Ford Rediscovers its Mojo (Part Two)

Concluding the story of the original Ford Mondeo and how it confounded the expectations of those who drove it.

1994 Ford Mondeo 2.5 V6 Ghia (c)

The launch of a new Ford was always big news in the UK, so it fell to BBC Top Gear motoring journalist Jeremy Clarkson to pronounce upon the Mondeo. Clarkson tested the car in 1.8 litre manual four-door saloon form shortly after its launch in March 1993. He was underwhelmed by the car’s appearance but impressed by both the interior design and quality of finish.

However, he criticised the cabin space, which he described as merely “adequate”, and noted a shortage of headroom in models fitted with a sunroof. Clarkson remarked favourably upon the car’s “vast” boot, which could be extended by folding down the rear seat backs, although access was restricted by the shallow boot lid opening.

Surprisingly, he described the handling as “competent but dull”. This sounded more like his expectation of a typical FWD car than the reality of the Mondeo. Performance was good, with a 0 to 60mph (97km/h) time of 10.5 seconds and a top speed of 121mph (195km/h) although the engine was somewhat rough when stretched and the gearbox was “woolly”. Clarkson was, however, impressed by the available safety features; side-impact bars, driver’s airbag, anti-submarining(1) seats and (optional) ABS and traction control, the latter also available with adaptive damping.

One Ford boast that Clarkson repeated without apparent irony concerned the Mondeo’s security measures: the locks, it was claimed, would keep even the most determined car thief at bay for four minutes. Such was Ford’s poor reputation in this regard that this was probably considered a major advance!

Notwithstanding Clarkson’s slightly tepid review, reaction from the European automotive press and public was overwhelmingly positive and the Mondeo would go on to win the 1994 European Car of the Year award, ahead of the Citroën Xantia and Mercedes-Benz W202 C-Class.

Ford also promoted the new Mondeo in a unique way in the UK: it commissioned a promotional film, presented by former F1 World Champion Sir Jackie Stewart, whom Ford had engaged as a consultant on the project. Stewart extolled the virtues(2) of the car in the 17 minute long VHS videotape, which was given away with the March 1993 edition of What Car magazine. The video may be found on YouTube here.

Ironically, given the root of the Mondeo’s name, it did not make the transatlantic crossing successfully. The equivalent model was called the Ford Contour in North America, with a Mercury version called the Mystique. Launched in late 1994 for the 1995 model year, both were available only as four-door sedans. They were manufactured at Ford’s Kansas City, Missouri and Cuautitlán, Mexico plants.

Waves? It caused barely a ripple: the 1995 Mercury Mystique (c)

While sharing the Mondeo’s platform, inner body structure and mechanical package, both the Contour and Mystique were subtly but extensively redesigned to better suit American tastes and shared no external body panels with their European sibling. This was a repeat of what had happened with the previous Ford World Car, the 1980 Escort. Partly as a consequence of their European origins, the Contour and Mystique were considered too small for US mid-sized models(3) and were criticised by many reviewers for their limited interior space, particularly in the rear.

The Mondeo received its first update in May 1994. There were a raft of minor cosmetic and equipment changes, but the most important development was the addition of the US designed all-alloy 2,544cc 168bhp (125kW) 24-valve 60° V6 Duratec engine to the range.  This featured in the Ghia model and also a lower specification version, badged simply 24V. The V6 engine would also be used in the sporting ST24 model introduced in 1997 and, in reduced 2,495cc capacity but more powerful 202bhp (151kW) state of tune, the 1999 ST200 limited edition model.

Car Magazine tested the Mondeo V6 Ghia in September 1994. The UK price had not yet been finalised for this model but was expected to be around £20k for the manual version and £21k for the automatic, making it roughly £1k to £2k more expensive than its obvious competitors. The reviewer was not complimentary about its appearance, which he described as “anonymously globular”. Inside, the mock-woodgrain trim on the dashboard and door pull inserts was described as “vulgar” but the busy looking switchgear worked well in practice. The car was quiet and comfortable with supportive bolstered seats, although the left-hand driver’s seat bolster did catch the elbow when changing gear and the gear change was described as “sticky”.

