Ford Mondeo: New mondeo is the business — and more

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Fast food, cheap motel rooms, lonely nights and long days. Extreme pressure to shift that load of office stationery by Friday . . . who'd want to be a travelling salesperson?

Well, me, actually, if a life roaming the road also meant getting regular seat time in the new Mondeo.

The medium-sized European Ford has always been well-represented in fleet operations. Ford New Zealand estimates 80% of the outgoing range started life in corporate or rental servitude.

Though the new one, launching on Monday, is expected to draw more private sales, overall it's still going to be doing the business, Ford predicts. This should cause for rejoicing among rep racers, because it's a cracker.

Well, the signs were all there: A starring role as 007's hire car in the film Casino Royale, several ‘‘best car'' awards from English mags and, most recently, a perfect five-star safety rating from European NCAP. All are pointers to greatness.

On a two-day drive, the attractions that sealed the deal for me were more than skin-deep. Technology that's a cut above the medium-car herd, class-leading safety hardware, svelte looks and an interior that almost rivals the Falcon for spaciousness and clearly trounces it for style and finish. Well, you have to be impressed, don't you?

Still, in the business environment, it all comes down to price.
Ford has done well to peg the entry sedan and wagon, with a 107kW 2.0-litre engine and manual gearbox only, at $35,990 and $37,490 respectively. The outgoing equivalents were $2000 dearer. Surely this will spell ‘‘bargain'' to even the tightest-fisted bean counter.

To buy into automatic means going to a pricier Mazda-sourced 118kW 2.3-litre engine. It's matched to a six-speed gearbox, with a special sport mode.

The sedan and wagon come in standard or higher-trimmed Zetec form, from $37,990.
Also in Zetec is a hatchback that will set you back $45,490 in sports pack (17-inch rims, leather body kit) form. This is the most expensive Mondeo here for now, but probably won't stay that way for long.

Very likely to breach the $50,000 barrier are two cars to come by March; a higher-performance XR5 and a 2.0-litre turbo-diesel, the introduction of which is being delayed until a six-speed auto/diesel combination is available.

The 102kW/370Nm diesel will be perfect for long-distance work. In addition to being dressed in base spec, Ford has hinted there might be a high-kit diesel hatchback for penny-pinching execs.

The XR5 is a manual hatchback with a 165kW/320Nm 2.5-litre turbo fivecylinder from Volvo. To be shared with Australia, this is essentially the Titanium X, an elite model for Europe, with fewer shiny bits.

Why not just take the Titanium X? Because it'd cost at least $60,000, says Ford NZ marketing manager Barbara MacGregor, which puts it in direct competition with the Falcon XR6, which won't be replaced for another year.

As it is, all three shapes are so much roomier as to make comparison with Australia's big car inevitable.

The Mondeo wagon, though the shortest of the shapes, is so spacious you have to wonder if the more rudimentary Falcon load-all has any future at all.

The comparison also stretches to equipment levels, even though the New Zealand-spec Mondeos have had gear removed so as to retain cost-competitiveness. For instance, though the car is clearly designed for Bluetooth - it is standard in the UK - you have to pay extra to make it operative here.

Other common Mondeo features in Europe are sat nav, keyless start and tyre pressure monitoring. Sorry, they're not available.

Also deemed too rich for us are radar-based adaptive cruise, an advanced form of stability control with adaptive damping and air conditioned/ heated seats.
Still, it's hardly been stripped right out and, for a car built in huge numbers, it's very well put together and finished to a good standard.

Safety-wise, the New Zealand versions are up with the play, since every one has an effective dynamic stability control and seven airbags, including full-length curtain devices and a small one to protect the driver's knees.

The base car has an effective air con, a trip computer and a decent stereo with MP3 plug-in. Zetec steps up to leather, heavier bolstered front chairs and a six-disc CD player with eight speakers.
The items that most obviously point to status are the wheels. The standard items - plastic-trimmed 16-inchers on the base car and 17-inch alloys for Zetec - don't fill the wheel arches as well as the attractive factory 18-inch and 20-inch (Bond car) alloys.

The second-largest rim tyre option is the best balance of looks, ride quality and tyre roar.
Out on the road, any model is still a driver's dream. True, it feels the effect of an increase in kerb weight (up to 1.5 tonnes), but not cripplingly so. The 2.0-litre, a carryover from the old car, does well. It is only at higher revs (and speeds) that the 2.3-litre gets ahead. If anything, the larger mill has less pull where it matters. As good as these engines are, though, there's an impression the best are yet to come.

The chassis dynamics carry the car well. Tight, concise dynamics remain a hallmark. On twisting Coromandel roads and the pohutukawa-lined Pacific Highway, every version seemed accurate, secure and agile.

Repmobiles shouldn't be so good - in fact, most emphatically are not. But this one is definitely a cut above, a good rival for that other fleet favourite, the Mazda6.
Call it a company bonus.

Ford Mondeo: New mondeo is the business — and more
At a Glance

Ford Mondeo

From $35,990 to $45,490

1999cc 16-valve 4-cylinder
Power: 107kW@6000rpm
Torque: 185nM@4000rpm
2261cc 16-valve 4-cylinder
Power: 118kW@6500rpm
Torque: 208nM@4200rpm

Five-speed manual,
Six-stage auto, front-wheel drive

Brakes and Stability Systems:
Disc with ABS.

Wheels, tyres:
Steel rims and 215/55 R16 to 235/45 R17

Fuel and Economy:
7.9L/100km 2 litre
9.3L/100km 2.3 litre
premium unleaded
petrol capacity 70 litres

Length 4830
Width 1886mm,
Height 1548mm

3 years. 100,000kms