by the Ford Escort, it was the best-selling car in Britain from 1971 until production ceased in the autumn of 1982, generally capturing more than 10% of the total market, an unthinkable achievement these days. Everyone, it seemed, either had one or knew someone who did. Doyen of the company car park the Cortina succeeded because it met the needs of so many, for spacious transport for the family with just enough pleasure for the driver, and with an often bewildering array of different trims available as well as a choice of engines from weedy to quite potent, it also let everyone know where you were in the social pecking order. By the end of the 1970s, competition was finally hotting up, with conservative fleet managers starting to embrace phrases like “user choice” and some of them finally accepting that “front wheel drive” and “more costly” were not necessarily synonymous. If Ford had not already realised that they could not afford to rest on their laurels for much longer, despite the loyalty that drivers and families had to the good ole Cortina, then GM’s front wheel drive Cavalier and Ascona certainly provided the wake-up call they needed. By common consent, this smartly styled car with lusty engines beat the Cortina at its own game, And some. Sales rocketed. Ford’s decision to replace the Cortina with a car that was radical in its styling and conservative in its rear-wheel drive engineering, the 1982 Sierra, looked like a rare mistake, as initial reviews -noting that Ford had probably got those attributes the wrong way round – suggested it simply was not as good or as desirable as the Vauxhall, and sales got off to a slow start. A constant program of development addressed some of the failings, but even some new and finally competitive engines in the late 80s could not solve the packaging issues of the rear wheel drive format. It was going to take an all-new car. That came in March 1993, and with it a new name. Mondeo was supposed to show that this was a world car, even if the US models took a different name, and were different in a lot of fundamentals. But as a car to eat the world, the Mondeo name was inspired, as this truly was an excellent car. Competition was stronger than ever before, with products like the Peugeot 405 and Nissan Primera, Rover’s 400 and 600 series and the VW Passat and Vauxhall Cavalier all highly desirable alternatives, so the Mondeo was never likely to get 10% market share, let alone more, but even so it regularly led its class in the sales charts in the UK. Measure of its success and acceptance came when the phrase “Mondeo Man” was coined by Tony Blair and New Labour, to describe a significant sector of UK society and recognition of the car’s prowess as a family car. A second generation Mondeo was launched in October 2000, and by common consent. this was even better than the first, building on all of the strengths of the first, but with more equipment and safety features, a higher quality interior, a bit more space and modern looks. Whilst the French may have continued to favour the local product, with new Citroen C5 and Renault Laguna arriving within months of the launch of the second Mondeo, and the Germans continuing to favour the Passat, in the UK, the sales success of the Mondeo continued unabated, with the car leading its class in the UK, though as sales of this class of car have gradually reduced, what started off as Britain’s 6th best seller in 2001 had become the 10th by 2003.

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Six and half years after the launch, the days of the second generation Mondeo are numbered with a new model nearing launch. Surprisingly, in all that time, I’ve only driven a couple of them. One was the top of the range ST220 which I borrowed when it was on a short list of potential car replacements, to take the place of my beloved Alfa 156. Whilst it beat the Vectra GSi I borrowed at the same time, it was not the car I selected (I took a second hand lease car which allowed me to head further upmarket, instead). A few weeks later I got to sample the best selling model in the range, the 1.8LX in five door hatch guise. The car really impressed me until the point when a decided reluctance to start became a permanent fault and the car marooned me in Bristol and needed recovering. I did not really hold that against it, as who knows what had happened to this particular rental car in the past, but it did leave me wanting further experience. And now, finally, it has come, with Mr Hertz at Heathrow providing one for me to use as return transport from Heathrow back home following a work trip to the US. Since that time, four years ago, the Mondeo has had a mid-life update, but it takes a very trained eye to spot the changes.

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These days the 1.8 litre petrol engine is the entry point to the range, Called the Duratec HE, this is a heavily revised version of the Zetec unit that appeared in the first Mondeo and which consigned the rough old Ford engines of the 80s and before to history. It generates 123 bhp and 125 lb/ft of torque. In the test car it came coupled to a five speed gearbox, though an automatic is also available. If you think back to the 1,6 litre Sierra which mustered just 75 bhp (and it felt like there was not even all of those horses available), or the later 1.8 litre with 90 bhp, then 125 bhp sounds lke a vast improvement, but of course this Mondeo is quite a lot larger and even more is it heavier, so this is still not a fast car. But it is fast enough for every day use, for sure. The engine is smooth and refined and only gets noisy if you get close to the red line, and you probably won’t find the need to do that very often, it at all. You do need to make good use of the gears to make the best of the power, and that will be no hardship. The gearchange in the very early Mondeo cars of ’93 was perhaps its weakest feature, proving very stiff, and not loosening up much over time, as evidenced by the fact that the one in my father’s car still requires a firm hand. Not so here, as the lever now moves like the proverbial knife through butter between the ratios, and is a pleasure to use. The gears are well spaced, though you will find that fifth is really there for motorway cruising, and if you need acceleration there, you will need to come down a ratio or two. What really makes the Mondeo so good to drive, though, it is steering and handling. This might now be a large car, but it really does not feel that. It is agile, and lithe, with beautifully judged weighting in the steering with exceptional levels of feel and handling which also belies the size of the car. The car has plenty of grip, and negligible body roll, and it seems positively to relish the corners, which is something you as the driver will do. Better still, the ride is also excellent, with the car not being upset by the changes in surfaces that are a feature of Britain’s roads. The brakes are good, too, with a progressive feel to the pedal which does not need undue pressure to retard the car. Visibility is about as good as you get these days, which means not brilliant. There is a decided blind spot alongside, and you will have to judge where the front and back are, as you cannot see. At least with the hatch you know that the rear is not far behind you can see in the cabin.

