Ford's Vignale brand hopes to tempt you away from German premium rivals with unique styling, a personalised touch and VIP treatment. Unfortunately this treatment comes at a high price for what is, at its core, a Mondeo.
In the Metal:
Ford wants a piece of the premium pie. It has sat on the side-lines, looking longingly at the monthly profit reports issued by the likes of Audi and BMW before looking back at their own and crying. Premium brands are big business with a bigger per-car profit being made than their mainstream rivals could hope for.
So Ford has introduced Vignale. It's not, says Ford, a trim level, but instead a brand within itself that will sell you the whole premium 'lifestyle' wrapped up in a Ford suit. First up for the Vignale treatment is the Mondeo and that will soon be followed by the S-Max - and maybe more. Vignale is to Ford's premium offering what RS is to its performance one - the big daddy, a step above Titanium - and it comes with a bit of bling to emphasise this.
Chief amongst the exterior upgrades is a new honeycomb grille that will serve as the Vignale signature. Trimmed in chrome and with large chrome fog light surrounds seated below, this is the face of Vignale. There is more chrome along the flanks and around the rear but other than that - and the standard fitment of adaptive LED headlights - it is a Mondeo underneath. No bad thing in itself as the Mondeo is a strikingly handsome car, but is the Mondeo premium enough?
Ford thinks so, which is why the paintwork is unique to the Vignale; it's thicker and with a higher gloss to the top coat. The alloy wheels are unique, as too is the leather interior. You can of course get leather in a regular Mondeo, but not Windsor leather sourced from the same company that supplies Bentley and Porsche's Exclusive division. Three seat designs are available, all featuring the honeycomb quilting and contrasting 'tuxedo line'. The standard seat is your regular Mondeo throne, there is a sport seat with thicker bolsters to keep you in check and then there is a 'Contour Seat' that can be moulded to suit your body shape and features a massage function. All front seats are heated as standard.
The Windsor leather also spreads to the likes of the dashboard, door cards and centre arm rest bringing uniformity to the look. No lesser quality leather away from the touch points either - it's the same laser cut, specially picked hide wherever you look. The Sync 2 infotainment system with its eight-inch touchscreen is standard, as too are parking sensors, a reversing camera and Ford's Pre-collision Assist and Pedestrian Detection safety systems.
Changes between the regular Mondeo and the Vignale are minimal when it comes to the driving experience. The suspension has been mildly tweaked to soften it out but this update will be introduced to the regular car soon so that wipes out that advantage. The Vignale is the first Mondeo to be offered with the new bi-turbo diesel engine that was introduced in the S-Max, but it is the lower powered 180hp version that will be the bigger seller in Ireland, as tested here.
On the road the Vignale is, perhaps unsurprisingly, very much like a Mondeo - only much quieter and more refined. This posh Mondeo is the first Ford to get Active Noise Cancellation that pumps sound into the cabin via the 12-speaker Sony sound system to counteract noise. The side windows are also laminated (and thicker) to combat wind noise while more sound deadening material has been added front and rear to dampen road noise from the tyres.
To cut it against the likes of the Audi A4, BMW 3 Series or even the new Jaguar XE the Vignale has to drive as well as them and unfortunately it does not. This is largely down to the fact that the Mondeo does not drive as well as before, losing some of its famous feelsome steering in favour of comfort. There is a disconnect between driver and road that is understandable had Ford gone for French spec 'pillow soft' suspension but it's just not that cosseting. It's caught somewhere in the middle.
We don't expect all-wheel drive in the Mondeo to sell well in Ireland, but for the record, the new four-wheel drive system is an 'on demand' set up with power being sent exclusively to the front wheels until slip is detected. At this point, some or all of the power can be sent to the rear wheels with impressive speed. The shift in power is seamless, barely affecting the balance of the car and allowing you to get on with driving.
What you get for your Money:
Prices have yet to be fully confirmed but there are hints of a €44,000 starting price for the Mondeo Vignale with the 180hp 2.0-litre TDCi engine and six-speed manual gearbox. That represents a €9,000 premium over a Titanium X Mondeo with the 150hp version of the 2.0-litre engine and Powershift automatic transmission. Whatever way you cut it that is a sizeable premium, but more worryingly it doesn't seem great value when you consider that €44,000 will buy you a BMW 320d Touring in SE specification. You have to add another €2,000 to the Vignale to get the estate.
That said, BMW doesn't give you a dedicated 'Relationship Manager', who is at your beck and call from the moment you walk into the special Vignale lounge to the moment you decide to part with your Vignale. This Relationship Manager will guide you through the buying process (on fancy touchscreen tables), organise to have your car picked up from your house for servicing (with a replacement car left in its place), send someone that can valet the car to your workplace to bring back that showroom shine and sign you up for the exclusive Vignale magazine.
Is the world ready for a posh Ford? Does it even need one? The reasoning behind the move is logical - it allows Ford to tap into a hugely profitable market, but it all seems a bit half-done. When Volkswagen tried to force a move up market it created the Phaeton, a car that could rival the best the luxury market had to offer at the time. Citroen went and created a whole new brand with unique cars, as did Toyota with Lexus. Ford has just thrown some glitz at a Mondeo. We're not at all convinced that there'll be a following for this brand in Ireland.