New world order
The Falcon is dead. Ford’s Mondeo mid-sizer takes up the fight
WHEN the last Falcon rolls off the production line in October next year, this is the car that will fill the void.
The previous Mondeo wagon had already assumed the role left vacant by the Falcon wagon after it was dropped in 2010 — soon, the Mondeo sedan will do the same
The key to the changing of the guard can be found in the fine print in the brochures for both cars.
The new Mondeo, launched this week, is just 7cm shorter and 1.6cm narrower than the Falcon and yet its boot capacity is greater.
It is loaded with more technology because it was built with Ford’s global vehicle development budget.
As if that’s not enough, starting from $32,790 plus on- road costs, the new Europeanbuilt Mondeo costs almost $2500 less than the cheapest locally made Falcon.
The Falcon, unique to Australia since 1960, never stood a chance in the new lean automotive world that has all but eliminated duplication of similarly sized cars.
With the new Mondeo, Ford has in its sights the Toyota Camry, the world’s biggest selling family and fleet sedan, and Australia’s top-selling car in its class for 21 years.
Ford has some catching up to do: it has sold fewer than 50,000 Mondeos in Australia versus Toyota’s tally of more than 850,000 Camrys.
That’s why Ford has thrown everything at the new model. It is, for example, Australia’s first car with rear seat belt airbags as standard across the range (bringing the airbag count to nine). Touchscreen navigation and digital radio are included on every model. Top-end versions have radar cruise control, lane-keeping assistance and automatic emergency braking (now with pedestrian detection) at speeds up to 40km/h.
The Mondeo also has a smart key that limits the top speed of the car and the volume of the radio, designed to give peace of mind to parents of novice drivers. As with many new Fords, if a mobile phone is paired, the Mondeo will automatically dial 000 if the airbags are deployed in a crash and send the location to emergency services, reducing response times.
Conspicuously absent among all this safety tech, however, is one of the basics: there is no rear-view camera on the most affordable model.
Ford says it will add a rear camera from June production, with cars arriving in local showrooms in August.
Another curious anomaly: he Mondeo shares its fourcylinder engine with a Falcon yet is thirstier (8.2L or 8.5L/ 100km versus 8.0L) despite being about 100kg lighter.
Perhaps that’s why Ford has tried to direct attention on fuel economy comparisons to the diesel Mondeo and the Camry Hybrid, where the Ford has an edge of 5.1L versus 5.2L for the Toyota. But Ford ought to be careful when throwing rocks at rivals, as the petrol-powered Mondeo uses more fuel than the regular Toyota Camry.
BEHIND THE WHEEL
Falcon fans may lament the passing of gutsy rear-wheel drive performance but the new Mondeo is no slouch.
Its turbocharged fourcylinder petrol engine — also used in the Falcon Ecoboost, the Kuga SUV the Focus ST hot hatch — works smoothly with the six-speed auto, endowing the Mondeo with more oomph than a Camry, Mazda6 or Subaru Liberty.
The Mondeo feels surefooted in corners and supple over most bumps, although not best in class based on our preview drive.
The steering can feel too direct at times and the front end thumps more than usual over potholes.
There is only a space-saver in the boot, rather than a fullsize spare.
In the cabin, the Mondeo has ample space. Its front-drive layout gives plenty of leg and headroom — more than the Falcon although not as much as a Camry.
There’s good oddment storage in the doors, centre console and glovebox.
The interior materials — and what the car industry calls “perceived quality” — are above average for this class . There is no doubt the new Mondeo is a solid effort, with enough technology on the most expensive versions (which top out at more than $50,000 on the road) to challenge the best in the medium-size sedan business.
The new Mondeo also symbolises the massive improvement in Ford vehicles globally.
Cashed-up Ford didn’t skip a beat in the global financial crisis, while its peers were being bailed out, or hit the brakes on research and development, or both.
The Mondeo shows just how much of a head start Ford has on its main rivals. Holden Malibu anyone?
However, for all its merits, the Mondeo faces some significant hurdles.
Will buyers at the bottom end of the mid-size sedan market pay a $10,000 premium for a Mondeo?
That’s the price gap to the top-selling Camry’s current $26,490 drive-away deal.
Will the well-heeled fork out $50,000 for a Ford Mondeo when a BMW or MercedesBenz badge is $10,000 away?
On top of all that, the Mondeo is driving into a headwind.
Sales of medium-sized sedans priced below $60,000 were down by 15 per cent last year.
But demand for mid-size luxury cars outpaced the market, up by 9 per cent, as Australians spoilt by record low interest rates treated themselves to the good life and a prestige badge.
The right car at the wrong time.
Medium calibre: In sedan or wagon guise, the Mondeo
has ample space. Pricing puts it at a premium over regular
mid-sizers and not much short of prestige
models. Techno firsts include a rear seat belt