The Ford Mondeo will soon be consigned to automotive history. Today we recall the 1993 original and how it confounded the expectations of those who drove it.
Ford recently surprised nobody(1) by announcing that the Mondeo will be discontinued without a direct replacement in March 2022. The D-segment saloon, hatchback and estate has fallen victim to a fatal cocktail of countervailing forces that reduced European sales to just 21,222(2) in 2020. This is a far cry from the model’s heyday in the 1990’s when annual sales exceeded 300,000 units. Its North American equivalent, the Fusion, was discontinued in July 2020.
The Mondeo was initially hit by the encroachment of smaller premium models, which could be had for similar monthly leasing payments to the mainstream Ford, thanks to their stronger residuals. Company car drivers and personal contract purchasers, who comprised the vast majority of Mondeo customers, were happy to forego the additional space and standard equipment offered by the Ford for the kudos that came with having an Audi A4, BMW 3 Series or Mercedes-Benz C-Class on their driveway.
That said, any sense of one-upmanship must have been limited, given that the traditional exclusivity of the German compact premium trio had long been obliterated by their makers’ push for sales growth(3).
It was, however, the irresistible rise of the crossover that finally sealed the Mondeo’s fate(4). It did not help that the current Mondeo, when launched in Europe in the Autumn of 2014, was already more than two years old: it had been unveiled at the Detroit Motor Show in January 2012 as the North American market second-generation Ford Fusion.
Moreover, the Mondeo had grown dramatically over the decades. Compared with the original 1993 model, its wheelbase was 146mm (5¾”) longer at 2,850mm (112¼”) and its overall length had grown by a massive 388mm (15¼”) to 4,869mm (191¾”). Objectively, the Mondeo was a lot of metal for the money, but most would-be buyers simply did not need all that space and rather ungainly bulk.
Today, we will turn the clock back to 1993 and recall the original. Prior to its launch, Ford of Europe was in a poor state, both reputationally and in financial terms. It took a long time(5) for the conventionally engineered but controversially styled 1982 Sierra to establish itself, and it still never enjoyed the market dominance of its predecessor. To compound Ford’s problems, the 1990 Escort Mk5 was dynamically inept and unforgivably dreary looking. Ford needed a radical solution to improve perception and fortune.
The 1993 Mondeo certainly did not look radical. It was a somewhat bland Euro-generic design in the typically organic early 1990’s mould, with smooth curves and an absence of sharp creases. There was nothing distinctively Ford about it either: it could plausibly have carried the badge of any number of European or Asian manufacturers without raising an eyebrow. The controversy that had surrounded the Sierra had, apparently, made Ford highly risk-averse, at least in stylistic terms.
The production Mondeo was the result of an extensive investigation into a wide range of options, overseen by Design Director Manfred Lampe. All featured a fashionable cab-forward layout with a deep glasshouse and slim pillars, but the designers experimented with a variety of different styling motifs that borrowed widely from contemporary European, Japanese and American competitors’ designs. Gradually, the more striking (and possibly controversial) designs were eliminated in favour of the safety first production model.
Beneath its rather nondescript appearance, however, was hidden some truly excellent chassis engineering. After the debacle of the Escort Mk5, in every way a retrograde step from its predecessor, hopes were not high for Ford’s next FWD effort. The pessimists were, however, confounded when they first drove the new model.
The Mondeo was Ford’s second attempt at developing a ‘World Car’, following the 1980 Escort(6). The project was headquartered at Ford’s Technical Centre in Dunton, Essex, initially under the direction of John Oldfield(7), Ford Europe’s Executive Director of Engineering. Oldfield was a Ford lifer who had joined the company at the age of 21 in 1958, having graduated from the Cranfield Institute of Technology with an MSc.
Oldfield had assumed executive responsibility for the Mondeo when the project was launched in 1986. He was subsequently appointed Ford Europe’s Head of New Product Development in 1988. At this point, David Price, formerly a director of powertrain development, was appointed CD (medium and large) Car Director and assumed responsibility for the Mondeo. The £3bn ($6bn) project was a truly international effort, also involving engineering teams at the Merkenich Technical Centre in Cologne and the company’s US headquarters in Dearborn, Michigan.
