First drive: Ford Mondeo Vignale

Ford Mondeo Vignale

The Ford Mondeo has long been beaten in the sales charts by more upmarket rivals like the BMW 3 Series and Audi A4.

Can Ford's new premium range, badged 'Vignale', boost the new Mondeo's appeal to more badge-conscious buyers?

What is it?

The first model in Ford's premium 'Vignale' range, set up to offer a more premium ownership experience than the company's standard cars. The new Mondeo is the first model to receive the Vignale treatment, and the recently launched S-Max people carrier will follow next year.

If you thought it looked a lot like the standard Mondeo, you'd be right. Unlike Citroen's DS range, Ford hasn't done a great deal of fiddling with the design of Vignale-badged cars. Instead, the selling points are posher cabin materials and a more upmarket ownership experience, with niceties like monthly car washes from the dealer and a dedicated customer manager thrown in for free.

What's under the bonnet?

Two 2.0-litre diesels (178bhp and 207bhp), one 2.0-litre petrol (236bhp) and a 2.0-litre petrol-electric hybrid (184bhp) are on offer. All are borrowed from the standard Mondeo, bar the 207bhp diesel, while Vignale customers also get the option of four-wheel-drive on the 178bhp diesel-burner.

We drove the 178bhp diesel with all-wheel drive and Ford's PowerShift automatic gearbox – and it was perfectly acceptable. It's not a terribly quick combination, particularly in the heavier estate bodystyle, but power delivery is smooth and gear changes are instantaneous without a hint of jerkiness.

What's the spec like?

On the outside, the Mondeo Vignale gets just a handful of tweaks. There are some new ultra-shiny chrome alloys, a hexagonal honeycomb grille, and the option of four colours including a Vignale-specific hazelnut brown – all of which get extra coats in the Valencia plant's paint shop for a particularly luxurious sheen.

Inside, the Vignale gets most of the top-spec Mondeo's toys, plus a few more of its own. Ford's SYNC2 touchscreen navigation and 'premium' Sony audio system is standard, as is a reversing camera, ambient lighting and everything you'd get as standard on a range-topping Titanium X Mondeo.

What sets the Vignale apart is the little additions – the standard leather seats are said to be of a much higher quality than the normal Mondeo's, and feel very supple indeed. In addition to heating up, they now cool down too – and do a pretty convincing 11-way massage function on top.

Ford Mondeo Vignale Estate

Ford Mondeo Vignale Estate

Dash surfaces have been gratuitously clad in leather as well, with mixed results – we'd rather Ford had sorted out the cheaper-looking silvery bits around the vents and centre console that stare you in the face every day.

Interestingly, on diesel models Ford has introduced active noise cancellation too – a system that uses the stereo speakers to magically drown out engine and road noise – and double glazing is standard across the range for added quietness.

Any rivals?

With a starting price of £29,045 for the lower-powered diesel saloon, the Mondeo Vignale sits in a void between well-specced versions of 'non-premium' rivals like the Vauxhall Insignia and Volkswagen Passat, and poverty-spec versions of more 'premium' cars like the BMW 3 Series and Mercedes C-Class.

Ford isn't too worried about clawing in sales from BMW, Audi and Mercedes – it says the Vignale range is more about giving existing and new Mondeo customers the option to go more upmarket without leaving the brand.

We reckon that's a good place to be – the Mondeo will never out-handle a BMW 3 Series, and interior ambience still isn't up there with what Mercedes and Audi can offer. For a Mondeo buyer looking for a little extra, though, it's about right.

What's it like to drive?

Funnily enough, it drives like a Mondeo – which is to say that it's a comfortable long distance cruiser rather than something you'd actively take for a spirited drive. That said, it's not bad – the body remains composed enough around corners, but the electric power steering isn't precise enough to make the experience worthwhile.

There's no escaping the fact that the Mondeo has gained a few inches and pounds over the years, too. It feels closer to the BMW 5 Series and Mercedes E-Class in size these days – no bad thing when you're a passenger, but even the top-end diesel would be beaten at the lights by a BMW 320d, and that makes do with 30bhp less power.

The noise cancellation and additional sound deadening have made the Mondeo a fantastically refined car to be in, though. Even at autoroute speeds of 80mph+ it's ludicrously quiet inside, while the optional 19-inch alloys of our car didn't seem to affect the ride too drastically either

AOL Cars Verdict

There's lots to like about the Mondeo Vignale. It's well-priced given its high levels of equipment, drives as well as the standard Mondeo and has some really nice touches, including levels of comfort and refinement that outdo many more expensive rivals.

It's not going to be worrying any German rivals in terms of desirability – this is a Ford with a Sony stereo, not an Audi with a Bang & Olufsen one after all – but it's a certifiably good car nonetheless.

Think of Vignale as an even posher trim level rather than an outright Audi-rivalling sub-brand and you'll do just fine.

The knowledge

Model: Ford Mondeo Vignale Estate 2.0TDCi Powershift i-AWD
Price: £33,310
Engine: 2.0-litre, four-cylinder, turbocharged diesel
Power: 178bhp, 400Nm
Max speed: 137mph
0-62: 9.5 seconds
MPG: 45.6mpg (urban), 57.7mpg (extra urban), 52.3mpg (combined)
Emissions: 141g/km CO2

Author: Jon Reay