Ford’s once-ubiquitous saloon scooped the Family Car of the Year as well as the overall Car of the Year in 1993, but it was born from the ashes of a Blue Oval disappointment. Where did its predecessor go wrong? And how did the Mondeo get it so right?
Where it all started
In 1993, the Ford Sierra was on its way out and, at What Car?, we weren’t sorry to see it go. Despite the much-lauded motorsport success enjoyed by the Sierra RS Cosworth, the standard family car just didn’t hit the mark. Although it had striking design, it suffered from slow sales following its launch in 1982.
A series of facelifts improved the car – and Ford’s accounts – but, by the end of its life, the Sierra was feeling very old and in need of a drastic rework.
Luckily for Ford, a major rejuvenation was just around the corner in the shape of the Mondeo.
Ford’s new family car took its name from the Latin word 'mundus' (meaning 'world') and, appropriately, was advertised as a “car for the world”. The Mondeo shared little with the Sierra it usurped, swapping from its predecessor’s rear-wheel-drive layout to front-wheel drive. It also represented a more cohesive approach from Ford, with development split between Europe and the US at a total cost of $6 billion, which was a huge investment for Ford.
One of the notable influences from the US was the inclusion of a driver’s airbag on the Mondeo, making it the first car in the UK to be sold with one as standard on all models. It was a big positive for the Mondeo and attracted plaudits from the press, including What Car?.
The car proved to be an instant success, banishing the disappointment of the Sierra and ushering in a new era of successful Ford products.
At launch, buyers had a choice of three petrol engines (1.6-litre, 1.8-litre and 2.0-litre variants) and five trim levels (Base, LX, GLX, Ghia and Si). The car was priced from £14,600 when it went on sale.
Our 1993 Car of the Year
In dishing out praise to the Mondeo, we pulled no punches over Ford’s other lacklustre models in its portfolio at the time, stating the new saloon “embodies all the virtues missing in mainstream Fords for so long”.
It was clear that the Mondeo was a step up from its predecessor and, indeed, the rest of its rivals.
“Ford’s new family car gets it right in nearly all the important areas to make it a far more tempting proposition than the Sierra has been for years.
"They’ve come up with a car with quality to match a Nissan Primera, handling and ride to match a Peugeot 405, an interior design to beat a Cavalier and refinement to top the lot.
“It contains a whole host of safety features, including a standard-fit driver’s airbag, which leaves rivals gasping. All this is some achievement, and for the thousands of buyers who’ll be taking delivery of a new family Ford this year, it’s fantastic news.
“The Mondeo isn’t perfect, mind. Rear seat head room is a bit restricted and the steering feel could be better. But with so many plus points on its side, all of which will make life more pleasant for so many people, the stylish, good-looking Mondeo has to be our 1993 Car of the Year.
And so we concluded:
“What we liked: top-notch refinement, strong performance from the 1.8-litre Zeta engine (so much sweeter-sounding here than in the Escort), a supple ride combined with wonderfully fluid handling, a welcoming cabin with a rounded, futuristic feel, ample leg room, a slick gearchange, smart, distinctive looks – and a winning litany of safety features including a standard-fit driver’s-side airbag.
“What we didn’t: steering is slightly rubbery, rear head room is a little tight and economy could be better.”
But what’s it like today?
Step inside the Mondeo and the interior is a wonderfully retro and comfortable place to be. All the dials and switches feel robust and the driving position is bang on the money, with great visibility and a good range of adjustment along with spongey and supportive seats that help you soak up the miles in comfort.
It still has remarkably good cruising manners, with a floaty ride that wafts over imperfections with a gentle bounce and it feels well planted at speed. The 1.8-litre engine doesn’t have much poke but offers linear acceleration that will drag the car up to motorway speeds and cruise along without trouble, although performance does feel a bit flat throughout the rev band and it doesn’t have a particularly charismatic exhaust note. The gearbox is sweet, though, with a nice, precise shift that still feels pretty sharp after all these years.
But let’s not get lost in blue-tinted nostalgia; hit a winding road and the Mondeo handles more like a family barge than a family saloon. The steering is slow and uncommunicative, and it doesn't feel agile. That said, you’re unlikely to want to tear up the countryside in it; it’s much better suited to town or motorway driving.
We admittedly had an exceptionally well-looked-after model from Ford’s heritage fleet, but a drive in the Mondeo still leaves you thinking that, with its gentle ride and comfortable interior, you could easily run it as a daily car today.
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