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Clarkson on the new Mondeo


Forum Addict
May 7, 2006
We all tend to have a sense that if something is complicated and difficult, it is bound to be better than something that is simple and straightforward. Tchaikovsky?s 1812 overture, for instance, is considered by almost everyone to be a better piece of music than Baa Baa Black Sheep.

This is certainly the case with acting. The purists with their mad hair and illuminated ballpoint pens will tell us that performing in a soap opera is nothing more than reading out words and slamming doors. For real acting, we are directed towards Olivier in Richard III, Brando in On the Waterfront, and Gielgud in Hamlet. These are the colossuses, the giants. The men who bestride oceans with their talent.

Yes, I?m sure. But actually the best piece of acting I?ve ever seen came from Paul Whitehouse in The Fast Show. Olivier, I?m sure, was jolly good at strutting about on a stage, slamming important documents into the palm of his hand and making himself heard at the back. But as Rowley Birkin QC, Paul was in a different league.

Each week he simply sat in a chair, by a fire, with a drink, and cheerily mumbled his way through an anecdote in which only one word in 50 was even halfway audible. And yet you always got the gist. And you always laughed . . . right up to the very last episode, when he told how his wife had died. For a comedian to make you cry, in a comedy show, without really saying anything . . . well, I doubt you will see genius to match it in your lifetime.

And now we shall move on to food. Of course, when it?s sculptured and drizzled with jus, and it arrives on your plate with everything balanced on top of everything else, you know you are in the presence of greatness. Particularly if the waiter has revealed it to you from under a cloche with an unspoken ?Ta Daaa!?.

Best food ever? Ooh, that?d be a boned pigeon at Pic, near Valence in France, or the ortolan I had in Gascony, or maybe the crab and rabbit pasta that came from the two-star kitchens of Louie?s Backyard in Key West. Oh no, hang on a minute. I?ve just remembered the absolute best thing I?ve ever eaten was in fact the poached egg on toast I had for lunch.

In fact, come to think of it, the five best things I?ve ever eaten were not boned sparrows or potatoes cooked in myrrh. They were simple things: bacon and egg. Lobster from my pots with samphire from my garden.

And the watercress you get from the beck just outside Appletreewick in Yorkshire. It?s so peppery that you eat it not by the sprig, but by the acre.

Ooh, and then there are the radishes I grow. The agony of waiting for them to ripen is so intense that when I do finally pull one up, stinging my hands gently on its leaves, I can never be bothered to wash all the mud off before I pop it into my mouth. And then I just stand there, savouring it, pulling a face normally only seen in a pornographic movie when the lead is being warmed up by half a dozen naked Californian teenagers.

I like my art work simple as well. Yes, you can be dazzled by Turner?s brushwork and by Constable?s attention to detail. But the best piece of art I ever saw? It had been done by Tracey Emin and it was a couple of pencil squiggles. Was it a girl? Or a dog? I don?t know but I?d be happy to stand there, with a radish in my mouth, looking at it until the end of time.

And this of course brings us nicely on to the Ford Mondeo. The previous model was a masterpiece. Every single time I drove one I emerged from the experience thinking, ?Why doesn?t everyone own one of these?? It was just so simple. A perfect poached egg, on a perfect piece of toast.

It handled beautifully, it was surprisingly fast, it was roomy and practical, and if you actually took away the familiarity it was also extremely good looking. Much better than a BMW 3-series, or a Mercedes C-class. Better too than the Jaguar X-type that it spawned.

Sadly, though, the old Mondeo is no more. There?s a new version in town that you may have seen in the Bond film Casino Royale. It comes from a very different Ford that created the old one. Back then, the blue oval was in rude health. It was buying up Aston Martin, Jaguar, Land Rover, Volvo . . . it would have bought your old bathroom furniture if you?d thought to put it on eBay.

