MOTORING / Auto Biography: Mondeo Estate in 0-60 Seconds

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ALL RIGHT, so it's only six months since we drove Ford's 1993 media star and, dammit, here comes another one. We make no excuses, however, for sampling a Mondeo again with such indecent haste. For a start, the first one was such fun that a second go was irresistible both as a repeat performance and a chance to confirm it hadn't been a dream. In any case, the Mondeo Estate is not quite the same thing. Not only is it a contender in a different market, but prettier than the slightly indecisive-looking saloon at that - notably in the Ghia version with its integral roof-rack - and a pretty estate car is a rarity.

Generally, you don't get crushed in the rush to buy estate cars for domestic use. The Ford Mondeo's homelier predecessor, the Sierra, may have been the biggest-selling estate in Britain. But that was among sales reps and itinerant carpet-layers, not the green-welly weekend brigade who buy such vehicles for recreational rather than utilitarian purposes (desire for estate cars goes up with the number of weekends you expect to spend away with a labrador).

With this Mondeo, the company has come closer than ever before to persuading floating voters that Ford ownership doesn't mean you have to park round the corner at dinner parties. The Mondeo Estate does most of what 'classier' machines do - and if it does it with a little more engine noise, it's level pegging on other vital qualities such as handling suppleness, spaciousness, quality of construction and safety.

The suspension set-up is different from the Mondeo saloon's at the rear, to keep lumpy intrusions out of the luggage space and to support heavier loads, and a little of the superb ride quality on city roads is lost. The Ghia model we tried is the high-spec and costliest version, and automatic and four-wheel- drive versions are still to come. Estate prices start at pounds 12,835 for the LX 1.6 litre model.

If there is another plus for the Mondeo Estate, it's the look of it. Even Ford themselves admitted that the saloon was nothing to write home about in terms of charismatic automotive beauty. Well, no estate car is a beauty, but this one balances out the rather ungainly appearance of the saloon's apologetic diving nose against its high windscreen-area and out-of-scale rear end. The result is as smoothly contoured a shape as the inevitably boxy demeanour of an estate car allows.

GOING PLACES: Workhorse Zeta engines are quiet by Ford standards, but rather toneless and anxious-sounding under hard acceleration; robust and tractable however. Accelversion. Turbo-diesel, automatic and 4WD models to follow.

TURKEY QUOTIENT: Still sounds like a Ford, with its fraught engine note under pressure; penny-pinching in switchgear; rear passenger space unexceptional. Fuel economy average. High list price.

AND ON MY RIGHT: The Audi 80 2.0E ( pounds 17,455) - very classy and refined, more awkward to load, not so visually attractive; Citroen BX 1.7 turbodiesel ( pounds 14,895) - very good value, excellent, comfortable load-carrier; BMW 318i Touring ( pounds 16,950) - an estate with cachet and a beautiful handler, though not so spacious; Peugeot 405 2.0 Gri ( pounds 14,355) - excellent updated 405, with fine handling, much improved interior.-

(Photograph omitted)