The estate car is enjoying something of a revival and there aren't too many that can beat the utility of the fourth generation Ford Mondeo load lugger. Jonathan Crouch reports
Ten Second Review
The ideal estate car is one that offers excellent utility but doesn't penalise you for it with poor refinement and soggy handling. Ford were mindful of this when developing the MK4 model Mondeo estate, a car which not only drives well but also looks a good deal sleeker than most boxy estate contenders.
Estate car buyers tend to be a very sane bunch, unswayed by the latest fads. Rather, they value practicality and, more often than not, their choice of car is meticulously researched. 'Function first' is a motto that tends to reward smart engineering and sound design and it's the reason why Ford's Mondeo estate has always been a strong seller. With the fourth generation Mondeo line-up, this station wagon variant has been matching its hatchback stablemate in terms of overall sales.
It isn't hard to see why. Take a tape measure to the Mondeo estate and you'll realise that this is one of the biggest vehicles Ford imports to the UK - certainly up there with the large S-MAX and Galaxy seven-seat people carriers. That means plenty of space in the back for the sort of gear your family needs. Even if your requirements don't involve kids but a gear-intensive hobby, the Mondeo estate could be exactly what you're looking for.
If Ford could make this estate version drive much like the five-door hatch, it would have a winner on its hands. Guess what? It does. There's a reassuringly polished feel here that's usually the preserve of far more expensive cars - and the same excellent refinement at speed. Low profile roof rails help cut the wind roar that many estate cars suffer from and the cabin is well insulated from road noise with no booming apparent from the big box at the back. Handling is safe and assured, but the Mondeo estate never completely disguises its size and you might need to pass up some smaller parking spaces. On the plus side, rear visibility is notably better than that of the high-rumped five-door hatch.
Ford's has slimmed down the engine choices on offer. Most customers choose a 2.0-litre TDCi diesel engine good for either 150PS or 180PS, both variants featuring single variable geometry turbocharger technology. There is also a 165PS 1.5-litre EcoBoost petrol unit. Buyers can even opt for a Mondeo Hybrid. It uses a specially-developed 2.0-litre petrol engine combined with two electric motors - one to drive the wheels and another to supply regenerative charging - and 1.4kWh lithium-ion battery.
The 150PS and 180PS diesels are available with Ford's Intelligent All-Wheel Drive system, which offers a seamless transition between front-wheel drive and all-wheel-drive performance to automatically enhance traction and road-holding when needed. The Mondeo's also the first model for Europe to be built on Ford's global CD-segment platform, which debuts Ford's integral link rear suspension. The all-new platform and body structure combination delivers 10 per cent more torsional stiffness than the outgoing model and the Mondeo also gets electrically-assisted power steering for the first time with variable weighting. More importantly, road noise reductions of around three decibels in the rear and two decibels in the front have been achieved.
Design and Build
There aren't too many estate cars that look remotely sexy but if you choose your specification wisely, the latest Mondeo estate does a better impression than most. Decent alloys are key, as is the right metallic paint finish.
Out back, you'll notice that the huge - and very heavy - tailgate bisects the light pods, giving a really broad loading bay. It comes right down to bumper level too, so it's relatively easy to get heavy items in and out. Total capacity, as ever, depends upon whether you want a full-sized spare wheel or the potential roadside hassle of a mini-spare or, even worse, one of those tyre-inflatory 'instant mobility systems'. Do without a wheel and as much as 525-litres is on offer. Once everything's flat, there's up to 1,650-litres of total fresh air on offer. If you want the peace of mind of a full-sized fifth wheel, you'll need to subtract around 100-litres from each of those figures.
Whatever variant you end up preferring, you'll want to make the most of the space available, utilising floor hooks that keep awkward loads in place and perhaps ticking the box for options like luggage retention nets and dog guards.
Market and Model
The estate versions of the Mondeo command a premium of £1,800 over their hatchback counterparts, which means that you'll need around £23,500 for the 165PS 1.5 EcoBoost petrol-engined entry-level model. It's probably wise to step up to a diesel if you're planning on loading the car heavily and for this you'll need around £25,000. Trim levels now start with 'Zetec Edition', then buyers have the choice of something sportier ('ST-Line' or 'ST-Line Edtion') or plusher ('Titanium Edition'). For something truly luxurious, you'll need the flagship 'Vignale' variant. As standard, all models have navigation, a DAB tuner, front and rear parking sensors and cruise control with a speed limiter. 'ST-Line' series variants introduce extras including a body styling kit, lowered sports suspension, a Ford Power start button and a darkened headliner. Privacy glass and 19-inch 'rock metallic' alloy wheels are added on the 'ST-Line Edition' variants.
Safety technology is a strongpoint. All derivatves get 'Active City Stop' autonomous braking to mitigate or avoid low-speed collisions at under 31mph. Plus there's Pedestrian Detection, which identifies people and reduces the severity of collisions at speeds of up to 50mph. A radar system also drives the Distance Indication feature and Adaptive Cruise Control technology. Cameras support a Lane Keeping Aid and Traffic Sign Recognition, which provides the driver with the speed limit, cancellation signs and overtaking regulations flashed up on the instrument cluster display. There are also full adaptive LED headlights on offer, as well as Active Park Assist featuring Perpendicular Parking.
Cost of Ownership
Considerable design effort has been expended into making this car 25% lighter than its predecessor, an improvement possible thanks to things like a magnesium inner tailgate structure that's 40% lighter than before.
So, what impact has all of this made on this car's balance sheet returns? Well, the popular 2.0 TDCi 150 diesel variant we tried will return a combined fuel economy figure of 56.5mpg and emissions of 132g/km in estate form - which is better than you could expect from a rival Vauxhall Insignia 2.0 CDTi 170PS Sports Tourer. Opt for this Ford's 2.0 TDCi unit in pokier 180PS guise and the figures drop only slightly to 55.4mpg and 134g/km. If you're happy with petrol power, then the 165PS 1.5-litre EcoBoost engine puts out 152g/km of CO2 and manages 42.8mpg, efficiency figures that aren't especially stellar.
It's no use kidding ourselves that the Ford Mondeo estate is, or will ever be, a glamorous vehicle, but the MK4 model is sprinkled with enough clever design and high-tech equipment to make it anything but a run of the mill load lugger. Its sheer capaciousness is a given and, if space matters, the Mondeo estate more than justifies itself with nearly 1700-litres of cargo volume when you fold the back seats flat.
It was ever thus. What impresses most about the fourth generation Mondeo estate is the fact that it now looks great, drives without constantly reminding you that you bought an estate car and now offers a best in class range of engines. Our choice would be a 2.0 TDCi 150PS diesel with an alloy wheel upgrade, but whatever your preference, it's very hard to go wrong with this likeable station wagon.