It is a long and winding road from Cortina to New Mondeo via the high Sierras. There were a few rocky stretches and the occasional diversion but it has been straighter and smoother in recent years. Now it is developing into a high-speed motorway.
The previous Mondeo was – and is – a very good design but stepping from it into the 2007 car is an aesthetic and technological revelation. Stepping from a ￡666 Mk I Cortina, launched in 1962 with a 1.2litre engine and an interior of wall-to-wall shiny plastic, is to travel through history.
But out of that basic early car came first the GT, with stubby gear lever, rev counter and improved suspension to meet the criteria of the day for a sports saloon, and then the real glamour version, the Lotus-Cortina, raced by Jim Clark and now a revered classic.
In late 1966, the Mk I gave way to the Mk II – bigger, stylish (the 1600E was the luxury version) but in GT and Lotus forms, no longer quite the pure design of the Mk I.
By 1970, the Mk III Cortina had grown further and had a touch of Americana about it with Coke-bottle styling. It handled well enough but suffered from more than a touch of NVH (noise, vibration and harshness).
That version was followed by the angular, almost severe Mk IV, the entry-level version having a 1.3litre engine producing all of 49.5bhp. It stayed in production in various forms for six years until 1982, to be replaced by the Sierra.
Based loosely on the aerodynamic but strange-looking Probe III concept car, it immediately drew derogatory comments about its shape – “jellymould” (once applied to the Citro?n 2CV) being one of the more polite.
Sales suffered and Ford tried too hard to give the model more image by introducing the 2.8litre XR4i with twin rear spoilers. It was not in the best of taste but is now a collector’s car. So is the greatest Sierra of all, the RS Cosworth, also a winged machine but this was one with real performance. The Cosworth was later partly tamed as a 4 x 4 saloon. Eventually, the Sierra's radical design was vindicated.
Then in 1993 the Mondeo was unveiled, with front-wheel drive, good design balance, fine performance and great packaging. As the Sierra faded, so the Mondeo sped to success, winning the 1994 Car of the Year award. Steadily improved and updated through Mk II and Mk III versions, by the end of last year, sales had topped 1,172,000 in the UK and 3,640,000 in Europe.
With its new, big, radically styled Mondeo, Ford might be thought to be taking a Sierra-like risk again. But it isn’t. The car has what the Sierra lacked: presence, credibility, quality, technological capability – all the factors to make an owner feel good.