The D-segment has been in freefall over the past decade, with customers deserting in their thousands to new niche sectors. In 1997, in excess of 456,000 D-sector cars were sold, accounting for more than one-fifth of the market. Last year, this had fallen to 222,302 and less than 10%.
But it is still the third biggest sector in the UK market. And the Ford Mondeo remains its biggest seller, notching up 48,000 units last year. However, the sector decline has not been lost on Ford, which set out to move its new Mondeo upmarket towards BMW 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class. Does it succeed?
Mondeo has always been a driver’s car, the sector leader among the volume brands when it comes to ride and handling and that is unchanged – it’s still a joy to drive. Its problem has been cosmetic, but the new car adds more gloss to counter the ubiquity (70% of sales are to fleets).
Although it will sell by the bucketload – targets in a full year are 50,000 units – its looks will ensure it doesn’t fade into the background.
First impressions are favourable. The cabin has a quality look and feel with soft-touch plastics, pleasing textures and plenty of gadgets. The seats are plush and absorbent, the interior is spacious and the car feels sturdily put together.
It is on a par with Passat, and might even turn the heads of 3 Series, C-Class and A4 buyers. Whether they will switch allegiance is another matter.
The gearbox is a real beauty with a fluid shift that glides into place. Of the two engines we tested, the 2.0-litre diesel is the preferred option (70% of sales will be diesel). It is efficient and performs well in mid-range, although it does lack punch below 1,500rpm.
The powerful 2.5-litre turbo petrol taken from the Focus ST offers 217bhp and 236lb-ft of torque and has smooth, progressive acceleration. But it’s thirsty, returning a best of 28mpg. This drops rapidly with enthusiastic throttling.
The Mondeo has one or two features of note, including a new patented fuel filler neck that makes it impossible to fill up at the wrong pump. Top-spec models also come with a handy hill-start function, making it easy to pull away on steep inclines.
However, although Mondeo is large enough to fill most car parking spaces, reversing sensors aren’t standard even on the range-topping Titanium X trim.
Effortless performance and excellent road holding make the Mondeo a pleasure to drive, though its bias is towards calm and refined rather than sporting.
Engines: 2.0 138bhp diesel; 2.5 217bhp petrol tested. Also 1.6, 2.0, 2.3 petrol; 1.8, 2.0 (128bhp) diesel
Transmission: 5spd man, 6spd man/auto
Performance: 2.0 diesel 0-62mph 9.8s, 127mph top speed; 2.5 petrol 7.7s, 150mph
Efficiency: 2.0 diesel 47.9mpg, 156g/km CO2; 2.5 petrol 30.4mpg; 222g/km
Rivals: VW Passat, Honda Accord, BMW 3 Series
Strength: Looks, premium feel, ride
Weakness: Not as sporty to drive
Opportunity: Create premium image
Threat: D-sector is in decline
USP: Mondeo man moves upmarket