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The interior of the first Mondeo was a big improvement on what had gone before, both in terms of design as well as quality of materials. Just three years later, though, like almost everything else, it seemed second-best, as the B5 generation Passat of 1996 set new standards in every way. Ford have responded, but not quite hit the same standard, with this Mondeo, which adopts a much more Germanic design than the slightly American-esque style of the first car. The dash is a one-piece moulding from a high quality plastic which both looks good and feels it to the touch, and which integrates nicely with the door casings. There are inlays used around the gearlever and some smaller pieces used on the steering wheel spokes, which in this LX trim are a sort of dull silver colour which looks far better than the fake wood you get in top spec cars. A simple cowl houses the clearly presented instruments, with a trip computer part of the instrument cluster. The plastic-moulded wheel proved pleasant enough to hold, and the spokes here house audio unit repeaters. The audio unit in the centre of the dash is easy to use, with large buttons. It is set quite low in the dash, though, the unit being located below the simple controls for the standard air conditioning system. The whole design is cohesive and unfussy.

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Upholstery in the LX is the sort of generic cloth fabric that you get in most cars these days, with part of both the cushion and backrest featuring a patterned effect. More to the point, the seats themselves prove comfortable to sit on, and with plenty of adjustment available from the bar under the seat and the adjusters on the side, as well as a telescoping steering column, I easily got the perfect driving position. Those in the back of this Mondeo will be happier here than they would have been in its predecessor, as some of the extra length of this generation model was used to increase the amount of legroom. With the front seat set well forward to suit my short legs, there is a lot of legroom here, and even with the seats set well back, there is still ample for all bar the extremely long-legged. There is a notable central tunnel and the centre console does come back quite a way, so a middle seat occupant here might find themselves a bit more awkwardly positioned, though width across the car will certainly mean that shoulder room is less of an issue. My head cleared the roof with enough space to spare, so I can declare that headroom is not an issue. There is good-sized boot here, a nice regular space, with ample room for a couple of suitcases and plenty of smaller items. The rear seats are asymmetrically split, and as you pull the rear seat cushion up before dropping the backrest, then there is some protection for the front seats. The resulting load area is long. Inside the cabin as well as bins on all doors, there is a reasonably sized glovebox, and a small lidded area in the centre console as well as a cubby under the central armrest. Cupholders pull out from the dash. There are map pockets on the back of the front seats.


The Mondeo range is extensive. There are three bodystyles: the five door hatch like this, the popular estate car and also a rather neat looking four door saloon which whilst available in the UK is aimed more at those markets such as Ireland and Southern Europe who still favour this bodystyle. Next choice concerns the engine, with the 1.8 and 2.0 litre 4 cylinder petrols complemented by 2.5 and 3.0 litre V6 units and the 2.0 and 2.2 TDCi diesel units. High end cars have a six speed box, whilst the others have 5 speeds. All have front wheel drive as standard. Ford have always been masterful at providing a range of different trims, with clear differentiation between them. When first launched, there were six versions of this Mondeo: LX, Zetec, Zetec S, Ghia, Ghia X and ST. Two of these were aimed at providing the most sporting experience, really meaning that the progression was simple. Following the 2003 mid-cycle update, then Titanium and Titanium X versions were added to the range, positioned between the Zetec and Ghia. Standard on the LX are front electric windows, heated door mirrors, air conditioning, lumbar support for the driver’s seat, a telescoping steering wheel, a Ford 8000 audio unit with CD slot and steering wheel controls. The metallic paint of the test car was a (popular) option. Zetec models can be identified by their 17″ alloy wheels and front fog lights. they also have rear electric windows and electric adjustment for the driver’s seat. Ghia models have automated climate control, an upgraded audio unit, and different trim including some rather questionable “wood” trim. Ghia X cars add leather trim.

This may be a model at the end of its production cycle, but be in doubt, it remains an excellent car. Mondeo man may have moved on, increasingly tempted by a prestige badge, as evidenced by a steady decline in sales, but those who do still select a Mondeo will be getting a car that in this guise has no weak points and plenty of strengths: it is roomy, well finished and very good to drive. Being a Ford, it should prove relatively cheap to run and after six years, no significant problems in service have emerged. Despite the fact that I had not driven one for four years, the Mondeo is still popular in the rental fleets, with the car featuring at Hertz and Avis in the UK as the mainstay of their “D” category. And if this is what you get, rather than a Vectra, you should be pleased. I certainly was.

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