The estate car is enjoying something of a revival and there aren't too many that can beat the utility of the fourth generation Ford Mondeo load lugger. Jonathan Crouch reports
Ten Second Review
The ideal estate car is one that offers excellent utility but doesn't penalise you for it with poor refinement and soggy handling. Ford were mindful of this when developing the MK4 model Mondeo estate, a car which not only drives well but also looks a good deal sleeker than most boxy estate contenders.
Estate car buyers tend to be a very sane bunch, unswayed by the latest fads. Rather, they value practicality and, more often than not, their choice of car is meticulously researched. 'Function first' is a motto that tends to reward smart engineering and sound design and it's the reason why Ford's Mondeo estate has always been a strong seller. With the fourth generation Mondeo line-up, this station wagon variant is expected to at least match its hatchback stablemate in terms of overall sales.
It isn't hard to see why. Take a tape measure to the Mondeo estate and you'll realise that this is one of the biggest vehicles Ford imports to the UK - certainly up there with the large S-MAX and Galaxy seven-seat people carriers. That means plenty of space in the back for the sort of gear your family needs. Even if your requirements don't involve kids but a gear-intensive hobby, the Mondeo estate could be exactly what you're looking for.
If Ford could make this estate version drive much like the five-door hatch, it would have a winner on its hands. Guess what? It does. There's a reassuringly polished feel here that's usually the preserve of far more expensive cars - and the same excellent refinement at speed. Low profile roof rails help cut the wind roar that many estate cars suffer from and the cabin is well insulated from road noise with no booming apparent from the big box at the back. Handling is safe and assured, but the Mondeo estate never completely disguises its size and you might need to pass up some smaller parking spaces. On the plus side, rear visibility is notably better than that of the high-rumped five-door hatch.
The choice of engines is vast - with an interesting insertion at the bttom of the range. The base petrol version gets the brand's 125PS 1.0-litre EcoBoost engine: yes, the same one you get in a Fiesta. Here, it's been tuned for a Mondeo Estate's greater weight but it'll still struggle a little if you habitually fully load your car. Further up the petrol range, there's a 160PS 1.5-litre EcoBoost unit - or a 240PS 2.0-litre EcoBoost powerplant.
If you're a typical Mondeo Estate buyer though, you'll be wanting a diesel. Most will choose the much improved 2.0 TDCi base version, which now boasts 150PS. There's also a 180PS version of this unit - or even a 210PS version. AWD will be a welcome option for towers. Whatever engine you select, you should find the dynamic responses of this car a cut above those of most rivals. Though it's not quite as sharp as it used to be, the trade-off is better ride and long distance composure.
Design and Build
There aren't too many estate cars that look remotely sexy but if you choose your specification wisely, the latest Mondeo estate does a better impression than most. Decent alloys are key, as is the right metallic paint finish.
Out back, you'll notice that the huge - and very heavy - tailgate bisects the light pods, giving a really broad loading bay. It comes right down to bumper level too, so it's relatively easy to get heavy items in and out. Total capacity, as ever, depends upon whether you want a full-sized spare wheel or the potential roadside hassle of a mini-spare or, even worse, one of those tyre-inflatory 'instant mobility systems'. Do without a wheel and as much as 525-litres is on offer. Once everything's flat, there's up to 1,650-litres of total fresh air on offer. If you want the peace of mind of a full-sized fifth wheel, you'll need to subtract around 100-litres from each of those figures.
Whatever variant you end up preferring, you'll want to make the most of the space available, utilising floor hooks that keep awkward loads in place and perhaps ticking the box for options like luggage retention nets and dog guards.
Market and Model
The estate versions of the Mondeo command a premium of around £1,200 over their hatchback counterparts, which means that you'll need just over £22,000 for the 125PS 1.0 EcoBoost petrol-engined entry-level model. It's probably wise to step up to a diesel if you're planning on loading the car heavily and for this you'll need at least £19,000. There are plenty of engines available, starting with a 115bhp diesel and topping out with a 240bhp petrol, Ford really offering something for all. The most powerful diesel and petrol engines are only offered with the most expensive trim levels, though, which is a bit of a shame.
The Mondeo estate has been treated to some high-tech features that were once the preserve of more expensive models. Blind Spot Information System has been borrowed from Volvo to warn of overtaking (or undertaking cars). There's also the option of a lane departure warning system that vibrates the wheel if you start to stray out of lane at over 60kmh. A Mercedes-style driver alert system assesses your drowsiness and warns you to take a break and the cruise control system can be ordered with a speed limiter which is decidedly handy for SPECS-camera enforced motorway sections. There's a huge selection of stereo and satnav options with the best setup getting DAB digital radio which interfaces to an iPod, features Bluetooth and also doubles as a handy reversing camera. Do bear in mind that unlike others of its type, the Powershift gearbox doesn't net you any additional fuel economy benefits over the conventional manual box.
Cost of Ownership
Considerable design effort has been expended into making this car 25% lighter than its predecessor, an improvement possible thanks to things like a magnesium inner tailgate structure that's 40% lighter than before.
So, what impact has all of this made on this car's balance sheet returns? Well, the popular 2.0 TDCi 150 ECOnetic diesel variant we tried will return a combined fuel economy figure of 67.3 mpg and emissions of 109g/km in estate form - which is about the same as you'd get from a comparable 2.0 TDI Volkswagen Passat Estate but much better than you could expect from a rival Vauxhall Insignia 2.0 CDTi 170PS Sports Tourer. Opt for this Ford's 2.0 TDCi unit in pokier 180PS guise and the figures drop only slightly to 62.8mpg and 117g/km.
Of course, it's easy to improve on that if you'd be happy with one of the smaller-capacity models. Go for the 1.5-litre TDCi ECOnetic engine developed to replace the previous 1.6-litre unit this car was originally launched with and official figures suggest that around 80mpg is possible on the combined cycle. If you're happy with petrol power, then the 125PS 1.0-litre EcoBoost engine puts out only 119g/km of CO2. These are class-leading stats.
It's no use kidding ourselves that the Ford Mondeo estate is, or will ever be, a glamorous vehicle, but the MK4 model is sprinkled with enough clever design and high-tech equipment to make it anything but a run of the mill load lugger. Its sheer capaciousness is a given and, if space matters, the Mondeo estate more than justifies itself with nearly 1700-litres of cargo volume when you fold the back seats flat.
It was ever thus. What impresses most about the fourth generation Mondeo estate is the fact that it now looks great, drives without constantly reminding you that you bought an estate car and now offers a best in class range of engines. Our choice would be a 2.0 TDCi 150PS diesel with an alloy wheel upgrade, but whatever your preference, it's very hard to go wrong with this likeable station wagon.