What we were looking for
The high quality, creature comforts and refinement you would expect from a premium car, but with more affordable buying and running costs.
Ford Mondeo 2.0 TDCI 140 Zetec 5dr
List price £18,595
Target Price £17,125
This is getting to be a habit, for both Ford and for us.
Every seven years a new Mondeo comes out, and we're simply bowled over by how much of an advance it is on the car it replaces. Three generations of Mondeo: three awards.
It now offers quality and technology features that couldn't be taken for granted even in luxury cars when the previous model went on sale in 2000, and the best bit is that you get it all for just £1600 more than a mid-spec diesel Mondeo cost back then - and that had only a 1.8-litre engine.
There's more. If you were to go for one of the posh-badge cars of similar size from Germany and specify it to the same level, the price would begin with a three rather than a one.
You've got to be really sold on having the right key-fob, or have money to burn, to fall for that - particularly as the Mondeo arguably now has trim and build quality every bit as good as theirs.
Okay, prod around the cabin long enough and you might find odd corners where a bit of money has been saved, but the differences are so slight it doesn't matter.
If quality is one of the latest Mondeo's greatest areas of improvement, ride comfort and refinement are the others.
From the day the Mondeo replaced the Sierra in 1993, you've been guaranteed a great drive, but this hasn't always been accompanied by the most supple or quietest of rides.
Quick on its toes
The new Mondeo puts all that right but, even though it's considerably longer than before, it's lost none of its spritely, quick-on-its-toes feel. You only really notice its size when trying to find somewhere to park.
Naturally, we've gone for the 138bhp 2.0-litre turbodiesel engine, given the benefits it offers for business drivers who make up by far the largest proportion of Mondeo owners.
You'd have to drop down to the least powerful 1.6-litre petrol engine or the 1.8 diesel - neither of which have anything like the refinement and driveability of the 2.0-litre - to get a lower company car tax rating.
Potential miles per gallon figures in the high 40s and a realistic tank range of more than 600 miles are other convincing arguments in its favour.
The Zetec trim also provides pretty much everything buyers are likely to want, including stability control, alloy wheels, climate control and a good stereo.
In short, it's a brilliant car. You wouldn't envy the job of anyone trying to create a better one at a similarly low price.
Mazda 6 1.8 S 5dr
List price £15,100
Target Price £15,100
£16,000 - £18,000
Volkswagen Passat 2.0 TDI S
List price £17,662
Target Price £16,430