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Tim O'Brien | Jul 26, 2008 | 15 Comments

Sometimes you have to be sensible. You have to do stuff that pleases your accountant more than it pleases you. You even have to think like an "accountant". (This is an interesting exercise in itself, if you find seeing things only in black and white interesting.)

Should you decide to start thinking like an accountant, and not like the complete rabbit you’ve made a practice of until now—your next car won’t be a V8. It might not even be a ‘six’. Because with fuel pegging along at a million or so ducats a litre, it’s not sensible, fiscally speaking, to pour great wads of the hard-earned into the fuel tank each week.

It’s more sensible to buy a four cylinder, or even a hybrid. But, of course, for some of you, this creates a problem. I know, because I know quite a bit about rabbits (having been acquainted with one for quite some time now). I know that there are some of you who would rather kill yourselves slowly with a fork than drive a ‘family four’ or, worse, much worse, a hybrid.

So what do you do if you’re not quite up to death by fork, but you feel compelled to ‘be sensible’?

You buy an ‘oiler’, friends—a modern turbo diesel.

front_01

Something like the new Mondeo TDCi. It’s a very sensible car: you can snag one for just $37,990 plus on-roads, and it runs on the smell of an oily rag. Under the bonnet, in case your accountant asks (and you won't even have to lie), is an advanced 2.0 litre Duratorq four-cylinder common-rail turbo diesel engine. It’s a very well-proven unit and produces 96kW and peak torque of 320Nm from an un-fussed 1750rpm.

It’s the torque figure that is important here: 320Nm. That’s the kind of figure you might once have expected from your average V8. Ok, it doesn’t bellow like a V8, or shred rubber from the line like a ‘bent vee’ on the nail; but once moving, the twisting force of all that torque pushes things along nicely.

mondeo_engine_01

Very nicely indeed. There’s something about forced induction and a modern diesel that becomes a bit intoxicating. What’s more, you can wring its neck and the effect on the fuel consumption is… nothing... nil. No effect, well, almost none. Diesels are good like that, they just love hard graft.

Here at TMR, we were mightily impressed with the Mondeo TDCi; so impressed that we thought we’d better find something to compare it with: a benchmark, a standard against which we could make a meaningful comparison.

That means it was time for a ‘COMPARO’. (Wooo, now TMR is really cooking.)

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So we got the new SAAB TTiD. Now this is not to be confused with its lesser sibling, the TiD. No, the TTiD is a much more serious set of wheels. It is the first diesel Saab to carry the coveted Aero badge and comes with not one turbo, but two – a little one to get things going, and a big one to chip in when things are really happening.

And that’s why the badge gets an extra ‘T’ – TTiD.

Mated to either a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission, the 1.9-litre, 16-valve two-stage turbo engine produces a grunt-filled 132 kW and 400 Nm of torque (in manual trim, 370Nm for the auto) while returning combined consumption of an extremely sensible 5.7 l/100km for the manual Sport Sedan, and 6.8 l/100km for the auto.

On the face of it then, the Saab holds a considerable power advantage over the Ford. The second point of departure from the Mondeo is in the price; the Saab Aero TTiD retails at $65,100 for the auto, and $62,600 for the manual. That’s around $25,000 more than the Mondeo TDCi (and you can do a lot with $25,000).

So, your accountant will be asking, is the Saab $25,000-better than the Ford and which car would be the ‘more sensible’ purchase?


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Ok then, let’s get to it.

With clam-shell bonnet, deep traditional Saab grille, all-new headlamp lenses, and a very nice fore and aft balance, the TTiD is a return to form by Saab in exterior styling. Its sporting intentions are underscored with deep side skirts, twin pipes and handsome alloys carrying solid rubber. (And, thankfully, Saab has omitted the daft ‘Dame Edna’ headlights vandalising the nose of the 9-5.)

The Mondeo, still new to most eyes though released nearly a year ago at the Sydney Motor Show, is also a very appealing machine ‘in the metal’. Designed in Germany and built in Belgium, the Mondeo is impressively finished and carries an air of quality that belies its sub-40k price tag.

