Ford Fiesta hatchback overtakes the Escort as the most popular vehicle in the UK
Ford Mondeo ST220 review (2002-2006)
The Fast Ford is back, but times have changed since the days of the Sierra Cosworth
Ford's rich heritage of modern performance cars - the XR3i, RS500 and Sierra Cosworth -were icons of the 1980s. But they were killed off by the joyriders and ram-raiders of the early 90s. It's taken a decade for the next generation of `hot hatches' to emerge, but now Ford is ready once again to take up the gauntlet.
Is the Fast Ford back? MSN Cars had to find out: flyers based on cars as good to drive as the Focus and Mondeo sound almost too good to be true...
Juergen Gagstatter, the Chief Programme Engineer for the new Mondeo ST220 explains that the car's genesis was a matter of chance. `We were developing the chassis of the standard Mondeo and came to realise that it could handle much more power,' he says. A decision was made to build a sports model and the fruits of their labour will reach the UK in May.
The Mondeo is available in saloon, hatchback or estate form and its styling is much less subtle than that of the Focus ST170. Pronounced front and rear bumpers combine with side skirts and 18in alloy wheels to lend the car a more aggressive stance. A boot lid spoiler and a pair of exhaust pipes complete the look. The effect is replicated inside by a pair of leather clad Recaro seats and a high-gloss black centre console effect, which are unique to this car. They join a 6-disc CD player and climate control on an equipment list befitting of a car that will cost around £21,000.
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Nestling under the bonnet is a 3.0-litre V6 engine boasting 224bhp and 203lb ft of torque. It's a healthy output that helps the Mondeo sprint from rest to 60mph in just 6.8sec and on to 151mph. Mid-range acceleration is particularly impressive and the effect is enhanced by the sweet soundtrack played through the car's exhausts.
Not so long ago, a front-wheel drive car with 224bhp was a terrifying prospect. A prod on the throttle would have the front wheels spinning like New Labour. But with improvements in chassis design and the advent of traction and stability control systems (the Mondeo has both), it's no longer such a problem. Indeed, the Ford's chassis is so good that in the dry, traction control is rarely called for.
The way the ST220 tackles a challenging road is nothing short of sensational. The body control, excellent on the standard car, has been taken one stage further. This Mondeo demonstrates wonderful composure and inspires huge confidence in every driver. The steering offers plenty of communication without ever feeling nervous, while the gearbox shifts happily from cog to cog. It has an all-round ability that the rival Honda Accord Type-R cannot match.
There really is little to fault about this car. The residual values are unlikely to match those of an equivalently priced BMW or Audi, but neither of the Germans provide this much performance for the price. The ST220 is one of the best handling front-drive cars ever produced and reaffirms the brilliance of Ford's engineers. The fast Ford is back and it's better than ever.
For some enthusiasts the arrival of the new ST range is little more than a taster before the arrival of the flagship fast Ford, the Focus RS. Heavily restyled and boasting a 2.0-litre turbocharged engine, it should be a worthy successor to the Escort Cosworth. We can't wait.
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