1993 Ford Mondeo Mk1 dashboard (c)

The Mondeo excelled in its handling. The V6 model’s wider tyres improved feedback and added heft to the steering, to the extent that it bordered on heavy at parking speeds. The switchable traction control eliminated torque-steer and the Mondeo’s “poise and fluency when hustled through S-bends and roundabouts [was] exemplary” although the ride had “suffered marginally from the use of wider tyres”. The V6 engine also impressed for its wide torque band and smoothness up to its 6,750rpm limit. 0 to 60mph (97km/h) took 8.0 seconds flat and top speed was measured at 138mph (223km/h). The overall fuel consumption on test was 24.1mpg (11.7Litres /100km)

In October 1996, Ford attempted to give the Mondeo a stronger identity with a major facelift. The front of the car, now dubbed the Mk2, incorporated a large chrome-ringed oval grille and much more distinctive headlamps that swept back into the front wings, giving the car a permanently startled look. Both saloon and hatchback versions received new and enlarged rear light clusters, with those on the saloon wrapping over the tops of the rear wings.

The rear end of the estate remained unchanged.  Whether or not this facelift improved the Mondeo’s appearance is a moot point, but it could certainly no longer be dismissed as nondescript. The facelift was accompanied with the usual tweaking of trim and equipment levels.

Surprise! 1997 Ford Mondeo Mk2 Estate (c)

A year later, the Ford Contour received a new front end more closely resembling (but still not identical to) the Mondeo’s, while the Mystique received similarly enlarged headlamps but a uniquely shaped grille. A performance version of the Contour, the SVT, featured a tuned V6 engine similar to the one fitted to the European ST200 model.

Unlike the Mondeo, which was a consistently strong seller across Europe in the 1990’s, the US Contour and Mystique suffered from the fact that they were considered small and were too expensive compared to both their predecessors(4) and competitors. Likewise in Australia (and New Zealand) where the Mondeo replaced the Mazda 626-based Ford Telstar in late 1996, it faced stiff competition from domestic and Japanese rivals and did not sell well. It was discontinued after four years.

In 1998 the Mondeo spawned a three-door liftback coupé called the Cougar. It was sold as a Ford in Europe and, from 1999, a Mercury in the US. The Cougar was styled according to Ford’s then current New Edge design, but it was neither attractive nor successful. It shared the Mondeo’s long 2,704mm (106½”) wheelbase, so looked rather over-bodied or under-wheeled and lacked the visual appeal that is essential in a coupé.

1998 Ford Cougar (c)

The first-generation Mondeo was phased out in October 2000 and replaced by a new second-generation (Mk3) model. The Mystique and Contour ended production in December 1999 and October 2000 respectively. Ford US did not introduce a direct replacement model until it launched the Mazda-based Fusion in October 2005. The Mondeo and Fusion would remain separate models until the 2012 second-generation Fusion became the fourth and final-generation Mondeo in 2014.

The 1993 Mondeo and its siblings may have been underwhelming to behold, but, together with the 1998 Ford Focus, it transformed Ford’s reputation for chassis engineering. The company is today regarded as producing some of the very best handling FWD cars on the market.

(1) An odd expression to describe seats that stop you sliding out beneath the seatbelt in the event of a frontal impact.
(2) Sir Jackie did, however, sound less than entirely convinced or convincing about the virtues of the standard fit pen-holder.
(3) The situation would be reversed with the current generation Mondeo, which was sold in North America as the Ford Fusion. Being designed primarily for that market, it was considered overly large for Europe by some commentators. That said, the current (GM designed) Opel/Vauxhall Insignia is even larger.
(4) The Ford Tempo and Mercury Topaz were actually shorter both in wheelbase and overall length than the Contour and Mystique, but were outdated models priced very cheaply at the end of their production run and their more boxy design afforded them better interior space.


Author: Daniel O'Callaghan

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

35 thoughts on “Ford Rediscovers its Mojo (Part Two)”

  1. Here is a photo of a Ford Contour SE very similar to the one I test drove (joy ride would be more accurate!) while at Ford:

    I think this top of the line sporty version looks quite nice, with the wide wheels, sill extensions, and deep front spoiler. Regular Contours, however, with their narrower tyres and plastic wheel covers didn’t look so appealing.

    The interior was somewhat similar to the Mondeo’s, but actually completely different. So were the locks and ignition, which used regular keys instead of the peculiar round ones used by Ford of Europe at the time. With things like this, it’s no wonder the project cost $6bn.