Its styling is dominated by a high belt line, rising to a squared-off angular tail containing a cavernous and versatile boot. Like the Saab, it too is nicely balanced ‘in the round’. You would be proud to have either in the drive.

Exterior design, of course, is a matter of taste so we’ll leave that judgment to you.

saab_front_01

Slip in behind the wheel of each though, and you will immediately recognise the Saab as the more expensive of the pair. Its seats– always a Saab strong point – are trimmed in soft two-tone leather and are impressively comfortable.

You will more immediately feel ‘at home’ in the Saab – you sit low and snug, everything is nicely at hand and, while the matt-black plastic dominating the fascia is a let-down, there is an understated integrity to the look and feel. There are still some quirky touches, Saab is persisting with toggle-style air vent controls and the ignition still sits between the seats, but it works.

The Mondeo TDCi is a little more funky. There is an edgier feel to its interior. The polished metal trimmings and centre fascia carry more than a hint of Wurlitzer retro style, and there are Gen-Y touches like voice-activated Bluetooth and climate control (though we didn’t try the latter).

mondeo_interior_01

The first impression from the wheel of the Mondeo TDCi is a sense of space thanks to the long roofline, high hatch, and generous leg-room. You could put Andrew Bogut in the back seat without having his knees hovering round your ears.

Throughout, it’s impressively equipped with seven airbags standard across the range; stability control is also standard, as is ABS.

Not quite up to par are the seats. Though trimmed in leather, and though comfortable enough, they’re hard – the kind we’ve grown more accustomed to from German trimmers – and they lack a little lateral support when push comes to shove on the road.


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So, for refinement and interior style, each is impressive but the Saab edges out the Mondeo.

On the road however, the gap between the Mondeo TDCi and Saab TTiD widens somewhat.

Off the line – there, the Mondeo scores. Despite the Saab’s dual-stage turbo operation, it’s a little sleepy when gathering itself from rest. Given a heavy shoe, the Mondeo will jump away from standstill with barely a moment’s hesitation. The Saab thinks about things for a moment; there’s hole there in auto configuration.

Once on the move however, the Saab comes on like a shower. It is impressively swift and emits a very satisfying turbo whistle when things become serious. Here the TTiD can be favourably compared to fancied rivals like the BMW 520d. It will dispatch the 0-100km/h dash in 8.0 seconds dead and run all the way to a 235km/h top speed should you have your own private autobahn handy. This compares to the Mondeo diesel’s 10.5 seconds for the traffic light dash and 200-plus km/h top speed (we’re relying on other sources for that latter figure).

Now don’t make a judgment about those bald figures. It is in mid-speed acceleration and power where these turbo diesels shine – like when overtaking, punting out of a corner or hustling along with a load in tow. In these situations, when kept in the ‘sweet spot’, turbo-diesel power carries the irresistible force of a wave; it feels immensely strong and makes for swift, effortless touring.

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The transmissions, 6-speed adaptive automatics in both cars as tested, were equally impressive. Each, when being shuffled along, change rapidly between ratios and will shift down preemptively when slowing and setting-up for corners.

They’re also both fun to row along in manual mode. Of the two, we prefered the more intuitive shift-movement of the Mondeo which up-shifts on a backwards tug at the paddle, the Saab shifting up with a forward push. (Don’t know why manufacturers can’t agree on this.)

For serious cornering, the Saab again edges out the Mondeo: not that there’s much in it, each are impressively ‘sticky’ when hunting the curves. At speed, the Mondeo runs a little wider and deeper than the Saab (the higher stance and high waist-line might be responsible here), and does not have quite the reserves of the TTiD for powering out.

Despite a fair dollop of initial compliance, soft-ish almost, the Saab sits flatter, can be more accurately placed and will hold a tighter line when under the whip.

But, again, this is relative. While the TTiD Aero is marketed as a sports sedan, the Mondeo’s target market is families looking for a strong mid-size alternative. They won’t be looking for margins at the ragged edge of cornering performance.