The Mondeo was largely all-new, apart from its Zetec engines, launched a year earlier and carried over from the Escort. It was based on a new platform architecture, codenamed CDW27. Another Ford lifer, Welshman Richard Parry-Jones, was instrumental in the dynamic qualities of the new model. He had joined Ford as an undergraduate engineering trainee in 1969 before achieving a first-class honours degree in mechanical engineering at the University of Salford, Manchester.
Parry-Jones was appointed head of Ford Europe’s Technological Research in 1985 and had been unfortunate to be associated with the execrable 1990 Escort Mk5. However, Ford’s senior management appreciated that the cynicism with which that car had been cost-engineered to the last cent had done enormous damage to the company’s reputation.
Ford gave Parry-Jones free rein, and the budget, to ensure the Mondeo would be class-leading in its dynamic qualities. Parry-Jones did not disappoint these high expectations: at the press launch event in late 1992, he and his engineering colleagues were present and their excitement and enthusiasm for the new car was palpable. It may have looked bland, but the ride and handling were at least the equal of the class-leading Peugeot 405.
Moreover, the Mondeo felt solid and well built, with a pleasant and comfortable interior. It was actually 50mm (2”) shorter than its predecessor but the transverse-engined FWD layout freed up more space for passengers and their luggage(8). The new model was offered in four-door saloon and five-door hatchback and estate versions. The hatchback was notable for its large wraparound rear screen, which concealed the frame of the tailgate, a rare distinctive element in an otherwise resolutely conventional if contemporary design.
The launch engines were inline four-cylinder 16-valve Zetec petrol units in 1,597cc 89bhp (66kW), 1,796cc 114bhp (85kW) and 1,988cc 134bhp (100kW) capacities and power outputs. The latter achieved a 0 to 60mph (97km/h) time of 9.6 seconds. It was also offered on a 4WD version of the Mondeo from 1993 to 1996. The engines were mated to a five-speed manual gearbox or automatic transmission with switchable sport or economy modes. There was also a solitary diesel engine, the rather outdated 1,753cc Endura-D unit that produced 89bhp (66kW).
In typical Ford fashion, five trim levels were offered; Base, LX, GLX, Ghia and Si, the latter pair offering either a luxury or sporting twist to upscale Mondeo buyers. Incidentally, the car’s name is a synthesised word, alluding to Monde and Mundo, respectively the French and Spanish words for world. Consideration had apparently been given to either retaining the Sierra name or exhuming Cortina, but Ford wisely decided to give the clean-sheet new model a fresh identity.
Production of the Mondeo commenced at Ford’s Genk plant in Belgium in November 1992 and the new car was formally launched at the Geneva International Motor Show in March 1993.
Part Two of the first-generation Mondeo story follows shortly.
Author’s note: Richard Parry-Jones died in an accident on his farm in Wales on 16th April 2021. This piece is published in tribute to him. RIP.
(1) Certainly not DTW, which predicted the Mondeo’s end here.
(2) All sales data from http://www.carsalesbase.com
(3) Despite also suffering from the shift to crossovers, combined European sales of the Audi A4, BMW 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class in 2020 was still 277,793 units.
(4) There are unconfirmed rumours that Ford’s next D-segment model will be a ‘lifestyle’ crossover estate type vehicle.
(5) It also required a heavy facelift and the development of a four-door booted model, the Sapphire.
(6) The European and US versions of the Escort ended up rather more divergent than had been envisaged, sharing no external body panels.
(7) Sadly, John Oldfield died in 2002 at the age of just 65. He had been suffering from Motor Neurone Disease.
(8) One surprise was the presence of a large ‘transmission’ tunnel, which encroached somewhat into the front footwells. The CDW27 platform had been engineered for possible RWD and 4WD applications.