Ford Builds A Passat

“Ford builds a Passat!” was a typical reaction when the Mondeo Mk3 was unveiled in October 2000. Beneath its conservative Germanic skin was a well-engineered, competent and capable car.

(c) The Car Connection
2000 Ford Mondeo (c) The Car Connection

The 1993 Ford Mondeo Mk1 was a transformational car for its maker. Its predecessor, the Sierra, for all its futuristic aero looks, was resolutely conventional and exemplified Ford’s tradition of producing (no more than) adequately engineered and carefully costed cars that sold on showroom appeal, value for money and low running costs. If one wanted to experience technical sophistication or exemplary quality, one looked elsewhere.

Ford’s efforts at FWD engineering in its smaller models, the Fiesta and Escort, seemed to be moving backwards after an encouraging start with the 1976 Fiesta. This reached its nadir with the execrable 1990 Escort Mk5, a car that was dynamically so inept that Car Magazine dismissed it at launch as “not worth tooling up for.

Consequently, by 1993, there was more apprehension than eager anticipation for Ford’s first FWD C/D-segment offering. Unlike the Sierra, the Mondeo’s styling, in saloon, hatchback and estate variants, was entirely mainstream and contemporary, to the extent that it could have come from any number of different manufacturers at the time. So far, so underwhelming.

The Mondeo’s dynamic qualities were, however, a revelation. Its handling and ride quality were good enough immediately to position it alongside the Peugeot 405 as the driver’s choice amongst such cars. At the launch event, there were plenty of Ford engineers on hand to talk enthusiastically to the assembled journalists about this most impressive new car. Chief amongst them was Richard Parry-Jones, the man credited with revolutionising Ford’s reputation as a builder of dynamically excellent cars.

The Mondeo was also well equipped and felt well screwed together. The car buying public were as impressed as the journalists and the new model flew out of the showrooms. The Mondeo won the 1994 European Car of the Year Award. It became symbolic of the aspirational working class in the UK to the extent that Tony Blair, then leader of the Labour Party, coined the phrase Mondeo Man to describe the type of voters New Labour needed to attract in order to win power in the 1997 general election.

By the end of the decade, however, the Mondeo was beginning to look rather dated. The original design had been facelifted in 1996 to create the Mk2* model. The facelifted car had a new front end with an oval grille flanked by large headlamps that gave it a rather startled look, but at least it could no longer be described as anonymous. Despite this, the organic curves of the original design were now rather unfashionable, and a new style was required.

Ford looked to its competitors, in particular Volkswagen, which had launched the very handsome B5 generation Passat in 1996. This was a coolly modernist design, with clean surfacing and crisp details. Ford was sufficiently enamoured of this car that it designed the new Mondeo virtually as a homage to the Passat.

Interestingly, Ford never gave a name to the style it used for this Mondeo and would use again for the 2002 Fiesta Mk5 and Fusion and the 2004 Focus Mk2. It was shorn of the New Edge flourishes that adorned the 1997 Focus but predated the Kinetic design the company would introduce with the 2005 Iosis concept car. Perhaps Ford regarded it as too generic to deserve a title? For my money, these models were all notably handsome and well resolved.

The new Mondeo was offered in four-door saloon, five-door hatchback and estate variants. The saloon and hatchback looked very similar at a glance, but the latter was distinguished by wider C-pillars, a more inclined rear glass and shorter rear deck. The estate, with its upright tail and high-level rear lights, was particularly handsome as it lacked the rather heavy-handed C-pillar treatment of its siblings. It was a quite colour-sensitive design: the lack of external brightwork could make dark coloured examples look somewhat dour.

The interior also took its cue from contemporary Volkswagens. It was very sober and rational, with noticeably improved material quality over its predecessor. The only slightly incongruous details were the rather chintzy oval shaped, white-faced analogue clock in the centre console and the unconvincing metallised plastic finish to the console itself.

Underneath the sharp and contemporary new bodywork was the 1993 Mondeo’s CDW27 platform, albeit with a new name, CD132, and a 50mm (2”) stretch in the wheelbase to 2,754mm (108.4”) to increase rear legroom and luggage space. Hence, the new model to a large extent retained the handling prowess of its predecessor. The engine range comprised 1.8 and 2.0 litre inline-fours, and 2.5 and 3.0 litre V6s, the latter featuring in the 2002 ST220 top-line model where it produced 226bhp. This gave it a 0 to 100 km/h (62mph) time of 6.6 seconds and a limited top speed of 249km/h (155mph).

