We may only be five months into 2015, but it’s already shaping up to be one of the most memorable years in recent memory for the car industry. Aston Martin confirmed it will build an SUV, while BMW launched a car with seven seats and front-wheel drive. However, Ford is looking to be odds on favourite for taking home the award of 2015’s biggest automotive shock thanks to this, the £31,295 Ford Mondeo Vignale.
If the influx of crossovers from the likes of Nissan and Mazdahadn’t already killed off the notion of ‘Mondeo man’ as we know it, then the very company who gave birth to the concept looks to have sealed its fate. But one thing needs to be made clear: this is not your run of the mill Mondeo.
It’s the first model to emerge from Ford’s new luxury brand Vignale, which promises an all-options-included kit list, handcrafted detailing and a bespoke dealer service. It’s part of a plan that will see Ford attempt to muscle in on the premium sector currently dominagted by the Germans.
Prices start from £29,045 for the 185bhp hybrid model, with the new 207bhp 2.0-litre bi-turbo diesel fitted to our test car taking that price north of £31,000. And like the rest of the Mondeo range, you can have the Vignale as a saloon, an estate for a further £1,250 and with the option of all-wheel drive costing an additional £1,500.
As crazy as the idea of a £31,295 Mondeo may sound, dig a little deeper and the notion isn’t as wild as it would first appear. A huge proportion of Ford’s larger models – think Kuga, S-MAX and Mondeo – are purchased in their range-topping trim. The Blue Oval even introduced a new flagship Titanium X Sport trim on the Kuga because of customer demand, so evidently there are buyers out there who have a taste for something more premium with a Ford badge on the nose.
The aim of Vignale models is to take refinement and comfort up a level, which is why Ford is marketing Vignale as more of a luxury sub-brand than a new trim level. Climbing inside the well-appointed cabin shows Ford hasn’t cut any corners when it comes to execution. From the laser-cut leather trimmed seats to the soft-touch instrument panel, there’s a greater sense of attention to detail than you’ll find in a standard Mondeo.
It’s all pieced together by hand by six dedicated Vignale craftspeople, but from behind the wheel it doesn’t feel particularly special. The contoured and massaging leather seats are a great addition but the near £5,000 premium you’ll pay over a Mondeo Titanium means wanting a greater sense of occasion is probably justified.
When we first drove the fifth-generation saloon, it was apparent the verve and handling finesse from the previous model had made way for a more forgiving and mature Mondeo. It was immediately noticeable, but the softer nature of the new version serves as a great accompaniment for the plush setting of the Vignale.
There are no mechanical changes over the standard model, but the Vignale is the first Mondeo to be offered with the new 207bhp 2.0-litre bi-turbo first seen in the new S-MAX. The lesser-powered 178bhp 2.0-litre diesel will be the bigger seller, attracting over 75 per cent of the sales, but we’re getting to grips with the new arrival here.
The first thing that you notice is just how smooth and effortless the bi-turbo diesel is on the move. There’s a vast wave of torque in reserve which helps usher you from 0-62mph in a fraction over eight seconds (est) while provoking only a mere grumble from the engine. At cruising speeds the engine dies away and becomes almost inaudible. Part of this comes down to Ford’s new obsession with refinement. Acoustic glass helps reduce wind noise, while Ford has also fitted a new Active Noise Cancellation system inside that monitors engine noise and counters the gruff diesel drone by pumping sound waves through the car’s speakers. It’s difficult to pinpoint each specific feature but the combination of both certainly moves the Vignale closer to BMW levels of refinement at speed.
The steering is light, and devoid of the directness Mondeos of old have enjoyed, while the softer setup and crisp damping give it the sensation of gliding over potentially troubling surfaces.
Pricing the Vignale right in the midst of the BMW 3 Series andJaguar XE not only means it should have the composure of these rivals - but also the same sense of excitement, which the Vignale just simply lacks. Worryingly for Ford, an equally powerful BWM 325d in SE spec costs £25 less than the Vignale.
If you’re wondering where your hefty price premium has been put to use, note the exterior changes, but don't expect anything too radical. A new hexagonal grille, unique 18-inch alloy wheels and chrome detailing on the bumpers and door mirrors have been added to give the Vignale some extra showroom appeal without making it too in-your-face.
It’s a real tech fest inside, with Ford kitting out the Vignale with its latest SYNC 2 infotainment system, Active Park Assist – which can help with bay as well as parallel parking – while Active City Stop and Traffic Sign Recognition also features. As standard the Vignale also comes with a reversing camera, LED headlamps and sat-nav.
But the Vignale treatment is not all about kit as Ford would like you to think of it as an experience too. You can only buy Vignale models from the brand’s new FordStores - 54 of these will be opened in the UK by the end of the year. Expect VIP treatment and exclusive Vignale relation mangers to cater to your needs, with a 24-hour customer support thrown in as part of the package.
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