2015 Ford Mondeo Vignale Hybrid at a glance
- Handling: ★★★☆☆
- Performance: ★★☆☆☆
- Costs: ★★★★★
THE RECENT rise and rise of the Aldi and Lidl supermarkets is a fantastic example of what happens when low cost options enter a marketplace. Their success has been at the expense of the middle-ground behemoths such as Tesco, while the likes of Waitrose, at the quality end, have seen sales steadily accelerate.
We see the same thing in the car industry. In the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, Japanese brands flooded the UK market offering good quality, reliable products at a reasonable prices, which helped finish off British Leyland. Since the 1990s, Korean brands such as Kia and Hyundai have set out their stall and in the last five years they’ve begun to bite large chunks out of the middle-market. And now budget brands such as SsangYong and Dacia are the new Aldi and Lidl of the car world, gaining traction at the budget end.
Meanwhile, Audi, BMW and Mercedes have been steadily gaining ground from their lofty, aspirational perch. When the Ford Mondeo was first put on the market in 1993, more than 127,000 were sold — it was a sales sensation, with British drivers (be they company car users or private buyers) flocking to the family car. Contrast this with 2015 to date: just 18,921 Mondeos have found homes. That’s got to hurt.
This year the German brands occupy the top two spots in the large family car sales charts, with the C-class (39,990 cars sold) and 3-series (32,978 sold) respectively. The once-invincible Mondeo now languishes in sixth place.
Of course, the car market has changed enormously since the early ‘90s. For one thing, most of us want to parade around in high-riding SUVs these days, not saloons. But something else has happened: many more people want to drive cars with a posh badge on the bonnet.
Vignale… pronounced Vin-ya-lee and definitely not Vigg-nail, in your broadest-possible Essex accent
That’s not good news for Ford. Its Mondeo ain’t posh enough, so to speak, but here comes the new Vignale, an upmarket version that Ford says will help stop people ignoring Mondeo because it’s not plush enough (the company says 70% of Mondeo sales are of the top spec Titanium model, and 30% of those include the even pricier Titanium X pack).
Vignale (pronounced Vin-ya-lee and definitely not Vigg-nail, in your broadest-possible Essex accent, we discovered), is said to be more than a car; it’s a new premium sub-brand from Ford with products that sit above the Titanium X trim level. Seen here for the first time on the Mondeo, but with an S-Max Vignale due in 2016 and more models set to be announced at the Geneva motor show in March, it is perhaps — in a paradoxical yet intentional way — too good for Mondeo man.
He was the middle-income thirtysomething who was spotted polishing his Ford saloon (a Sierra, in fact) by Tony Blair before the 1997 general election. Mondeo man became a poster-child for the type of “boy done good” voter who had worked his way up to moderate success and turned their back on socialist Labour in favour of the Conservatives. It wasn’t long before negative connotations abounded.
Ford says that with Vignale it’s not trying to become a new Audi, BMW or Mercedes but instead give its customers a luxury option in its model range. It’s Ford’s Tesco Finest option, if you like.
So what does Mondeo Vignale offer above the Titanium X model for your £29,345-£31,595 (add £1,250 for the estate and £1,500 for four-wheel-drive, plus options up to a maximum £39,955)? Exterior styling upgrades, naturally, including a smarter grille, dashes of chrome here and there and bespoke 18-inch alloy wheels with “Luster Nickel” paint or optional 19” polished alloys.
It’s inside where the car has been transformed, though. The Mondeo’s centre console, which has been mercifully decluttered in the current generation and gains a touchscreen display, looks right at home below the leather-clad dashboard. Leather also covers the doors and seats, which for the driver and passenger are supremely comfortable and come with variable heating and electric adjustment on both sides.
For an extra £600 they’ll even massage your back and buttocks, which was a terrific service as we cruised along the A3 — even better than the fondling we got from the new BMW 7-series, in fact.
In addition, Ford tells us the Mondeo Vignale features sound-deadening side glass and Active Noise Control, which monitors cabin noise and attempts to cancel it out with opposing sound waves from the speaker system. It’s a device that can be found on a handful of other luxury cars but it’s the first time it has appeared on a car costing in the region of £30,000.