Today, though, Ford is in what economists call ?a right old pickle?. As an investment opportunity it?s up there with a semi on the Gaza Strip. Its shares are listed as junk, biscuits are banned in board meetings to save money, it has sold Aston Martin, it is shutting 14 plants, shedding 30,000 jobs and business articles speak of there being no obvious solution. One analyst I spoke to said: ?If it were a corner shop, it would have gone bankrupt years ago.?

So how does it find the cash needed these days to design an all-new car and tool up the factories to make it? Realistically that costs a billion and a billion is one thing Ford does not have. In fact, a billion is what Ford is losing every four or five months. The last I heard it was trying to borrow ?10 billion just to stay afloat. You have more money than Ford, even if you are a postman.

That?s why the new Mondeo contains, as far as I can tell, no new technology at all. The Focus, designed in a bath of cash, had expensive independent rear suspension. A big advance for that part of the market. The Mondeo has no similar technological leaps.

That said, what you do get is tried and tested. Largely the parts come from the Ford S-Max and the forthcoming Volvo V70. And all Ford has done is screw them together properly. You?d be amazed how solid it all feels.

And big. It?s much wider than the old car and a full five inches longer. Perhaps that?s why it?s 175kg heavier ? and that?s like adding the weight of a medium sized motorcycle. The upside of this swelling, however, is that it?s truly huge on the inside. The back in particular is roomier than a concert hall and the boot is big enough for a game of football.

I must also say that it?s exceptionally good looking. Colleagues in the motoring press have called it pretentious but I disagree. I think it?s balanced, handsome and that all the trinketry is well chosen. On looks alone, and interior space, it leaves all of its rivals trailing.

And that?s before we get to the price. Whatever model you choose is going to be thousands and thousands cheaper than anything from Audi or BMW. And about a million less than anything from Stuttgart. What?s more, the Ford should be cheap to insure as it has special deformable panels on the back that boing back into shape after a bump.

And the news gets better still when you go for a drive. Because of the size and weight, it feels a very different car from the old model. The fun, the joie de vivre, has gone. Even the 2.5 turbo I drove doesn?t encourage you to stick it into a bend and revel in the electric responses. Now, it feels refined and comfortable. It feels, unsurprisingly I suppose, like a Volvo. And for that reason you should avoid the optional sports suspension. It?d be like teaming a well cut tweed suit with a pair of training shoes.

Ford has done a good job with this car ? an outstanding job when you realise how strapped for cash it is. The only real problem is that downmarket badge.

Or is it downmarket? It was, for sure, when Mr Blair came to power. But since then Mondeo man has jumped ship, which is why in Britain today the BMW 3-series is by far the bigger seller. No one wants a poached egg any more. Everyone wants drizzle and jus and Ian McKellen in King Lear.

It?s a pity, really, because as a result Ford is teetering on the brink. It may well go and if it does we shall be waving goodbye to the company that gave us the Model T, the GT40, the Mustang, the Sierra Cosworth, the Escort RS2000 and the Cortina 1600E. The company that powered Minder and The Sweeney and The Professionals and Bullitt. The company that made mass production work. In historical terms, Ford is like a combination of Ferrari, Nasa, ICI and the National Trust.

I won?t urge you to buy a Mondeo just to save an institution. It?s your money and your choice. But I?ll be sad if you have the wherewithal and you don?t.

Wow...what an oddly sentimental piece...
I love that, probably the most sympathy and love he'll ever give Anything from America. Tho quite a few bits of Ford's history happened in Britain
I love that, probably the most sympathy and love he'll ever give Anything from America. Tho quite a few bits of Ford's history happened in Britain

What what? It's not even from America, Ford is, but not the Mondeo, you don't even get the Mondeo.. I don't get your comment.
can't wait to drive one. hopefully i'll talk my boss into giving me one for a company car when they get here.
what you turn down a F6 typhoon!!!??? :p
He probably hasn't been offered a F6 Typhoon you idiot (Don't mind the idiot part i'm having an ego rush)