    1. Good morning Cesar and thank you for posting those photos of the Contour. Some of the details that were modified from the Mondeo are really hard to explain, for example, the different profile of the door skins between the side rubbing strip and the sill. The Mondeo’s door skins first curve outwards to a feature line, then inwards to the sill, whereas those on the Contour (and Mystique) curve inwards into a deep groove. It’s a moot point as to which is more attractive* so why make them different? Was it simply that Ford’s US designers were determined to make the Contour and Mystique their own work?

      In fairness, as Ford had to equip their US and Mexican factories to manufacture the Contour and Mystique, the cost of specifying different rather than identical body press profiles to those for Belgium was probably nominal.

      * I actually prefer the Mondeo’s treatment. The Contour looks too busy in that area, like it has a strange double sill arrangement.

    2. There’s another interesting point about the Contour and Mystique (to respond to your point, Daniel, so I hope this comment shows where it should). Why did the American designers do something different? I believe there were some hurt feelings over in Dearborn that Köln was given the project lead, and you may well be right that the US designers were determined to make CDW27 their own. However, thanks to the not-invented-here syndrome, the Contour and Mystique were woefully undermarketed by Ford, if you look at period advertising (a trick later employed with the Australian Falcon when the company wanted to kill local manufacture there). When Ford tried to tell us that the Focus was the Contour’s replacement, it made me wonder about the veracity of the claims about the lack of interior space; after all, Americans were buying plenty of BMW 3-series.

      Ford has shown itself prepared to waste millions of dollars over politics on many occasions, in my opinion. By the time the Fusion (CD338) and Milan made their appearance, there were no qualms about promoting a primarily US-developed CD-segment car, and they sold rather well. Mulally, of course, put an end to some of these politics, so that Fusion Mk II didn’t suffer Stateside from being based on the Mondeo Mk IV.

    3. I can only comment on the design side, but I have it on good authority that FoMoCo design was a hornet’s nest, back in those days. As with many a dysfunctional corporate entity, loyalty was usually of greater importance than competence, with many a design manager feeling a need to showcase their importance and value to the company through the creation of tasks that weren’t needed. I can therefore well imagine most of the changes that turned Mondeo into Contour were a consequence of certain factions illustrating their irreplaceability.

    4. Well done, Jack, you’ve fathomed out one of the great WordPress mysteries!

      For others who are wondering, you simply find and hit the first ‘Reply’ button (on the non-indented comment) above the indented reply or replies to which you want to add yours, if that makes sense, then type your reply.

    5. Thanks Daniel. I wonder if they designed that groove to try to break the visual mass of the big bumpers. By the way, I seem to remember that at that time Ford was boasting about their bumpers still complying with the 5mph requirement (as opposed to the lower 2.5mph limit). I wonder if that had to do with the bumpers being a little too big.

      About the different keys from the Mondeo, the most likely reason was so that US dealers wouldn’t need to add another key making tool to their shops, since the rest of the fleet used regular Ford North America keys. Also it was probably complicated to get a US supplier for the Euro keys. I wonder if it was also a way to keep some distance from the unsuccessful Merkur brand, as both the XR4Ti and the Scorpio featured those Euro keys.

      Another problem the Contour/Mystique had was the engine selection. Basically the 2.0 litre four was not torquey enough for US tastes or their preference for automatic transmissions. It was also accused of roughness and generally unimpressive NVH characteristics. The V6 on the other hand was good, but probably an expensive option, plus I think it was not that great on fuel economy. I remember reading something about the ECU needing to raise the air/fuel richness during full throttle to protect the catalytic converters.

    6. It’s fascinating that they were willing to spend on things like different door skins and the weird Euro keys but not on a wheelbase stretch, especially since they knew it would have to sell for a higher price than the outgoing, ancient Tempo and they must’ve gotten wind that Chrysler was planning on giving their JA-platform “cloud cars” (Chrysler Cirrus, Dodge Stratus, Plymouth Breeze) rear seat room comparable to the class above.

  2. Jackie Stewart was the capstone of the chassis development team, not just a spokesperson, he essentially served as Ford’s Norman Dewis.

