Having owned a succession of earlier Mondeo estates and loved ‘em all, this review is written essentially as a comparison between the old and new versions.
For me the main advantage of the Mark III is its larger proportions, particularly with the considerable increase in rear legroom (having always been particularly poor on earlier models). The load bay is slightly larger, too, in both width and depth.
Contrary to what you may read in the press, however, the rear seat is not wide enough to comfortably accommodate three adults - though three children or two adults plus one child will be comfortable.
The ride quality is superior to previous Mondeos: pot-holes and speed humps being deftly handled. Road noise from the 17-inch alloys and Michelin lo-pro tyres is barely audible. Given the car’s enlarged dimensions, I was amazed to discover the handling is even better, too!
At last all four windows and the sunroof have one-shot opening and closing - a chronic penny-pinching omission from previous models. The anti-dazzle chromatic rear-view mirror is a real boon on motorways after dark.
Performance is reasonably good for such a large, heavy car, while I average 28mpg - admirable for a vee-six self-shifter.
The seats in Mondeos keep on getting better! Lateral, thigh and lower-back support is further improved on the previous high standards.
However with this pre-"facelift" model other aspects of the cabin are the car’s downfall. Ford continues its practical jokes over “executive” fascias: the “black wood” panelling representing a new low in tackiness. The shiny gearchange surround becomes a nuisance at night as it distractingly reflects street lamps as you pass under them. The plush leather cushioning one previously found on the door trims has been replaced with something akin to cheap hardboard that would disgrace a modern Lada.
The dashboard controls are logically situated as ever, but there is an unnecessarily long “throw” to the headlamp control paddle. Canted slightly away from the driver (presumably to suit left-hand drive markets), the “classically styled” (according to the brochure) ovoid analogue clock is impossible to decipher at a glance, especially after dark.
The climate control’s LCD readout for the cabin temperature is rather difficult to read ("Does it say 18.0 or 18.5?"). On the other hand, the amazing CD changer/Radio unit has an excellent display.
The trip computer display is now sensibly located within the instrument cluster, but the instant MPG, date and stopwatch functions have been dropped.
Previous Mondeos had an airflow feed direct to the front doors to provide side window demisting. This godsend has bizarrely disappeared from the new model.
The soft, pleasant warning chimes of earlier Mondeos have been deposed by a repertoire of frankly hideous tones. Thirtysomethings may remember a toy in the mid-1970s called “clackers”: I am reminded of these every time I activate the direction indicators – it even irks rear-seat passengers! Engaging reverse gear, running low on fuel, leaving the lights on and releasing the seatbelt all invoke crude peeps and bleeps that are just the wrong side of irritating. (The latter was so annoying that I disabled it permanently.)
To be honest the Mark I car had a more refined cabin for 1993 than the Mark III has for the new millennium. My guess is that in order to plough money into the Mondeo’s safety features, Ford have cut corners in quality and refinement. In fairness, though, a complement of six airbags and improvements to the bodyshell are all welcome.
Despite the aforementioned shortcomings, the interior is well screwed together. In fact the fixtures and fittings of the load bay are better than the agricultural approach of earlier Mondeo generations.
The 5-speed Durashift auto box needs more development work. Most of the time it works reasonably well, but can “jolt” noticeably when downshifting. This is a particular problem when descending steep hills as the box, presumably working in "intelligent" mode, downshifts to invoke engine braking. The effect of this is to cause the car's occupants to lunge forward. Even worse the box forgets to change back up a gear once on level ground. The box tends to "hunt" quite a bit too when travelling over constantly varying gradients - it's almost as though it has too many gears to choose from! Switching to "manual" mode provides smoother and punchier progress. Although the 3-speed-plus-overdrive set-up of yesteryear was a tad heavier on petrol, it performed perfectly in comparison.
Note for owners of sat-nav systems: although the Mondeo retains the extremely useful heated windscreen, I can attest that it does NOT cause signal interference problems for dashboard-mounted GPS receivers.
My car has manifested two faults so far. The tailgate locking motor packed up on the fourth day of ownership. This is apparently such a common problem that my local dealer always keeps a healthy stock of them! More annoying, however, is a persistent cold-starting problem which the dealer has been unable to diagnose. I’ve not been left stranded yet, but...
To summarise, if you’re expecting executive refinement on the top-of-the-range machine, look elsewhere. However if you’re in the market for a cheap, reliable, versatile, smooth-riding, well-built, fully-loaded, practical, performance family ultrafreighter, the Mondeo has to be on your list!