At the end of the day, what is it that consumers want? That’s the question that Ford has been asking itself recently about its lineup. It’s clear that with the rise of budget supermarkets in the UK and elsewhere, consumers want cheap prices. Aldi and Lidl have enjoyed meteoric rises over recent years. And the big established players, like Tesco, have been buffeted. We’ve seen something similar in the car market. Back in the 1970s and 1980s, the budget competition to the big brands wasn’t strong. And even in the 1990s, few people were going out and buying Dacia or Hyundais. But now they’re making their presence felt.
Take the Ford Mondeo for example. When the original version of the car was released in the UK in 1993, it was a sensation. Something like 127,000 were sold in a single year. Ford was on top of the market. It was the king of the family saloon. Fast forward to last year and the number of Mondeos sold had fallen to just 15 percent of the original figure.
The fall of the Mondeo from grace has put Ford in an awkward position. The Mondeo was the middle ground in the car market. Here was a family saloon that was robust and upmarket enough to appeal to aspirational people. But it was also doggedly practical and didn’t have a whiff of luxury about it. But since the heyday of the Mondeo in the 1990s, the car market has changed. We’ve seen stiff competition from the lower end, especially from Japanese car makers. And we’ve seen unyielding competition in the high end too. Brands like BMW and Mercedes are making better executive cars than they have ever made before. This has put Ford in a tough position. Does it try to steer the middle way and recreate the Mondeo? Or does it split its focus and attack each market individually? It appears that the company has decided to do the latter.
Ford Mondeo Vignale
It’s been a tough journey for Ford. But now they’re hitting back. And nothing speaks more to the company’s new ethos than the Mondeo Vignale. The Vignale is a strange beast. Suddenly we have a Mondeo that’s looking decidedly not-Mondeo. It’s got what you would expect from a luxury car. But Ford is still marketing it as a car for the middle-class.
The term “Mondeo man” became famous during the election of 1997. Tony Blair saw a man proudly polishing his new Mondeo during the election campaign. The image became a symbol of what modern success looked like if you worked hard. It fit perfectly into the New Labour platform. Mondeo man came to represent the “boy done good.” The new Vignale is a modern day equivalent of the old Mondeo. It’s a range topper for sure. But it’s the kind of range topper you’d find in Debenhams, not Harrods.
The car itself is obviously focused on the high end. On the inside, the transformation is visible. Gone is the plastic dashboard. And gone are the synthetic fabrics. Ford have used leather throughout the interior of the Vignale, giving it a luxurious feel. The leather is also soft and plush, which is perfect for long journeys, or more likely the daily commute.
Ford have also put some significant effort into making the driving experience luxurious. The company currently uses its Active Noise Control system. This system works by trying to cancel out sound waves using the car’s own speakers. It’s the sort of thing you’d expect to find on high-end Mercedes and Bentleys. But Ford is the first carmaker to put it into a car that comes in at under £30,000.
But even though the Vignale is exclusive, Ford have kept the spirit of the original Mondeo. The Vignale is still a car with aggressively broad appeal. The Vignale, for instance, is one of the Ford’s on motability. In other words, there are options here for physically challenged drivers too. And it’s not a car that you need to have any special driving skills to drive. Under the plush leather, it’s still the same 2.0 litre Ford Mondeo we’re used to. It’s no Mustang under the hood.
For discerning consumers, the Vignale is a smart buy. Here’s a car with a lot of the utility of an expensive luxury saloon. But without the price tag. You could say that it’s a modern car for the modern Mondeo man. If you’re driving a Vignale, you’re doing pretty well. But, of course, that’s not the world we live in today. Wages aren’t growing as they were at the end of the 1990s. And so it’s hard to see the Vignale ever making it big.
So what about the other direction? How is Ford trying to bring budget car ownership to the masses? One of the reasons for the success of the original Mondeo was on the practicality front. It was just so useful for family holidays and generally getting around. Since the 1990s, SUVs have become much more fashionable. And so it makes sense that Ford would go down this route in producing a do-it-all car. But whereas most SUVs are quite pricey, the B-Max comes in on a strict budget. £13,295 to be precise.
Going back to the supermarket analogy, the B-Max is definitely in the Tesco value range. But like the value range, you’re still getting the Ford name, and that means quality.
When it comes to families, the B-Max is particularly friendly. The car has a unique side door layout. And that makes it easy to get to the back seats of the car. The car also comes with an extensive complement of safety features, both inside and out.
But, of course, with cheaper models the performance and the ride suffer slightly. The Ecoboost version of the car is only 1.0 litre. And if you’re used to the performance of a 2.0 litre, you’ll certainly miss it.
The B-Max is trying to win our hearts again. As is the Vignale. But it may be that what we saw with the Ford Mondeo was a once-in-a-lifetime event in car history.