Facelift Gives New Style to Popular Mondeo

Any revisions to a car that sells in more than 60 countries, is one of the top three best-sellers in Britain and a class leader on more than just volumes sold, is bound to create more than a buzz of excitement.

And in what is essentially a mid-life facelift, the Ford Mondeo gets not just a new look, but improvements to comfort, refinement and ride quality, too. The new range is also more economical, safer, and less polluting.

"We are building on the car's inherent strengths with a package of engineering and functional improvements," explained Ian McAllister, Ford of Britain's top man. "We think that will elevate the Mondeo clear of the competition once again."

Since it replaced the Sierra in Britain in March 1993, more than 350,000 Mondeos have been sold. This year's total has so far topped 75,000 and is galloping on towards the magic six-figure mark that so few cars obtain annually. And this time around Ford is hoping to attract more private motorists than ever before. Around three-quarters of Mondeos have traditionally gone to business users and while this is not as high a figure as some rivals, Ford would love to balance things out more evenly.

The new 1997 Mondeo is all about enhanced image. The overriding criticism from customers of the outgoing model was that it was blandly styled. With this in mind, Ford's design team set about revitalizing the body, and now only the roof and door panels remain unchanged. "Maybe it's an old-fashioned notion," commented one of Ford's design chiefs, "but we wanted to put some sex appeal back into the car." We think they were right to do so.

In line with the Fiesta and Scorpio, the Mondeo relies heavily on its headlights for inspiration, and the concept works strikingly well. It's a dramatic improvement that adds an air of class and gives the Mondeo more credibility against the likes of BMW's 3-series and Audi's A4, leaving the Opel/Vauxhall Vectra and Nissan's latest Primera looking a bit down-in-the-mouth. Both sedan and hatchback now sport much bigger rear lights, designed in part to enhance the Mondeo's width and increase "road presence."

Catch sight of the new Mondeo and you'll be greeted by a more welcoming face. Its one-time dowdy look has been transformed. The new headlights are separated by a new grill with a chrome surround which stretches up to meet the re-profiled hood and wings. Much of the influence in the bumper design lies with the RS body kit which Ford previously offered as a cost option. Body-colored on all models, the chunky design contributes to the new look. The front bumper features new circular fog lights and a scooped-out air intake vent running across the middle, which is mimicked at the back.

But it's the rear of both the saloon and hatchback that reaps the most benefit from the styling tweaks. The rear lights are easily the most prominent feature here, and they wrap around to the side of the car with a shape reminiscent of Honda's dashing Prelude sports car. The back end remains unchanged though.

While customer and press feedback mainly focused on the external appearance, there was also room for improvement inside. The cabin environment, although popular with buyers, needed updating visually, as did the ergonomic feel of some switches. The company then went one step further, adding newly designed seats and increasing knee room in the rear.

The facia looks much the same as before, but it does have an air of improved quality. New ventilation controls and air vents dominate the sweeping facia, while the latest generation, big button audio systems make a welcome appearance. Overall, the facia and its surrounding area is more user-friendly, and the quality of materials is improved.

Ford knows all too well that the majority of Mondeo drivers and passengers cover high mileages, and consequently demand excellent levels of comfort. We never had any complaints about the old car, yet the company has managed to find room for improvement, especially in the rear. The new bench seat is extremely well shaped, offering excellent support to the thighs and back. Leg room has increased by 23 millimeters in all models, while the sedan gains a further 17 millimeter on top of this because the seat has been moved back. New trims and colors bring an added air of quality to the cabin.

One secret gripe Ford's engineers had with the first Mondeo was its thin-rimmed steering wheel. Now they've got their way, and the chunky item feels much better. The wheel incorporates a new 57-liter airbag, and depending on the model, cruise-control buttons. There's also a new steering column-mounted stereo control on more expensive models.

The days of scorching performance as a car's most attractive feature are all but gone in eco-friendly 1996, so Ford's decision to make few changes in the engine department is not unexpected. The Zetec engine range is carried over virtually as is, with a few revisions made essentially to improve economy, refinement and emissions. Ford promises that the effects are far-reaching, with less noise, better fuel economy and lower running costs. The four-cylinder Zetec and six-cylinder Duratec engines are retained, together with a revised version of the Endura turbo-diesel engine. A brand new, Dagenham-built diesel engine is still a couple of years away.

There's one other power-unit related change which we're sure to notice on the road, and that's to the manual gearbox, which now has a cable- rather than rod-operated changing mechanism. The old Mondeo's shift was a touch stiff, but that should no longer be a problem.

Nobody launches a new car these days without having at least a couple of new safety features. So it's no surprise to see the new Mondeo going one better than the old, itself up with the best in its class. The 1997 Mondeo has a stronger bodyshell than the current car. Not surprisingly, it passes the proposed 1998 EC side-impact and offset-barrier crash tests.

It will be the first new Ford model worldwide to have side airbags, with the option, from early next year, of airbags in the outside edge of each front seat back. They are designed to help in heavy-side impacts. A new seatbelt pre-tensioning system is linked to the front airbag sensors. A driver airbag is standard, and a front passenger airbag optional.

Car thieves are slowly being forced into retreat by increasingly sophisticated -- and effective -- security. The new Mondeo promises even better protection than the old, itself no slouch on the anti-theft front. It continues to have a strong armory against the thief, with Ford's PATS electronic ignition key code system on all models. An alarm is standard across the range, and central and double locking is now on the bottom of the range models, too.

Considering it's designed to sell in such huge volumes, the Mondeo's prowess as a drivers' car is all the more remarkable. Excellent handling has been the Mondeo trademark since day one, and Ford promises the new car is even better.

Has one of the best just gotten even better? We'll find out in a first road test soon.

Ivor Carroll is a writer for Auto Express in Britain. He contributed this article to The Moscow Times.