Oxford, England - The first Ford Mondeo, a.k.a. the Ford Contour/Mercury Mystique in America, was a good car let down by inadequate interior space, a flaw that was particularly noticeable in this market. Now that Ford has rectified that problem with the Mondeo mark two, there are (of course) no plans to sell the car in the United States. Which is a shame, because we are being denied the best front-wheel-drive, mid-size sedan in the world, a car that makes the Taurus feel like a complete clunker.
The Mondeo's brilliance comes from its chassis. The mix of near-neutral, fluid handling and communicative, soulful steering makes the Mondeo a joy to guide down a twisting road. It also skims across freeways, its ride supple and controlled. It's no surprise that the new Jaguar X-type is so poised, because it shares the same basic underpinnings.
The exterior and interior styling are sharp, too. Inside, it's as classy as the Contour was cheesy, even if it's not up to VeeDub standards. More fundamentally, though, it's as big inside as a Passat, which would make it a perfectly viable car here. We drove a 2.0-liter, 143-hp, four-cylinder model, although a gutsier 168-hp Duratec V-6 is also available. The four goes well enough, but, like most of Ford's current engines, it lacks refinement and power compared with the Japanese. (Ford's V-6, for instance, is outgunned by Nissan's four-cylinder Altima powerplant.)
Now, if Ford were serious about making Mercury younger and hipper, the Mondeo would become the Sable, and we would all love it. But after the Contour/Mystique sales disappointment, it would take some bold decision making to bring it here. In the meantime, if you want a rental car in Europe that will put a smile on your face, look no further.