    1. JYS went on the road to promote the Mondeo for Ford too. A friend of mine told me of being roused from bed one Saturday morning in the Garda (police) college in the nineties, because a VIP had turned up. The VIP turned out to be Jackie Stewart, who gave a talk to a room full of drowsy student Gardaí, before turning to the real business and taking a bunch of Garda driving instructors for a blast around the Tipperary countryside in a new Mondeo.
      According to my witness, (who admittedly was not under oath!) those instructors, no mean drivers themselves, returned rather quiet and white… It’s certainly a matter of record that the Gardaí went on to buy a lot of Mondeos over the next 15 years!

  3. There is one interesting footnote to all the versions of the CDW27 and CDW162: the Taiwanese models. By the turn of the century, Ford offered the Mondeo M2000, which could best be described as the European model with a grille resembling the Mercury Mystique’s. (The Mk III Mondeo Metrostar also had a unique grille, a story for another day, no doubt.)

    1. Good morning, Jack, and thanks for your comment. The M2000 is indeed an interesting hybrid:

      As you say, it’s clearly based on the European Mondeo (those door profiles) but with a Mk2 Mystique-style grille. I rather like it!

      Great to get some local colour that would otherwise escape our attention. 👍

    2. Here’s the Mystique Mk2 for comparison:

      Those creases in the bonnet sit uncomfortably with the organic curves elsewhere. The M2000 makes a much better job of that front end.

    3. You’re welcome, and you were remarkably quick finding that image! I have to hand it to the Taiwanese for some very fascinating local models, usually facelifts and rebodies on existing platforms.

    4. Nice seeing you here, Jack! Always glad to see a familiar face on these pages…

  4. OK, am prepared to be shot at, but I quite liked the look of the Cougar, even if the name is stupid. There you go. Take aim …

    1. Good morning, S.V. Where’s the challenge in that?…fish, barrel etc. 😁

      Actually, the name is its only redeeming feature!

    2. Joking aside, I think that 100mm (4″) taken out of its wheelbase and 17″ wheels (instead of 15″) would transform the Cougar’s appearance.

  5. Can I step in a Cougar-liker? I´d especially like the V 6 version. Is it really a bad-looking car? I can accept the market didn´t go for it but I do, a sort of thinking man´s BMW 3 series coupe.

  6. The rarest thing these days is seeing a facelift Mondeo without gaffer-tape holding the front or rear bumpers together.

    1. I would guess that, over time, the plastic gets increasingly brittle, then cracks rather than bends with even a minor parking ‘nudge. Is UV light is the culprit here?

  7. The Cougar definitely benefits from a shorter wheelbase.
    A few other detail removals (over fussy door handles) and an uptick in the crease in the rear flank really lifts it – feels like genuine big brother to the Puma and also has something of the Chris Bangle Fiat Coupé about it

    1. Nice work, Huw, that’s certainly an improvement. The uptick at the tail is a clever touch, makes it much more pert.

  8. It’s been a nice stroll down memory lane – thank you, Daniel.

    Cesar’s Contour, above, is in a very 1990s ‘Caribbean blue’; I had a Vauxhall Astra F in that colour. The lack of leg room must have been mentioned in US customer clinics. Presumably the negative comments were ignored, as part of a ‘making sure we don’t get any more of this stuff foisted on us’ strategy.

    I think that revised Cougar looks lovely, but very (too?) Coupé Fiat-like. I was trying to work out where the Probe sat in all this and it was launched some time before, in 1988. I wonder how much influence it had on the Mondeo’s styling.

    Speaking of wold cars, I saw a documentary which featured the Model T, recently; Henry Ford effectively said, “There, I’ve invented the car, that’s the end of that”. It took Sloan at GM to introduce obsolescence / progress, depending on how one looks at it.

    1. Hi Charles. Glad you enjoyed the piece. That’s an interesting point about the rear legroom. Given how much else they altered, one would think that they could have done something to improve rear legroom, even if this was just reducing the thickness of the front seat backs, which is what was done when the Mk2 was introduced.

  9. An interesting review, below, of the Mystique from 1995.

    It can be summarized as saying it was too small, too cramped, rough-riding, expensive and nothing special in the performance and quality departments (‘Other than that, Mrs Lincoln, how was your trip to the theatre?’).

    Details were also wrong, such as a lack of cup holders (the ones fitted were hard to access) and lack of steering adjustment, which I think gave the impression that it was developed by people not close to the market.

    The reviewer further makes the point that older, in-house competitors such as the Mercury Sable seemed to offer more, for less money.