Ford promoted the Mondeo’s safety features heavily, including ABS, an (optional) electronic stability programme (ESP) and its Intelligent Protection System (IPS) which was a system of sensors and software designed to optimise the deployment of airbags in an accident. Despite this, the car scored a disappointing four stars in Euro NCAP testing, supposedly because of its ageing platform’s under-par performance in front impact tests.

The Mk3 Mondeo remained little changed throughout its seven-year life. A facelift in 2003 brought revised engines and trim levels, a new centre console and a slightly larger front grille with a chrome outline. In 2005 the saloon and hatchback received revised rear lights with clear horizontal elements underlined by a chrome bar.

Sales started strongly and in 2001, the first full year the Mondeo Mk3 was on sale, a total of 286,794** were sold in Europe. That would prove to be its best year and, thereafter, sales declined steadily. In 2006, its last full year on sale, just 131,749 were sold. The Mondeo was falling victim to a growing preference for semi-premium or premium brands in its C/D market segment. European sales of the supposedly more exclusive BMW 3 Series and Audi A4 were 289,597 and 238,814 respectively in 2006. The Mondeo was outsold even by the Mercedes-Benz C-Class, European sales of which were 141,258 in the same year.

The lesser-spotted Mondeo Saloon. (c) autoevolution

The Mondeo Mk3 proved reliable and durable in use and many ran up big mileages without trouble. Its sheer ubiquity and understated appearance made it easy to overlook, and an increasing number of potential buyers did just that. The dual onslaught of premium marques and SUVs have largely relegated the Mondeo to the status of an also-ran, with the current model selling fewer than 40,000 units in Europe last year.

* Annoyingly, Ford plays fast and loose with its ‘Mark’ designations and often awards its facelifted models a new number, as in this case.

** All sales data from http://www.carsalesbase.com

Author: Daniel O'Callaghan

Shut-line obsessive...Hates rudeness, loves biscuits.

37 thoughts on “Ford Builds A Passat”

  1. Wonderful piece and I recall just how good the CD132 was—I used to rent them all the time for work, and the interior always felt well screwed together compared to CD162. The Blair ‘Mondeo man’ story is what’s usually reported, but may need a small clarification: it certainly surfaced as a result of Blair, who talked about meeting a man who had a Ford Sierra while he canvassed. This was told in 1996, and I imagine with the alliteration, and the fact the Mondeo was the current repmobile, it became popularized as ‘Mondeo man’.

    1. Good morning Jack, and thank you for your kind words. I’m glad you enjoyed the piece. Thank you also for the clarification regarding ‘Mondeo Man’. It is still used by UK political pundits as shorthand for the aspirational working class man, despite the fact that he’s much more likely to be driving a 3 Series these days!

  2. When I wanted to get rid of my last Alfa and needed another car I went to the nearest Ford dealer to have a look at the Mondeo Mk3. I seriously wanted to like that car because of the way it looked and drove and an ST220 would have fitted my expectations quite well.
    There were too many points which showed a lack of attention to detail, particularly in the interior. They couldn’t even be bothered to create a new centre console panel for cars with climate control where the mixed buttons were simply fitted onto the circular cut outs originally used for the rotary controls of a heater-only car.
    This just wasn’t good enough.

    1. Hi Dave. Gosh, I see what you mean. That centre blank looks particularly awkward. Does it contain a small digital display for temperature? That clock is really jarring. Bentley and Maserati can get away with that sort of thing (just about) but the Ford item looks like a travel alarm clock from a pound-shop. It’s a shame because the rest of the dashboard looks pretty good.

    2. The black part in the centre has an unlit LCD temperature display.
      The clock was meant to repeat the form of the blue oval – but that’s no excuse for its cheap look.

  3. Now that I come to think of it, all the Fords from this phase are very satisfying to look at. Quite a few of this generation of Mondeo live in my neighbourhood and although I could look elsewhere, I find this car rewards continued study. The estate has a deliciously subtle convergence of the sideglass´s uppr and lower edges (converging way behind the car); the wheelarch treatment is smart; the surfacing is tidy and well resolved.
    The Mondeo is only a Passat in that it´s well-made and well-considered. The styling is utterly different inside and out. I think the interior has worn well too. It probably isn´t perfect but no car is. The countercomplaint about, say, the Passat is that it costs more and fitting a new headlamp bulb takes an hour (so my colleague told me). I think Ford ought to be very proud of this car both for its reasonable sales results (in a tough market) and its endurance on the streets so long after production started.