This is not to say the Mondeo cannot be hustled along – it can, its chassis is well up-to-the-mark for press-on driving and the TDCi handles our secondary roads without the jarring and nose-wallow of some front-drivers.

For highway refinement, road and tyre roar, the more expensive Saab takes the cigar ahead of the Mondeo. But neither is harsh, and each would be a satisfying and easy companion for an inter-capital dash.


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So, that’s the story.

Each offers refined driving, dynamic road manners and effortless long highway legs. And with each returning better than 7.0 l/100km, even while working under load, both the Mondeo TDCi and Saab TTiD offer ‘big engine’ performance for micro-car fuel costs.

But which would we choose?

On balance, despite the superior dynamics, comfort and style of the Saab, it would have to be the Mondeo.

At $37,990 – and with a $25,000 price advantage in this comparison – the Mondeo TDCi represents remarkable value. It’s capable, swift, thoughtfully styled and offers engaging and appealing motoring. With the Falcon, it is a defining new model for Ford Australia and will have an important part to play in its future. When word gets out – and it’s been a little slow to date – the Mondeo will steal a lot of sales away from the likes of Jetta, Camry and Peugeot 407.

To buyers in this market segment, it sells itself as the sensible purchase.

(See, you’re thinking like an accountant already.)

The Insider’s big statement:

“2008 first-half results for Saab Australia show a 28.9 percent fall in sales. It’s a similar story elsewhere thanks mostly to a 9-5 that’s stiffed. The GM-owned Swedish marque needs some good products – like the impressive TTiD - if it is going to pull buyers back to Saab showrooms. The TTiD makes a strong case, but it’s hunting in a premium price category with the German heavy-hitters and the way ahead looks a tad uncertain. Without a showroom miracle for Saab, you can expect the cash-strapped GM to put this badge into the ‘For Sale’ bucket before too long.”

MONDEO TDCi

insider-likes

• Responsive, refined diesel

• Well-balanced ride and handling

• Edgy interior (with voice-activated controls)

• Interior room

• Fuel economy

insider-dislikes

• Front seats a little formless

• High boot obscures rearward vision

• Where diesel prices are heading

Mondeo TDCi specs

Engine: 2.0 litre Duratorq Turbo Diesel
Cylinders: 4 in line
Valve gear: DOHC 16V
Fuel system: Diesel direct injection
Max power: 96 kW @ 4000rpm
Max torque: 320Nm @ 1750-2240rpm
Bore and stroke: 85.0mm X 88.0mm
Compression ratio: 17.9:1
Transmission: 6-speed adaptive automatic (manual mode)

6-speed manual

Suspension: Front: Independent MacPherson struts

Rear: Independent Control Blade multi-link system

Consumption: 7.3 l/100km (combined cycle)
Price: From $37,990

SAAB TTiD

insider-likes

• Ripper twin-turbo diesel engine

• Well-sorted chassis balance (under most driving conditions)

• Refined ride, free of jarring

• Comfortable, stylish seats

• Great fuel economy in a fun steer

insider-dislikes

• Down-market dash fascia

• ‘Hole’ in initial acceleration

• Counter-intuitive shift movement (when in manual)

• The price: though well-kitted, it’s too expensive

Saab TTiD specs

Engine: 1.9 litre two-stage twin-turbo
Cylinders: 4 in line
Valve gear: DOHC 16V
Fuel system: Diesel direct injection
Max power: 137kW @ 4000
Max torque: 370Nm (auto) 400Nm (manual) @ 1850rpm
Boost Pressure: 1.8 bar
Bore and stroke: 90.4mm X 82.0mm
Compression ratio: 16.5:1
Transmission: 6 speed ‘sport mode’ automatic

6-speed manual

Brakes: Front: Front: 302mm ventilated discs

Rear: 292mm ventilated discs

Consumption: 5.7 l/100km (manual: combined cycle)

6.8 l/100km (auto: combined cycle)

Price: From $65,100 (auto)
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