Mondeo man's cherished chariot gets a makeover

A great engine and a raft of design tweaks have breathed new life into this once-iconic motor

Mondeo man may be moribund but the car itself is not, although its place in the world is smaller than it once was because most people in the market for a large saloon, hatchback, or estate car at a substantial price gravitate instead towards the so-called premium brands. Either that, or to an MPV or a soft-edged SUV.

As far as driving and using the cars are concerned, there really is little difference between premium and not. The distinction exists mainly in status-sensitive minds, and German carmakers in particular make much money out of it. Emperor's new clothes and all that, but if you want to show your peers that you are a discerning sort of person, then you are more likely to buy an Audi than a Ford because it's simpler than trying to re-educate those peers to the reality.

Aesthetics count, too, not that there are many recent BMWs that could be called attractive. Which brings us back to the Mondeo, which has just had a makeover. Some crass detailing sabotaged the Mondeo's premium pretence at the launch three years ago, notably an excess of cheap, silvery plastic, the option of fake wood and some cluttered switchgear.

So the makeover is meant to make a more elegant Mondeo, with a more streamlined bonnet and calmer contours to reduce the lumpenness. There's a slimmer upper grille and a deeper lower one, behind which is an automatically variable air shutter able to reduce airflow through the engine bay to the minimum required at any one time, improving aerodynamics by up to 6 per cent.

Inside, a new calm descends with neater, higher-quality switches on a new, one-piece centre console, soft-touch coatings for some surfaces which were formerly hard, clearer and more discreet graphics and the option of some particularly pleasant leather. The aura is almost Italian.

What else? More soundproofing, better door seals, and a sound-absorbent windscreen add yet more calmness. New technology includes blind-spot alerts, lane-departure steering-wheel vibrators, an alertness assessor, a rear camera, automatic headlight dipping and more.

All these are details, albeit good ones. The big news is the new 2.0-litre EcoBoost petrol engine, which uses a turbocharger, direct fuel injection, and extremely variable camshaft timing to produce a lot of power and, even more useful, a lot of pulling ability while using remarkably little fuel. The top Mondeo model, the £27,045 Titanium X Sport, comes with a mighty 240bhp yet generates a relatively modest 179g/km of CO2. The measure of this achievement is shown by the fact that the former 2.5-litre, five-cylinder engine, also turbocharged, produced 220bhp and 222g/km. It sounded lovely but its drinking habit, and scarcely detectable sales, killed it.

People might actually buy this top-model EcoBoost, however, and they will be pleased that they did. Its chrome-barred front grille is a visual faux pas, but otherwise it's a delight. The sole transmission choice, to begin with at least, is a six-speed double-clutch system with the alertness and civility such a system should have, but it's strange that there are no shift paddles. Manual shifts are via the central lever: back for an upshift, forward for down, the reverse of the usual movements but actually more natural.

The Mondeo steers as accurately and naturally as ever; it feels stable and planted on the road but always alert. And the engine? Its torque delivery is very even, which makes the Mondeo feel less lively than it is, but it sounds crisp when exercised and allows rapid, relaxed cruising. You can also have a new 200bhp, 2.2-litre turbodiesel in your Titanium X Sport, and most buyers probably will, but the EcoBoost gives the grander, more prestigious-feeling drive.

A premium drive, in fact? Absolutely, bar one flaw. There are no rubber or flock linings to the various storage pockets, so your small chattels slide around. On such minutiae must prejudices now be based. Or, better still, get rid of them. Is that a naked emperor I see?

Audi A4 2.0 TFSI: from £26,935. Turbo engine makes 211bhp, equipment less than Mondeo's, neither as fluent nor as fulfilling to drive. Does the posh badge make it better? No.

Citroë*C5 3.0 HDI V6 Exclusive: £28,295. This one matches Mondeo power and equipment with a terrific V6 shared with Jaguar. A premium car? Certainly.

Vauxhall Insignia 2.0T Elite: £26,835. Turbo engine makes 220bhp and more CO2 than Mondeo, but Insignia looks imposing and is nicely finished. Another to close the premium gap.