For a while there, the prospect of going out to buy a large family saloon would have put even the most hardened amphetamine user to sleep.
The Ford Mondeo was aging, the Volkswagen Passat was an undignified slab and the Toyota Avensis was – well, a Toyota Avensis. The new, more European Avensis arrived and, while it still didn’t set hearts a flutter, it displayed a level of competence, price and peace of mind that had buyers rushing to showrooms in droves. Things began to get more interesting with cars such as the Peugeot 407, but this has proved pretty unreliable and prone to some drastic depreciation. But then the revised Volkswagen Passat arrived with its Audi-like looks and first-class feel. And crucially it came with a 1.6-litre engine that is so coveted by Irish buyers. It had come to a stage where buyers were starting to forget about the Ford Mondeo, a car that even to the end of its last model was probably the best car to drive in its class. Loved by photocopier salesmen and Gardai alike, the new model’s arrival has been highly anticipated. And the wait, it seems, was worth it.
The new model is the most upmarket yet and gives us “ordinary” folks the chance to drive something that looks and feels a little bit special every day. We know that it will be good to drive if the last one is anything to go by, but will it be good enough to wrestle buyers out of the Avensis and Passat? Standing back and looking at all three, the Mondeo easily wins on design. Although some of the models, including this Zetec one, have been shod with some rather questionable alloy wheels, the overall design is one that is a mature version of Ford’s new family look. It is modern without attempting to do anything too risky. The fact that the buying public have been allowed 56 new car new car or a while there, the prospect of going out to buy a large family saloon would have put even the most hardened amphetamine user to sleep. to become accustomed to the new look via the Galaxy and S-Max means revealing a new Mondeo to a conservative audience. Engines now include a 123hp 1.6-litre engine – something that was very obviously missing from the old line-up – and this is joined by 99hp and 123hp 1.8 TDCi diesels and 128hp and 138hp 2.0-litre TDCi diesels, as well as 2.3 and 2.5-litre petrol versions. There have never been any doubts about the quality and durability of the Mondeo and this feels even truer with the new one. It really does feel like it is made of high quality materials. The Passat feels of a similar nature. It no longer looks as deadly boring as it once did and, while not a design classic, it looks upmarket and is huge. The exterior looks pretty anonymous beside the Mondeo, but with the right colour and wheels it is certainly not offensive. Like both cars here, you can choose a 1.6litre engine at base level but it struggled to cope with the Passat’s considerable bulk. The Passat is better to drive than before because it is so much stiffer, but the old one was no bag of fun to start with. The appeal of the Volkswagen badge simply can’t be ignored though, and this plays a large part in the car’s considerable success since it was launched in 2005. The Avensis might look like the tamest offering here but it packs the biggest punch where it matters and that is in the sales charts. It has sat firmly at the top of its segment for several years now because of a few simple things.
Firstly, it is a Toyota – you could badge the SsangYong Rodius as a Toyota and it would be a big seller. Secondly, it is actually very good. Sure, it never excels at anything but it does the ordinary with such competence and with minimal fuss that buyers keep coming back. Add in that it is safe, good value and reliable and it is not hard to see Irish customers’ logic. The Mondeo, without doubt, wins the prize for best driver’s car 58 new car new car and that is hardly likely to be a surprise to many of you, knowing the previous car’s pedigree. Wider than before, the car has a much lower centre of gravity and superb weight distribution. It is agile, yet supremely comfortable too. The Passat feels less communicative, more cumbersome but a confident cruiser and overall much more accurate to pilot than before. The cabin feels spacious and is well laid out, if a little dull. Finally, the Avensis, with Toyota’s very sober take on what European styling is all about, won’t turn heads because we are just so accustomed to it. It is a car that is everywhere and mostly in the same colour. It is a family car prescription that most buyers sign up for without too much passion.
Most buyers opt for the 1.6-litre petrol but the 126hp 2.0-litre diesel is also winning many friends for its durability and ability to munch miles. But you can’t deny that it does everything right. There is nothing very exciting about looking at, being in or owning one, but for so many buyers this really isn’t a consideration. This is a car that feels superbly put together and, while spacious, it feels light and easy to drive. There is accurate, well-weighted steering and sharp brakes, and no this ain’t no sports car, but then again it really doesn’t have to be. It is brilliantly bland in so many ways. When you look at the figures, you can see that there is very little between the performance of all these diesel engines when it comes to acceleration, top speed, economy and CO2 emissions, but as these cars stand here there is quite a substantial price differential. The Passat would have always been considered as lying at the premium end of things, the Mondeo at upper premium and the Avensis at the more budget end and this remains true, even with these 2.0-litre diesel power units employed. In terms of safety, all three cars are well sorted and have received the full score from Euro NCAP. While there is no ideal car to crash in, any of these three will take care of you better than most. And all these cars are now quite vast. The Mondeo and Passat look like big cars and this proves to be true, with generous luggage space, rear leg room and front passenger space. Though not as big on the outside as the Mondeo or Passat, the Avensis offers generous interior space front and rear. Any one of these cars is likely to be adequate for most buyers, with the Mondeo taking the crown for luggage space. All these cars have their own individual qualities and play to their strengths incredibly well. The Mondeo is the new kid on the block with the Hollywood looks (literally – it was in James Bond!), the superb driving dynamics and upmarket feel. The Passat feels like a quality product, if a little bland and functional, while the Avensis is by no means exciting, unless of course your idea of excitement is losing money, unreliability and huge bills.
Engine 2.0-litre 4-cylinder diesel, 116hp, 280Nm torque
Transmission 6-speed manual
Acceleration 0-100km/h 11.2 seconds
Top speed 195km/h
Economy 5.8 l/100km/h
CO2 emissions 155g/km
Boot capacity 520 litres
Base price €29250
Price as tested €29800