    1. Hi Richard. I’m interested that you don’t see more resemblance between the Mondeo and the contemporary Passat. The handling of the detail of the design is certainly different: the Mondeo has sharp creases in place of the Passat’s subtle curves. However, the sheer surfaces, lack of ornamentation and even the exterior door handles look very similar to contemporary VWs in their discipline and restraint.

      Inside, the instrument binnacle, air vents and symmetrical centre console is pure VW, in appearance if not to the touch:

    2. This picture in comparison to the one of the Mondeo above shows a fundamental difference in what I call attention to detail where the Passat is testimony to Fugen-Ferdl’s mantra ‘god is in the details’.
      In both cars the centre console panel is trapezoidal but only the Passat has switches following that form. The Mondeo has rectangular switches that are neither properly aligned with each other or with the HVAC controls nor do they follow the console’s form. Switches and HVAC controls are randomly placed without any attention. The Passat has carefully matched details.

  4. That 1990 Mk5 Escort is comfortably the worst car I have ever driven. In fact, I would say it was dangerously incompetent. The ’94 facelift was not just a fresh look but an entirely re-engineered front end to the car, which improved grip and cornering performance, as well as a new cabin and new engines. Ford’s sudden discovery that ‘just good enough’ was no longer good enough was much needed.

    1. Hi Jacomo. I remember driving a new Mk5 Escort hire car with a colleague on a business trip to Scotland in the early 90’s. He had never been a passenger with me before and thought my driving was a bit erratic until he took over and discovered just how bad the car really was! The steering was wooden and completely lacking in feel, the driveline was jerky and the car rode with all the finesse of a shopping trolley. After three days we were more than happy to be rid of the wretched thing.

  5. I remember an impressive TV show (not Top Gear) test of this generation of Mondeo where they demonstrated driving over cobbles with the cupholders in use and not a drop of liquid spilled! The circles in the rear lights always reminded me a bit of the “CND” rear lights of the Mk1 Cortina.

    1. Hi John. I’m sure that rear light reference was deliberate. The Mk1 Cortina had an imagined triangle within a circle, whereas the Mondeo had both shapes, but inverted this time around.

  6. Is the oval clock the same as that used in the first Ka? It fitted slightly better into the theme of that dash, though I remember it looking very cheap even in a Ka and that it didn’t even tell the time particularly well. If Ford really wanted to raid the Ka parts bin, they should have kept the air vents for the production version of the Aston Vanquish. Now that was a horrid 2000-era Ford dash…

  7. I have one! I was in need of a winter commuter (the motorbike is preferred when weather permits, esp. in view of traffic and parking charges in SE England) and something big enough to collect corporate colleagues and their luggage from Heathrow (a problem with the Focus MK1 previously in the role). However, I refuse to put real money into a modern car (which by my standards, this is – come on, it’s only 18 years old!), meaning an absolute maximum of £3,000 and that only for something I really want (another XJ6, say), diesel is out (lethal for motorcyclists if spilled), a good driving experience is preferred and complication (automatic, turbo etc) to be avoided as much as possible. Casting aside most prejudices (it’s hard work eliminating them all), this leads to a wide sweep for what I term “orphans” (add usual disclaimer for offence etc), ie something good that most people do not recognise as such. It is possible for find such creatures among the “premium” brands, but richer pickings are generally to be had in less fashionable waters. Having eschewed the dreadful diesel, the next trick is to seek the larger petrol engines, preferably with six cylinders, as this puts off even more buyers. Add service history, not too many owners and less than inter-galactic mileage…and in my case up pops a 2.5 litre, 6 cylinder Mondeo estate, vintage 2002, with 76,000 miles and wads of documents for little over a third of my spending limit.

    What’s gone wrong in the 8 months and 5,000 miles since? Er, nothing. It did need a set of tyres, mind. And the exhaust clonks, being a bodge of saloon parts, I discover, as the correct, different exhaust for the V6 estate is not currently available. This might require me to get a stainless one made, so one downside of a relatively rare variant of a mass-produced model.

    What’s good? A fabulous V6 engine, flexible, smooth and powerful, allied to an excellent, easy manual gearbox. Good steering and handling. OK ride quality (but NB my benchmark is the XJ6, so I doubt any alternatives would get higher praise). Bells & whistles that all work, slightly to my surprise (the previous owner had fixed the a/c). Good reputation for reliability, that seems to be being borne out.

