Good: comfortable, spacious, excellent steering and chassis, quality
Not so good: you can see the grey hairs in the design, a touch pricey
There are a few, a precious few, who come in and perform at the top of their respective games and who leave, retire, still at that peak of performance. Ryan Giggs perhaps? The McDonnell-Douglas F15 Eagle? Frank Sinatra?
Well, to that brief list we can now definitively add the third-generation Ford Mondeo. We had long suspected that it would be the case, but given the fact that the all-new Mondeo, based on the US-market Ford Fusion, has continually delayed its arrival here, there was always the chance that a newer, younger rival might sneak in at the last gasp and steal the Mondeo's family saloon crown.
It hasn't happened though, and given that Ford of Europe is now swearing blind that the new Mondeo will arrives on dealer forecourts this autumn (fool me once, shame on me etc. etc...) then there seems little prospect that any rival will now have the chance to do so. The Mondeo therefore retires, crown intact.
To prove the point, we've been driving a fully-loaded Mondeo hatch in ritzy-spec Titanium trim with the 2.0-litre TDCi diesel engine (Ed: apologies, the images are not of the actual car Neil tested). And while there are certainly one or two areas we can criticise, there really is no rival car that displays such an all-round-brilliant performance.
Let's start with the handling. Ever since Ford realised that the big German premium brands were starting to encroach on its family four-door territory, it has seriously upped the Mondeo's game in the dynamic sense. That the Mondeo's chassis remains undimmed in its excellence as it retires to its corner is a testament to those efforts. This may be a big, front-wheel drive family car, but I cannot convincingly tell you that any pricey German rival is any better to drive. The Mondeo's steering weight and feel, the reactions of its suspension to bumps and hollows, the way the body leans slowly but little into corners, all of it should be taken as a textbook example in how to make a car feel good to drive. It's not electrifyingly sporty, but it is deeply satisfying.
Comfort too is pretty good. The Titanium-spec wheels and low (well, low-ish) profile tyres bring with them a touch of road noise and an occasional bobble over bumps, but otherwise the Mondeo is a calm and relaxing companion on a long journey. Of great benefit in such situations are the deeply comfortable and the spacious interior. Really, only the Skoda Superb can offer any superior rear legroom and the price for that is the Skoda's occasionally bafflingly narrow body. The Mondeo is massive inside, with a vast, square boot behind the rear seats. Practicality for a family of four? Shun ye your SUVs and crossovers - this is where you will find the actual space and versatility you crave.
It does come at a price of course. Now, to be fair, our test car was specified to the gunwales with extra equipment, so its price tag isn't really reflective of the Mondeo range as a whole. Pricey it most certainly looks compared to the cheapest €23k model in the line-up. That said, even at this lofty level, it compares well to a Kuga in price terms, and is vastly more useful and roomy than its in-house 4x4 rival.
Flaws? Well, the engine is starting to feel a little old. It's reasonably refined, does 50mpg with ease and pulls strongly enough, but that 320Nm torque figure is starting to look a little under-fed for a 2.0-litre engine (most 1.6-litre units are now starting to approach that figure) and while the instruments are neat, there's no getting away from the fact that the cabin architecture dates from 2006. A Skoda Superb's cabin environment is much more Mercedes-like in feel and quality.
Still though, spend some time with the Mondeo and you really do start to wonder quite why people are happy to spend more on a self-aggrandising German premium badge. The likes of a BMW 3 Series and Audi A4 are functionally no better (and frequently significantly inferior) to this supposedly humble Ford. Look past the badge snobbery and the underlying age of the mechanical package and here is a family-friendly estate that can still put in a class-leading performance, even in the autumn of its life.