MOTOR MOUTH: Social engineering

MOTOR MOUTH: Social engineering - Mondeo Man has been through a few changes. He started out as Cortina Man, in drainpipes and slim jim, a vision of a Dagenham product planner in those innocent, quiet days before either sexual intercourse was invented or t

by STEPHEN BAYLEY, an author and design consultant
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Mondeo Man has been through a few changes. He started out as Cortina Man, in drainpipes and slim jim, a vision of a Dagenham product planner in those innocent, quiet days before either sexual intercourse was invented or the Beatles' first LP was recorded. In the exciting '80s, he evolved into Sierra Man. Controversial at first, Sierra Man soon became ubiquitous and then his jamjar became minicabs. The '90s gave us the more sophisticated Mondeo. And the same decade gave us Tony - 'Trust me, I'm a politician' - Blair, the Cassandra of Middle England, who chose ownership of Ford's best-selling mid-size car as a shortcut to the yearnings, desires and obligations of his constituency. If he'd hung on he could have collaborated in a special-edition Ford Focus group.

Blair was right. The new Mondeo tells us a lot about our values and expectations. And things have only got better. The old Mondeo was fine, if not the car of your dreams - unless you are an unusual person. Instead, like most traditional Fords, it aimed to satisfy simple tastes in an ample and uncomplicated style. The new Mondeo is in a deeper end of the gene pool. It has more depth and finish, more poise and better manners.

To start with, it is a strikingly good-looking car in an unobtrusive Audi sort of way. This is unsurprising, because Ford's J Mays and Chris Bird worked in the Ingolstadt studios when the superb last-generation Audi A4 was in development. Second, it goes superbly. When I was a student, my Cortina handled like a damaged supermarket trolley; the new Mondeo has the grace of the ballet and the hard-edged precision of a weapon. This, then, is social progress: gun-toting dancers.

If there is a criticism of the Mondeo's looks, it is that they are too conservative, although Blair has correctly understood that his and Ford's constituency is not a radical one. Mondeo's front-drive platform would, in theory, have allowed designers to do something interesting to the stern; instead they produced a conventional three-box car. But it is a refined and dignified sort of conservatism. Now, lessons from Audi in how high beltlines and massive surfaces can lend an impression of physical solidity and emotional probity have been well applied.

Nice details include the emphatic shadow gaps around the flared wheel arches and the enormous rear lights, treated as one of the car's defining characteristics. The arc of the roof is nicely drawn - just like a Passat or an A6 - and, all in all, the accomplished general arrangements do not disgrace the Mondeo even in well-bred German company.

Inside, things are restrained. Satin metallesque finishes juxtapose attractively with grained matt charcoal. One detail jars: amid all this well-tempered Gestaltung some clot has insisted on inserting an ovoid clock of such compelling tackiness that you would be upset to find it in a Taiwanese Christmas cracker. Maybe they just want to make the last Cortina survivors feel at home.

The dynamics of the new Mondeo are astonishing. The little things that aggregate into an impression of mediocrity are all missing. Press the accelerator at low engine speed in third and you get smooth take-up. Even in the powerful 2.5 V6 that I drove, there is no trace of the driven front wheels struggling to retain composure under hard acceleration. Travelling over bad surfaces, the absorbent suspension transmits aristocratic and subdued thwump, thwump, thwump sensations, rather - one imagines - as the Queen experiences a little mild indigestion at a state banquet. Like HRH, it is a class act.

But would you buy one? If you were rational, yes. If this is the sort of car you needed, yes. But, then, consumer behaviour is irrational. And not all of us need a saloon. My wife, whose elegant bottom has enjoyed many fine cars as both a passenger and driver, said the Mondeo was one of the most comfortable and satisfying she had known. In all but the last nuances of physical quality, it's a better car than the disappointing new Audi A4 (which has asthmatic engines in the less expensive versions and poor ride in all of them).

The obstacle that Ford has to overcome is no longer technical but social. And that might be the biggest stretch of all. Type 'Mondeo' on my machine and the spellcheck suggests 'mundane'. That's unfair. Mondeo Man is worldly, not dull. He just has to wait for the rest of them to catch up.

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