New Ford Mondeo 2.3 Liter
By Alex Ricciuti
We are all familiar by now with the problems that afflict Ford (as well as GM and Chrysler). There’s a whole ‘Things to Fix’ list of it, from uncompetitive vehicles in their passenger car line-up to skyrocketing health-care costs. The former is of their own doing, due to Ford’s lack of investment in smaller vehicles in order to favor development of SUVs whose sales exploded in the 90s. The latter, is really something that’s out of their hands.
But that is the Detroit Ford. Ford of Europe is another story. It is another universe – product-wise and everything else-wise. Ford’s European subsidiary is profitable and helping to save the entire company. Even Ford’s thoroughly revamped US product range which they’ve begun rolling out, with the hope that a whole new lineup by 2010 will turn its fortunes around, is greatly influenced by its designs from Cologne.
To bear the reality of the matter, Ford of Europe is essentially a German car maker. It’s based in Cologne, Germany and its engineering and design is all done their by local staff, with most of its manufacturing still there. (They do have a substantial amount of parts made in other European countries and there’s a major plant in Genk, Belgium where the S-Max, among others, is built. More on that in the story quoted below.) And Ford has begun to behave like a German brand lately. The company has released a slew of new products clearly meant to challenge VW both in Germany and Europe-wide, taking aim at the most prestigious of the European volume brands.
They’ve been on an impressive streak with each new product a major improvement over its previous incarnation and raising the quality and design quotient of the brand. It began with the new Ford Focus which spawned a Focus ST edition that is one of the fastest and most exciting drives around and a formidable challenger to the pre-eminence of the Golf GTI. And then came the C-Max, the S-Max, and the new Mondeo this year. The S-Max is the crown jewel of their lineup and I would take a fully outfitted S-Max over a BMW X3 any time.
Last summer I reviewed the Ford S-Max and it blindsided me. You would never expect a minivan to look so sleek and drive that good. It is one of the best cars I’ve tested in years. It’s one of those rare models that delivers exactly what it promises while adding some surprises as well. The car feels as supple as the Focus ST on the road. The S-Max is exceeding Ford’s sales targets and is turning into one of the models that eats into the premium segments around it. Meaning, I’m seeing many well-to-do drivers zooming around in an S-Max whom I suspect could have opted for a BMW 3 series or an Audi A4 but choose Ford’s superb people mover for its room and comfort instead.
Ford boosts output at Genk
Automotive News Europe
December 18, 2007 – 12:01 am ET
COLOGNE – Ford of Europe is boosting production at its plant in Genk, Belgium, to meet strong demand for the sporty S-Max large minivan, named European Car of the Year for 2007, and the Mondeo sedan and wagon.
Production at the plant, which also assembles the large Galaxy minivan, will rise to 1,280 vehicles a day next April from 1,230 now by adding a “mini-night shift” in the paint department, a spokesman said.
The plant, which employs 5,700 workers, is expected to produce 275,000 vehicles this year, up 40,000 units over 2006. Ford spent 715 million euros, or about $1.03 billion at current rates, to upgrade and expand the plant in 2006.
I’ve recently tested the new Ford Mondeo powered by a mid-range 2.3 liter engine coupled to a 6-speed automatic transmission. Ford has brought out this engine to bridge the power gap between its 2.0 liter/145hp base-level option and the 2.5T/220hp power plant that powers the afore mentioned ST as well. And as I tested the car it also became clear that this particular drive train is tuned for maximum comfort and efficiency and to help Ford reduce the average CO2 rate of its fleet.
The new Mondeo is far better looking than its predecessor, featuring one of the best examples of Ford’s ‘kinetic design’ concept. A Ford of Switzerland technician remarked to me that the car looks great in all option ranges, with the look remaining consistent with each package and not just looking it’s best with the fully optioned outfit, which he conceded was a fault the company had with past models. And that is something that you would have noticed on the past Focus and Mondeo, that the grills and wheels that gave the car it’s sporty look only came with extra cash.
The Mondeo at first feels a little underwhelming but you soon begin to feel how it’s a well put together package of engineering, from suspension to the drive train. And only when you floor the gas pedal do you realize you’re sitting on 4-banger and not a sixer. For the rest of it, it drives like a much larger engine.
On a proverbial leisurely drive sailing along the 120km/h limited autobahn just east of Zurich, the Mondeo 4 cylinder (2.3 liter with 160 hp) coupled to Ford’s 6-speed Durashift transmission felt like a refined, updated version of the Mondeo’s old 3 liter engine. This drivetrain combo runs smooth, keeps its cool and refuses to be roused. It’s quite and subtle and provides just enough power to keep you sitting satisfied if not smugly so. It’s perfectly fitting to the premium-like design and outfitting of the Mondeo.
Ford has announced this drive train will also be featured in the S-Max, which I would have thought too small an increase in power over the 140hp 2.0 liter had I not tested it in the Mondeo. It won’t make the S-Max move like the 2.5 liter/220hp engine (also in the ST) but it certainly makes the case for itself as a distinct middle option.
Now, can Ford re-invent itself as the equivalent of VW in terms of quality, design and driving dynamics? Overall, maybe they’re not there yet, but from case to case, it can and has and may even exceed VW in certain segments already. Where is VW’s answer to the S-Max? The Tiguan? Yet another small SUV trying to beat Toyota’s RAV4. Well, the S-Max is way ahead of them. Although the small SUV segment is growing quickly in Europe, my guess is the MPV/Crossover/Minivan is just a more convenient configuration. The S-Max is perfect evidence of that. If you can make a vehicle look and drive like the S-Max does while offering that kind of space and convenience, you’ve just made SUVs redundant for all except those who really go off road – which means everyone.
The blue oval stealing customers from BMW? Who’da thunk it.
Alex Ricciuti is a freelance writer and automotive journalist based in Zurich, Switzerland. He writes frequently for Automotive News Europe. He also blogs on all things automotive at eurocarguy.blogspot.com.
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