The British motoring press wait on new model releases like saltwater crocodiles. They are every bit as reasonable and forgiving. They are like that, paradoxically, because Poms love their cars in a wholly unique way. And love – passion – can hurt; it can exalt and disappoint in equal measure.
All those defining British marques - like Aston Martin, TVR, Jaguar, Bentley, Rolls, Lotus, Morgan, Rover, Gilbern, Jensen, MG, Triumph, Austin Healey, even the AC Ace - are the products of eccentric passion. This is why they can so spectacularly succeed, and equally so spectacularly fail.
Somewhere, in the 60s and 70s, at around the time British Leyland thought it was a good idea to give the world the Austin Allegro, the English motor industry completely lost the plot. And stayed lost for decades.
That’s why that wonderful lunatic Clarkson is the way he is. He, like every other Pom motoring ‘rotter’, has cut his teeth writing about an industry that has serially underperformed and, one by one, lost the crown jewels of a once mighty industry. It has been a tale of tragedy that has baffled, enraged and frustrated both the motoring public and the British motoring press.
You can forgive them, then, a soupçon or two of cynicism in matters automotive.
Clarkson, well, he’s now head croc. He chews ‘em up and spits them further than anyone. Putting something underpowered, stupid, or poorly designed on Clarkson’s plate is like tying a lamb to a Kakadu riverbank. You know it will be eaten, violently, and bits of skin and entrails will be left hanging from its teeth.
This part of the homily now brings us to the Ford Mondeo range.
What, you may be wondering, did the head crocodile have to say when Ford UK plated up its current mid-size offering? “The Mondeo is a fantastic car. It’s practical, good choice of engines, very comfy and great to drive,” quoth he.
It’s been a recurring theme. Clarkson again on the 2.5 Turbo: “I must also say that it’s exceptionally good looking… and the news gets better still when you go for a drive…”
The cold black hearts of his scribbling colleagues in the UK and Europe have been equally enthused. So when the Mondeo arrived here last year (unveiled at the Sydney Motor Show), there was a fair degree of expectation among motoring writers and Ford watchers. They have not been disappointed.
More to the point for Ford Australia, the arrival of the Mondeo, followed by the release of the FG Falcon range, has put real fire-power in Ford showrooms. The Ford range, from the entry-level Fiesta to the thumpingly powerful G6E Turbo, is arguably stronger than it has ever been. There is not a dud among them.
So, what then of the Mondeo XR5 Turbo?
Interestingly, though it has been around for a while, it has not exactly set hearts racing here. It might be because there is not a lot to distinguish it visually from its lesser siblings. It has the same rakish five-door hatch lines, raised shoulder and muscular wheel arches that have drawn the universal ‘thumbs-up’ for style for all in the Mondeo range.
Sure, it sports bigger boots, 18-inch alloys and a subtle performance body-kit, it also sits a little lower than its stable-mates, but externally, an untrained eye could miss the differences.
The similarities carry over to the interior. This isn’t a criticism; as we commented in our review of the TDCi, the interior of the Mondeo is a very nice place to be.
In the XR5 there are a few nice touches to distinguish it like the ‘Ford Power' start button, sports dials and cluster display and bum-hugging sports seats (leather of course). It also comes with ambient lighting (and clear lighting in the front footwells – so you can see your feet I suppose, “yep, check one, check two, both there, all good”) and six-speed manual box. In common with its siblings, that long high shoulder provides acres of leg-room and a simply cavernous boot.
Of course, getting the style, accommodation and driver and passenger ergonomics right is one part of the equation. For a car with sporting pretensions (and a whacking great snail hanging off the engine-room), the real question is only answered in the driving.
Here, the Mondeo XR5 Turbo shines. Up front is the same 2.5-litre Duratec 20-valve five-cylinder turbo engine as found in the Focus XR5 Turbo (and sourced from Ford’s Volvo arm). Putting 320Nm and a rorty 162kW @ 5000rpm under the toe, it propels the XR5 to a top speed of 240kmh and from 0-100km/h in a far-from shabby 7.3 seconds (reported sprint time that is; TMR’s timing gear – “one cat dog, two cat dog” – isn’t quite up to the mark).