    Less good: the steering wheel is not central to the seat – you can see this clearly in Daniel’s photo above. Why is this? It seems most peculiar, but it offends my wife much more than me in practice. I am also not 100% convinced about comfort of the seats, but this is a very personal thing; in this case it bothers me more than my wife, in contrast to the XJ6 where it was the other way around.

    As to Dave and Daniel’s points on the centre console; the middle circle isn’t blank, it shows the temperature selected and fan speed. It’s not exactly classy, I would agree, but the thing about climate control is that once set you by and large leave it alone and it is out of the normal eye line. It is, I would suggest, a small glimpse of the cloven hoof of Ford’s ever present bean-counters; enough to raise Dave’s hackles perhaps, but down here at pond-life level I find myself able to take the broad and spacious view given the car’s other virtues (and at my price point).

    Finally, the famous “chintzy” clock. This one really drives some people mad, so much so that I have just had to go out and take a closer look at mine to try to work out the problem. It’s analogue – no problem there. It’s oval – OK, but it fills the space, so that I think overcomes the “trying to fit in with the Ford oval symbol too hard” objection. It has a different background colour to the other dials – is this the dis-harmony that so grates? It has a different font – hmm, a bit marginal, this – it is the position of the hands that counts most on an analogue face. Finally, and perhaps the coup de (dis)grace – a sort of fake stainless trim that just says “I am not necessary and I am not even what I am trying to appear to be.” Perhaps the designers were just exhausted after all that Bauhaus minimalism or maybe they thought “we have made a VW clone so we have to throw in a clue that it’s really a Ford”. It would be interesting to see what it looks like if it matched the main dials – much better, I suspect, but ultimately this is very much a first world problem!

  8. Oh, good, another CD132 fan! I must admit in eleven years I never noticed the steering wheel offset, and quite liked the clock, so maybe standards are lower than I thought! It was five years old when I bought it, and it turned out the previous owner was Hal Roach. Write it down, it’s a good one!* I loved it. It was roomy, yet could be parked relatively easily. It really did handle – the W204 I have now is far less of a “driver’s car”, which supports my long held belief that for road use at least, handling is not about FWD vs RWD, but about the decisions made, and the thoroughness applied, during development.
    I did have issues with the way the water temperature gauge worked – it became apparent to me that it was designed to rise to the exact midpoint when the temp hit some predefined value, and then never stir from that. This made it possible to sit in traffic listening to the cooling fan cycling on and off without the needle budging. I did wonder how close to boiling and blowing a gasket it would have got before the needle elected to stir itself towards the red sector. The heater wasn’t wonderful, either, but there was the electric windscreen heater to compensate. I know some people hate those: I thought it was brilliant and still miss it. Bizarrely, the heaters for the windscreen washers are on the same circuit as the air conditioning – I learnt this when I asked my dealer to sort the air-con, and after a couple of expensive hours crawling around with a multimeter the misfortunate mechanic found this €5 component was the culprit for the constantly blowing fuse..
    I had some bad times in that car, and some good ones. I gave the then Peruvian consul to Ireland a lift to the airport in it. I accidentally alarmed passing motorists a couple of times by pulling in carefully off the road, into a gateway so as not to cause an obstruction. Their alarm was the result of the Gardaí (Irish police) having loads of Mondeo Mk3s at the time; I looked like a speed trap. Eventually an odd rattle suggestive of bottom end issues led me me to part with it, but it had served me well.

    *Note to non-Irish and to younger readers, by modern standards Hal Roach would not be regarded as particularly funny, but he was a mainstay of the older tourist cabaret season in Ireland for many many years, having done his time on the standup club circuit in the UK in the forties and fifties.

  9. Hi Peter and Michael. Many thanks to you both for recounting your personal experience of the Mondeo Mk3. It really adds great colour and substance to these retrospective pieces.

    I’ve always had a sneaking regard for an ST220 estate in classic Ford metallic blue with white spoked alloy wheels:

    The deletion of the side rubbing strip on ST models really did benefit its appearance, making it look even meatier and more solid. Fast, practical and handsome: what’s not to like?

    Hal Roach: wow, that’s a blast from the past. I don’t think I’ve heard mention of him in thirty years.

