UK Drive: The Ford Mondeo Hybrid tries to tempt fleet drivers but misses the mark
Ford’s attempt to revive its large estate in the face of SUV competition hinges on this hybrid model being a success, but we’ve got bad news…
What is it?
There was a time when the Ford Mondeo was the king of the road. Back in the 90s, it was the rep-mobile of choice, regularly making its way to the upper reaches of the UK’s best-selling cars lists.
However, then the SUV revolution happened, and the Mondeo – and all large saloons and estates for that matter – saw sales slump as buyers preferred high driving positions and the premium allure of being seen in a 4×4.
The latest Mondeo, though, is still an enticing prospect. The cabin is spacious, there’s loads of room in the boot, and it looks good, too. This hybrid is important, because Ford reckons it’ll make up about half of all of the model’s sales.
This isn’t the first time Ford has offered a hybrid version of the Mondeo, though it was only a saloon before, so this latest version is largely sporting the same updates seen across the rest of the range. So, there’s an updated exterior design, new alloy wheel designs, and improved interior fitment.
As you’ll hear in this review, though, the whole hybrid thing feels like an afterthought. This is most obvious when it comes to rear cargo space, with the electric motor and batteries bulging into the boot. It means that, with the rear seats up, boot space is actually slightly smaller than the non-hybrid saloon and over 100 litres smaller than the non-hybrid estate. Opt for a Toyota Corolla Touring Sports and you get nearly 200 litres more from your hybrid estate – in a smaller car.
What’s under the bonnet?
The hybrid system uses a 2.0-litre, naturally aspirated petrol engine and an electric motor that work together to power the front wheels. The combined power output is 184bhp and 173Nm of torque, but it feels a lot less than that.
That’s largely thanks to the gearbox, which is a ‘power-split’ transmission that works a lot like a continuously-variable transmission (better known as a CVT). The idea is that it’s always at the optimum revs for economy and doesn’t have traditional gears.
However, it’s horribly unresponsive, reminding of the bad old days of CVTs, with a bizarre elastic sensation where what your right foot asks of the throttle pedal isn’t matched by the car.
What does work quite well, though, is the regenerative braking system, which is the only way to recharge the battery. Braking feel is largely consistent, so coming to a stop is typically smooth, something that couldn’t be said of the previous model.
What’s it like to drive?
Unsurprisingly, then, those looking for something that will remind them of the joys of driving or simply be a pleasant companion during mind-numbing traffic jams should probably look elsewhere.
Even getting up to speed on a motorway is a noisy and frustrating experience, while a lack of throttle response means it can’t make up for its deficiencies in country lanes. Where the Mondeo Hybrid does work quite well, though, is in town – when running in electric mode, throttle response is quicker, so slow-moving journeys are its forte – though the Mondeo’s huge size means it’s not exactly stress free here.
Despite gearbox foibles, once you’re up to 70mph with the cruise control set, the Mondeo is a comfortable motorway mile-munching companion.
How does it look?
With Mondeo buyers moving on to premium SUVs, it’s no surprise to see that the latest versions of the estate have been trying to move the model upmarket. This updated Mondeo is no different, sporting a smart exterior that could easily be mistaken for the price point above.
Despite its sheer size, it manages to look sharp and svelte up front, with the slim headlights and angular grille hiding its heft. Meanwhile, a range of high-quality metallic paints and chrome finishing help amplify this feeling.
What’s it like inside?
The interior doesn’t differentiate itself from standard models in any way – though when you stop after a journey the dash displays a message that says “thanks for driving a hybrid!”, which is surely enough to make even the eco-friendliest of buyers roll their eyes.
Besides that, it’s standard Ford fare, with the decent if far from class-leading Sync infotainment system, eight-inch touchscreen, soft-touch materials and loads of space for front passengers. Rear passengers might find legroom a little bit less than you’d expect from a car this size, but it’s certainly not a deal-breaker.
What’s the spec like?
With prices starting at £29,450, you get a decent amount of kit for your money, including 18-inch alloy wheels, twin digital displays in the instrument binnacle, heated front windscreen, DAB radio with satellite navigation, cruise control, and plenty more.
Our car was specified up to almost £34k, with the premium drivers assistance pack coming highly recommended. It’s not cheap at £1,100, but adds a Sony DAB radio, parking assistants, rear view camera and adaptive cruise control.
Again, though, that pesky Toyota rears its head to make the Mondeo a hard sell. The Corolla Touring Sports hybrid with equivalent performance starts at £28k, and while the kit isn’t quite as good and the premium feel falls behind inside and out, it’s better to drive and more practical.
It’s hard to understand just how Ford got the Mondeo Hybrid so wrong. It feels rushed and unfinished. The gearbox cripples the driving experience, making the big estate feel slow and unresponsive, while economy isn’t even that impressive.
With more and more buyers looking towards electrified models, particularly in the business sector, this was an opportunity to claw back a few sales from SUVs. However, if you need the space of an estate and the low running costs of a hybrid, there are bigger and better rivals out there – the Toyota Corolla Touring Sports, for example.
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