First Impressions Review: Fourth gen. Ford Mondeo Hybrid; or a Tale of a Scooter Transmission in an Upmarket Sedan.
The Mondeo’s Purpose and Success
To paraphrase the idea of the great Jeremy Clarkson from his old programme “Clarkson’s Car Years”, building a supercar is easy, just put a big engine in the middle, make it light, make it fast, and there you go. Building a luxury car is also easy, you just sprinkle the interior with premium materials, give it extra sound insulation, and it’s ready to sell. Small eco cars are a piece of cake too. Just make it as cheaply as possible, put in the smallest engine you can find that physically moves it for good fuel economy, and people will buy it for its value.
A family car, on the other hand, is a much more difficult thing to pull off. It must fit two parents, three children, a family dog, and their luggage. This means it should be big, but it mustn’t be too big. It must also be safe, Daddy won’t settle for less than a 5 star Euro NCAP rating to protect his beloved ones. That, in turn means lots of structural reinforcements and beams, and that means it should be heavy, but it mustn’t be too heavy. The engine needs to be strong enough to haul all of this at a decent pace, yet it must also be economical, and dead reliable. Oh, and all of this needs to cost no more than around 30.000 Euros.
It is in this tough, competitive market, where the Mondeo was born in 1993. As its name “world car” would suggest, it was designed to be a universal choice of masses worldwide, and it became just that. When the “one car that you really need through your life” brainstorming begins, next to the Golf and the Corolla, the Mondeo’s name will also surely emerge. Part of its success is also how you could choose between models to best fit you. Cheaper base models, more loaded and luxurious trim levels, and even sporty options through the ST lineup. Now, ever since 2014, part of this lineup was a hybrid option, and this year sees an estate bodystyle added to the selection, as well as a few minor refinements.
Now, since I wanted to see how a new(ish), rather upmarket Mondeo handles a hybrid engine and CVT transmission, and since I had an old ST200 myself (pictured above), and I wanted to see how far the Mondeo has come since, I took a pre-facelift hybrid sedan for a spin on the streets of Budapest, which I could do a few days ago, on the annual Budapest Auto Show. But enough of the long-winded intro, let’s see the car.
Outside and Inside
We all know how a Mondeo looks, let us not even waste too many words on it. It is inoffensive, not ugly, and just like other large family cars, quite unassuming of its owner’s wealth.
The interior is worth a few more remarks. Material quality is as expected, not S-Class level premium, but nothing feels bad or cheap. Some nice features include a nice size infotainment screen with sat-nav of course, heated seats, wireless charging and a 12 speaker premium sound system. The cabin feels spacious and the controls not cluttered.
Now, for the important part, driving this car gave me mixed feelings, so I’ll start with the things I liked.
First of all, pulling away or inching in traffic in complete electric silence is a bliss. I really liked the feeling that under no to very little throttle the car slowly accelerates, maintains speed, or coasts in total silence. Sound insulation is also impressive for its class. Imagine inching forward in rush hour traffic in comfort and silence, and not burning fuel. This is the car that could make the most of that situation. Also, an economy figure of 5l/100km (56.5 MPG UK) in the city sounds very reasonable (some sources quote 2-3 litres or around 100MPG, but the Ford representative tells me it is B.S.) especially given the size of the vehicle you are commandeering. By the way, it is not a plug-in hybrid, it uses the bit more old school self-charging system, which recharges as you brake or coast, but never does so dramatically or disturbingly. You can also look at a diagram of whether your car is charging or discharging and see it it uses the engine or the electric motor too. This is a bit nerdy, but I found it exciting! Ride comfort is excellent, it is soft and soaks up the bumps beautifully.
Unfortunately, that is just about where my praise ends, as to get something, you have to sacrifice something else, and here is that something else: driving pleasure. Let me elaborate: the Mondeo Hybrid uses an outdated 140HP 2.0 litre 4 cylinder petrol engine, supplemented by an electric engine, with their combined output being around 187HP and 173Nm. Now, this doesn’t sound too bad! In fact, with just 15 more HP, my ST200 could do the 0-100 sprint in 7.2 seconds, and that was 20 years ago. Surely, with the development of technology…..blabla…no, it is 9.5 seconds. So, you buy your nice upmarket sedan with all of its features and comfort…and you are smoked by a new Honda Jazz. And the Jazz will also laugh in your face as it leaves you behind verrrry slowly on the autobahn top speed run, as it tops out at 190 while the Mondeo at 187.
This is partly down to the weight of the car, at 1700kg (3750lb) it is really lardy, weighed down by its powertrain. The other contributing factor is the CVT transmission. It responds slowly to your input, and then it starts revving up, and up, and up! It becomes loud, disturbing, and at that point you want nothing else but for it to shut up, but of course since it is a gearless transmission, you can’t reach for a flappy paddle or gear lever to make it do so. Instead, when you finally reach your desired speed, it can be your reward to lift off your right foot and appreciate the return or peace in your interior.
So, not only is this car slow, it is worse than that, it actively punishes you for pushing it. You cannot set it up to be sporty either, there is eco mode, and you can take it out of eco mode. Really, the car’s sport mode is when it is not in eco. Also, the hybrid system’s battery takes away a significant amount of trunk space.
So, to sum it up, the Mondeo Hybrid, redesigned and offered as an estate from this model year, does indeed have a place in the lineup. It is perfect for someone wanting an economical large family sedan, and the benefits of a hybrid in a larger, more luxurious vehicle, with more road presence and executive car credentials than most rivals offer. If I wanted all of this, however, I would still buy a diesel model instead. But since I don’t, I will just remember fondly of my old ST200, and mourn the lack of a proper ST or RS model on the Mondeo palette.