    1. I will not disagree with H&C&M just because I don´t really like them. I think it is a great car. The Fordness of it is part of the appeal. I´d much rather one of these than any other sports-orientated car.

  10. Regarding the centre console, facelifted cars had a different arrangement of air-con controls, Sony branded infotainment and a black-faced clock, which definitely improved matters.

    There seems to be a wide variety of Mondeo oval clock images on Google, black and white-faced, some with numerals, some without, some with Ford logo, others without. Some of these may be aftermarket items, I guess.

  11. Owned both a 1997 (mk1) and 2004 (mk2) both in estate forms. Thought the steering and handling of the mk1 was pretty good, but marvelled at the massive improvement that came with the mk2. The car really seemed to place its weight on the ground in a foursquare planted fashion, helped, no doubt, by the increase in wheelbase. A FWD family wagon that you could tip delicately into a bend, allow to build yaw on a trailing throttle in a delightful drift and then fire out again. I miss that car even after its subsequent dispacement by a string of new Jaguars and an MX5.

  12. Lest we forget, this generation Mondeo also lent elements of its platform (and a version of the estate’s rear suspension design) to the the ‘much loved‘ Jaguar X-Type of 2001. I think we all know which was a more successful design – both in commercial and absolute terms, but what we can probably say is that the Mondeo was a good deal more comfortable in its skin.

    I only ever travelled as a passenger in one of these, but nonetheless, I was impressed. Nice car and for my money the pick of the Mondeos in design and fitness for purpose terms.

  13. Hi Charles. Thanks for that link. The Prodigy concept is one I haven’t seen before:

    It’s certainly interesting looking, but that C-pillar treatment bears an unfortunate resemblance to the 2008 Chrysler Sebring. It doesn’t look particularly aerodynamic, but a cd of 0.199 is very impressive.

    1. They built an “even more J. Mays” version of the Prodigy concept…

      …as seen in this parking lot located just south of the boulevard of broken dreams.

  14. Before moving on to ‘Kinetic’ design, Ford USA paid VW and Audi an even greater compliment in 2005 with the 500 model. It was a fusion(!) of Passat B5 and Audi 100 C6 design cues:

  15. Opel builds a Prodigy! I can certainly see the influence on the Mondeo, but my first thought on seeing the Prodigy was 2002 Vectra C!

    1. You’re right, Michael:

      I’ve also just noticed that GM copied the Mondeo Mk3 wheel arch detail, with a groove sharply delineating it where it meets the surface of the wing.

    2. It does have great similarity to the Vectra C and the front lights remind me of the Toyota WiLL Cypha.

    3. I would say the sculpted arch detail with the groove was stolen both by Ford and GM from the Bauhaus inspired Audi A2 and TT.
      There’s a rumor – perhaps apocryphal — that Ford had a disassembled A2 on the wall the Cologne factory canteen as an inspirational art piece.


    4. The A2’s wheelarch trims are separate items, hence the groove.
      That’s why they could easily make the ‘storm’ models with black wheelarch trim.

    5. The 1975-81 Corolla range.

      There exist an earlier instance, but the wheel openings aren’t round. Can you name it?

    6. Hi gooddog. It’s not the car you’re thinking about, but the Viva HC had a most unusual wheel arch treatment, with a deep groove just outside the flange for the wheel opening:

      I don’t think I’ve ever seen another car with that treatment

  16. “I would say the sculpted arch detail with the groove was stolen both by Ford and GM from the Bauhaus inspired Audi A2 and TT.”

    Not so sure about that, huwgwilliam. The original Ford Focus had them too. It came out in 1998 – the same year as the original Audi TT.

  17. The road test John Topley mentions was from Channel 4’s Driven — it was a “Driven 100” comparison test of the Peugeot 406, Rover 75 2.0, and new Mondeo (2.3 I think?). The Mondeo won soundly, due in part to its capable chassis (and correct, no water spilled out of the cup on the simulated cobblestones). The test was on YouTube at some point, but no longer.

    I somehow acquired an Autocar magazine from 2002 or so that includes long-term test commentary on a bright red Mondeo 1.8 Zetec. Cropley compared it to the new epsilon Vectra — he preferred the Ford but said the Vauxhall was probably a better family car. Chris Harris said he “questioned if anyone really needs anything more” or words to that effect. Harris now has a Ferrari of some sort; personally, I might enjoy a Mondeo ST220 more. Alas, there’s no way I am getting one here to California.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.