The car is a big brother to the less-powerful ST-24, with the same 2.5-litre V6 engine but power uprated from 167bhp to a whopping 202bhp, slightly larger than the figure alluded to on the discreet ST-200 badge sitting on the back of the car. Prices will start at £23,000 on the road when the ST-200 five-door goes on sale this month, with an estate version at £24,000. A four-door model is not planned for the UK as the expected volume is not large enough to justify a three-model range. This also affects colour choice and the options list - basically, there isn't one as everything has been included in the standard specification of the car.
The car consigns to history the days of the big and brash Ford Sierra Cosworth, which now resides with low-budget boy racers all over the country and is a style Ford says it will not return to. Instead, it is concentrating on 'the overall driving experience' with subtle spoilers and skirts, rather than the garish versions displayed on models such as the Ford Escort Cosworth. Below the ST-200 badge on the five-door lies an indication that the car is not an average Mondeo, with a low slung spoiler bordered by two exhaust pipes on either side of the car. The estate provides a rather more different proposition as the tailpipes are hidden by the spoiler. However, the front is a different matter, with a deep spoiler, mesh grille and pinpoint fog lamps.
The Mondeo provides plenty of straightline performance for its price, with a 0-62mph time of 7.9 seconds for the five-door and 8 seconds for the estate and a top speed of about 145mph for both. This is only a touch faster than the ST24, with almost the same 0-62 time and 2mph slower at top speed, but Ford engineers have worked on the chassis and suspension to enable faster, more composed cornering and safer handling under harsh braking conditions.
The ST-200 is £3,000 more than its less-powerful sibling and £1,500 more expensive than the Vectra GSi but throws in a host of extras including unique ST-200 carpets, gearknob, facia, standard front and side driver and passenger airbags, air conditioning and traction control. The more powerful Mondeo also gets a Kevlar effect gearknob and dash, along with very comfortable and supportive Recaro seats with power driver's seat height adjustment, special kick-plates, carpet mats and 17-inch alloy wheels (the ST-24 gets 16-inch). And to keep away prying hands, the car gets an immobiliser, alarm central/double locking.
Ford Mondeo residual values have been in the news recently for all the wrong reasons as values over the three-year/60,000-mile benchmark drop below 30% of the new value but a spokesman said the rarity of the ST-200 should push its price above the 32% listed for the Mondeo ST-24. For the fleet manager, there is also the lure of 28.8mpg average fuel consumption figures which reward economic driving.
During a 200-mile drive in Germany, the Mondeo showed that the extensive development work on handling had worked. The suspension holds the car relatively level into tight bends while bumps, undulations and potholes were well controlled and did not lead to any banging or thumping inside the cabin, nor were there any squeaks or rattles. In the estate, it was difficult to tell there was such a large space behind you: the car handled as well as the five-door version, thanks to self-levelling suspension supplied as standard.
'Extrude honed' technology, a treatment for the air intakes of the car, smoothes progress for the extra air needed to boost performance, although it is a long and slow process carried out on the production line, which restricts the speed at which cars can be produced. The engine was not as vocal or aggressive as the Vectra's but Ford has intended this to be a relaxed Super Tourer as well as extremely sporty, and this provides quiet cruising but with a lovely muted roar when pushed hard. And there is plenty of power as back-up, with torque boosted from 162lb-ft of torque to 173lb-ft, albeit at a relatively high 5,500 rpm. Not that high revs matter, as the engine soars to 7,000rpm with abandon.
Ford's return to this sector emphasises a concentration on providing best-in-class performance rather than trying to win awards for body styling and racy looks and follows a new attitude from insurers. On the ST-200, immobiliser and alarm come as standard on the car as well as rear luggage cover for the estate, and this has managed to keep predicted insurance levels at 18. Bob Brown, engineering programme manager for the ST-200, said: 'We have concentrated on driving dynamics for the car. This is not just an out-and-out sports car. We have worked hard to make sure that, while it does provide performance which rewards the enthusiastic driver, it does not detract from the comfort and ride for passengers. We have aimed to make sure it remains practical as well as sporty.'
The ST-200 completes a new sporting bloodline for the Mondeo, starting at the Zetec, rising through the ST-24 and ST-200 and ending at the company's Mondeo race-bred touring car. Ford has a range of sporting concept vehicles covering Cougar, Puma and Focus, revealed at the Geneva Motor Show this year and a 200bhp Focus and a 160bhp Puma could be ready within 10 months. A spokesman said: 'We are seeing the signs that the ST-200 is the start of something bigger.'