What is it?
Like it or not, this is more a lifestyle review than a car review. After all, lifestyle is the whole principle of Ford’s Vignale models, which aim to cater for those who are looking to get that elusive premium aura for a bit less cash than it would cost if you went straight to the main dealers of the aspirational image. Step forward Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Jaguar and Lexus…
The Vignale gets no mechanical modifications over the car on which it’s based – no bad thing, given that the regular Mondeo is good enough to have beaten the BMW 320d ED in our executive shootout.
However, one big difference is that you can’t get the hatchback body; rather, you can only get the Vignale as a saloon or an estate, and the engine range is limited to a 2.0-litre diesel in 177bhp or 207bhp outputs, a 236bhp 2.0-litre Ecoboost petrol, and a 2.0 petrol-electric hybrid – all of which are (or very soon will be) available in the standard Mondeo.
Other than that, Ford is relying on enhanced ownership experience and a raft of styling and ancillary enhancements to elevate the Mondeo from daily tabloid to glossy coffee table fodder.
All Vignale models get a full leather interior, electrically adjustable and heated front seats, laminated side glass, adaptive LED headlights and a 12-speaker Sony sound system. Refinement should also be improved with the aid of a standard speaker-based noise cancelling system.
On top of this, there’s a 24-hour helpline, you’ll be on first-name terms with your dedicated customer relations person, and a man will come and pick the car up and return it for you when it needs servicing. This all sounds good, right up until you find out that the Vignale costs £4500 more than an equivalent Titanium model, so there’s still a lot to prove.
What’s it like?
This is the first time we’ve tried a four-wheel-drive, 2.0-litre diesel Mondeo, complete with compulsory six-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox, and it’s a great set-up. Handling is as impressive as ever, the Vignale delivering the fluid and composed responses we’ve come to expect, with steering that offers progressive bite as you wind lock on and enough confidence in fast stuff, albeit with a slightly aggressive, overly springy self-centring action.
The active four-wheel drive, which sends all the drive to the front wheels most of the time but can divert all or any portion of it to the rear when necessary, makes the Mondeo feel more neutral and resistant to understeer in hard cornering, although it’s pretty marginal in good conditions. Otherwise, this is a really flexible engine that delivers a hefty and extended wave of torque that you can work easily through the smooth-shifting and generally quite intuitive Powershift automatic gearbox. If you feel you’d benefit from the extra traction through the less forgiving seasons, this is a really effective system that doesn’t detract from the Mondeo’s trademark engaging handling otherwise, and costs a reasonable £1500 premium.
Even the ride isn’t too badly affected. On passive springs and standard 18in alloys, the all-weather Vignale model does feel a bit harsher on initial bump absorption than lighter, smaller-wheeled models, but the damping is still wonderfully well sorted, with controlled compression and taut rebound keeping things from getting overly jarring or wayward even on really poor surfaces.
Refinement is excellent. Road noise is reduced anyway thanks to the enclosed cabin inherent to the saloon body, and this was always one of the most refined four-cylinder diesels in this class, but the Vignale is BMW 5 Series and Audi A6-style quiet, with very little wind and engine noise and only a distant burr of tyre noise even at high speeds.
The overall cabin finish is very nice, too, but it’s not without fault. The leather is of genuine bovine origin, the seats are cushy and really comfortable and the sound system offers great depth of tone, while the metal-trimmed door sills and chrome-trimmed dial binnacle all make it feel pretty top notch. That’s until you play with the wobbly air vents, or graze your hand on the sharp-edged door bin, or notice any of the other giveaways that – tuxedo-stitched leather or not – mean you will never forget that this is still a Mondeo.
Should I buy one?
It’s no surprise that business users are expected to be the majority of Vignale customers. The extra you’ll pay in company car tax – around £35 per month more for the 177bhp diesel variants, at £233 for this four-wheel-drive model – over a Titanium version is much easier to stomach than the retail list price premiums.
If that’s your situation, and you really value your luxury finish, you should consider it. This version of the Vignale is great to drive, and it’s a genuinely premium-feeling thing with masses more equipment and service benefits than premium rivals. Just bear in mind that you could have a well-equipped BMW 520d for the same amount of tax. For us, no amount of dealership attention or posh detailing would sway that decision in Ford’s favour.
If you’re a private buyer? Don’t bother. We love the Mondeo, but just buy a Titanium – which you’ll be able to get with this excellent powertrain very soon – and every time you wish you had the hoenycomb leather or your salesman’s direct line, consider how you’d feel if you also had a car with the residual values of a sinking ship and £4500 less in your bank. You’ll get over it pretty quickly.
Ford Mondeo Vignale 2.0 TDCi 180 AWD Powershift
Location Rome; On sale September 2015; Price £32,045; Engine 4 cyls, 1997cc, turbodiesel; Power 177bhp at 3500rpm; Torque 295lb ft at 2000rpm; Gearbox 6-spd dual-clutch automatic; Kerb weight 1650kg (est); Top speed 140mph; 0-62mph 9.3sec; Economy 53.3mpg (combined); CO2/tax band 138g/km, 25%
What is it?