We say “Ford told us” it featured the system… it’s impossible to test its effectiveness without stepping from the Vignale into another Mondeo without the system. To our untrained ears, and judging from memory, cabin noise was certainly no better than the new Audi A4.
So far, so expected. There’s more, though. Ford tells us that its Vignale customers are “time poor” and don’t want to have to spend their days bringing their car in for its annual service; to that end, Vignale owners get a personal Relationship Manager, who will arrange collection of your car for servicing (as well as a replacement Vignale-spec courtesy car), and sort out any other car-related inconveniences. Who knows, they may even fondle your buttocks, if asked.*
In fact, it’s possible to buy the car without ever stepping foot inside the dealership – it can all be done online or over the phone, with the handover taking place at your home or office. This is not an indication that Ford lacks faith in the quality and appearance of its retail outlets, you understand; in fact dealers must apply to become “FordStores”, with a requirement to create a “Vignale Lounge” area and allocate dedicated Vignale technicians and staff.
FordStores will also be the only places trusted to sell Ford’s sport models (Fiesta ST and Focus ST) and performance cars (Mustang and GT). There are currently 55 FordStores, with 65 expected by the end of 2016.
For an extra £600 the seats will even massage your buttocks, which was a terrific service as we cruised along the A3
But what’s the Ford Mondeo Vignale like to drive? Unsurprisingly, no different from the standard Mondeo, as there are no engineering tweaks below the surface.
It’s a decent if fairly uninspiring vehicle to pilot. We drove the 2.0 TDCi Powershift model as well as the new iVCT Hybrid with continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) and found the former to be punchy and precise around corners but the latter to lack grunt and feel a touch nose-heavy, despite its weighty battery pack being positioned between the rear wheels.
The hybrid is, in fact, a deeply unsatisfying experience for the keen driver, with the hopeless CVT automatic gearbox causing the engine to scream away when the right foot is planted, as it struggles to propel the extra weight it carries as well as send power to the batteries.
Ford says its petrol-electric powertrain is a first for the company and admits that it is “something we need to improve on”. However, amid much anti-diesel talk and with a tax-free CO2 rating of 99g/km, the hybrid system does makes sense on paper, at least.
Other issues? The new Vignale version still does nothing to better accommodate tall drivers, of course – with the seat in its lowest position they’ll find themselves in an awkward position with knees up high above the pelvis, and near the wheel. Those around 6’5” tall will find their head touches the roof, too, a problem exacerbated if you opt for a sunroof as it adds depth to the roof lining. In this position, traffic lights are difficult to spot, too – you’ll end up craning forward when waiting for the lights to change.
For those of a sensible height, though, the Mondeo is a decent option and in Vignale form is definitely worth a look – it has the power to surprise in terms of comfort, technology and convenience. At the £30,000 mark, it also constitutes a smart buy for savvy consumers (which is, in fact, Ford’s heartland).
Whether it has the kerb appeal to win over badge snobs is another matter. Ford admits that it is not expecting to steal Mercedes C-class owners straight away – instead Vignale will be a “slow burn”, accounting for around just 1,500 additional Mondeo sales next year.
But who can blame Ford for trying to stem tumbling Mondeo sales and keep drivers from defecting to German rivals? It may even win back some of the former Ford owners who’ve progressed to Mercedes, BMW and Audi.
The chances of it winning over long-time buyers of German machinery, though? Don’t bet on it.
*We didn’t ask
2016 Ford Mondeo Vignale 2.0 iVCT Hybrid specification
- Price: £30,095
- Engine: 1999cc 4-cylinder petrol plus 88kW electric motor
- Power: 184bhp @ 6,000rpm
- Torque: 128lb ft @ 4,000rpm
- Transmission: Electronic Continuously Variable (eCVT)
- Acceleration: 0-62mph in 9.2 seconds
- Top speed: 116mph top speed (limited)
- Fuel: 67.3mpg
- CO2: 99g/km
- Road tax band: A (Free)
- Release date: On sale now