    Looking at the review, it seems the car was way-off what what was wanted – amazingly so, in fact. No wonder one wag named it the ‘Mercury Mystake’.

    1. Hi Charles. Thanks for sharing this. It sounds like the Contour and Mystique lost quite a bit in translation from the Mondeo, more than would be accounted for simply by different tastes and expectations in the North American market.

  10. I´ve just read a comparision test between the Contour V6 SE, the Chrysler Cirrus V6, and the four cylinder Accord (it seems the V6 version was too expensive), in Car And Driver, December 1994. The Ford got the last position. While C&D liked the car a lot, getting top marks in the “fun to drive” category and praising the sophistication, chassis and the Duratec engine, they said the rear seat room was “woeful” and the car was only suitable for “very small families”. So it seems the Contour/Mystique was simpy inadequate for the market segment it was intended for. Perhaps saw as a kind of cut- price BMW E36/ Audi A4 it would have made more sense, but was that what people expected from Ford?

  11. The early Mondeos handled exactly as Jeremy Clarkson reported- adequately, competently. They were not an outstanding drive (not at the start- things were to change though). Where they fell down was on chassis feedback to the driver. This was recognised and very swiftly remedied. Significant improvements were introduced across the range. Interestingly the alterations needed were not major. We are talking on the level of component settings and geometry- not wholesale structural changes. A lot had to do with how the chassis responded to the driver and what the driver felt. Feedback was a big part of it.

    The reason for Ford of Europe’s cars of the time becoming as good as they did was down the recently deceased Richard Parry-Jones. He understood that if a car is good to drive, then people will enjoy it and hence like it. He spent a lot of effort finding out what makes a car handle, what creates good feedback to the driver, what good ride is, the difference between road-holding and handling and so on. Of course, he was a chassis engineer in the first instance, so that helped. What really mattered to him though was the objective of building in excellence. He was successful at attaining that goal more often than not. He was very good at listening and responding quickly to what he learned.

    There was a very interesting seminar where Richard Parry-Jones and some of his colleagues delivered a presentation. The gist of it was they sought to understand good handling and chassis excellence but also (very important) what gave a car the feel it had and how that was interpreted by the driver. All sorts of vehicles from Ford and other manufacturers were instrumented up and had VDO cameras mounted in various locations (including underbody to watch the suspension). The Ford engineers gained a detailed view of what was going on with the chassis. Then the next challenge was to understand what made a Ford a Ford (what was it that a Ford ought to deliver to the driver that was unique to Ford- that is what should a Ford feel like which was different to other makes). This was getting esoteric but it was important to them.

    During the discussion after the presentation, some of the undercar VDO clips were played in order to demonstrate certain aspects in order to answer various questions. The Peugeot 205GTi was one vehicle featured. The amount of passive rear steer these have is impressive (306 GTi6 is even more so). Explanations of the sources of various characteristics were delivered to the audience. One gentleman stood up and mentioned he had headed up the chassis development team for Peugeot. He explained how they had developed their cars through careful and patient testing of many damper settings, bushes, bars, springs and geometries etc. They knew how to make their cars handle and also how to get them to feel right BUT they did not know exactly the why of it- until that day! He thanked Richard Parry-Jones for his contributions to automotive engineering. There was silence and then a standing ovation.

    Mr Parry-Jones death is a sad loss.

    1. You could call this approach user-centred engineering. Despite the name, you can´t understand chassis parameters just by asking the driver. You also need to map their expectations to the hardware specification which is a complex matrix of elements. Inasmuch as it might involve intuition as well as quantification, it´s a bit of an art.

  12. It is art.

    I’ve been lucky enough to have known several who were as good as Richard Parry-Jones (and he really was good). I was really lucky to be able to work closely with one of that select group and for several years. It just doesn’t get any better than that.

    I recall you are a Peugeot man. Can guess who it was from Peugeot that got up and spoke during the discussions following Richard Parry-Jones’ seminar?

  13. One correction: The Mondeo was not dropped in New Zealand during this time – the second generation was sold there, unlike Australia, which had to wait until the third generation model arrived before it made a comeback. Unlike Australia, the Sierra was sold in New Zealand, though generally as a wagon, so there was more familiarity with the European mid-size model. The Sierra was assembled from CKD kits from the UK to fill the gap in the market left by the Cortina and left unfilled by the Telstar, as there wasn’t a 626 wagon until 1987.

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