Importantly, you don’t have to be wringing its neck to extract the ergs from that willing donk. Peak torque is available from between 1500 rpm and 4800 rpm. For overtaking, or getting away from the line quickly, those Newton metres provide express-train mid-range urge.
Sure, it’s not as quick as the brattish Focus Turbo, which can really give a thump in the back if you bury the shoe. The extra 238 kg carried by the Mondeo takes some of the sizzle off the numbers, but it’s academic really. It never feels anything other than a powerful, rapid, and well-sorted point-to-point tourer.
While sharp at the wheel, it does not crash or judder over broken bitumen when being pressed. In this, Ford has achieved the happy double. There is enough initial compliance to soak up all but the worst mid-corner bumps, but not so much as to allow the front to wallow or bottom out. (At least not in our hands.)
The wider track front and rear (67mm and 68mm wider respectively) over the previous Mondeo, improved body stiffness (up 130%), MacPherson strut front and multi-link control-blade rear, may explain some of the improved balance and cornering grip.
In many ways, as a sporting drive, the Mondeo XR5 feels better balanced, more sophisticated and certainly easier to live with than its smokin’, and slightly feral, little brother – even if a little slower.
With a six-speed Durashift M66 manual transmission (which features triple-cone synchromesh for lower gears), the shift placed nicely at hand and with good ‘feel’ at the clutch, rowing things along is a bit of hoot over the right stretch of road.
Not quite up to mark is the sound at higher revs. It’s a tad flat, more hiss than howl; there’s an opportunity there for the aftermarket piping sector. I’d have to throw away the factory kit and put some growl down under.
That said, shortcomings of the Mondeo XR5 Turbo are hard to find. You’re reduced to ticking off quibbles: it sounds ‘ratty’ – not at all like a sports saloon should – the dash has a few too many creases and angles, the polished metal trim looks as thin as foil and will probably date pretty quickly… but beyond these criticisms of (let’s face it) the superficial, you quickly run out of crosses.
There’s something really appealing about the way the XR5 goes about things. It’s the totality of the package that’s strong. Most get out of the car with the comment, “Gee, nice car…” Ford would have to be happy with that.
As an effortlessly swift, refined sporting saloon, the Mondeo XR5 Turbo ticks the boxes that matter. Its biggest challenge in the showroom is not from the likes of the smaller WRX, Golf GTi, nor the vastly more expensive Liberty GT; no, it’s the FG XR6 Turbo that will likely have buyers tossing up.
Certainly, for style and dynamism, the Mondeo XR5 Turbo is more than capable of chesting-up to its German rivals. At $41,990 it represents good buying.
The Insider’s big statement
“It’s a little ironic that Ford Australia is facing its most challenging times when it has never had such a potent and competent vehicle line-up. As we noted above, there is not a dud anywhere in the range. But what’s going on? There is more than meets the eye to Bill Osborne’s departure, you can put your Granny on that one, and the big one from Dearborn himself, Ford President Alan Mullaly, is currently in Australia eyeballing things. So watch this space brothers and sisters; there is more to be told.”
• Predictable, balanced handling
• Swift, effortless and refined power
• Nicely weighted clutch and gear throw
• Quiet, well-isolated cabin (from road and wind roar)
• Surprising interior space and practicality
• Flatulent exhaust note
• ‘Polished tin’ interior trims
• Lacking in visual differentiation
• Dashboard design overly ‘busy’
|Engine:||2.5L (2521cc) five cylinder all alloy|
|Type:||Duratec 20V turbo|
|Valve system:||DOHC 4 valves per cylinder|
|Fuel system:||Sequential electronic fuel injection|
|Output:||162kW @ 5000rpm |
Torque: 320Nm @ 1500-4800rpm
|Performance:||7.3 second 0-100km/h (reported)|
|Bore and Stroke:||83.0mm X 93.2mm|
|Transmission:||Ford M66 Six-speed manual|
|Fuel Consumption:||9.5 l/100km (claimed combined average)|
|Brakes:||4-wheel discs (DSC, ABS, EBA)|
|Suspension:||Front: MacPherson strut |
Rear: Control Blade independent multi link
|Wheels and tyres:||18inch alloys, 235/40 R18|