With residual values being squeezed over the last few years, larger lower-medium cars and drivers looking for cleaner emission vehicles to keep tax bills down, the D-sector has been shrinking.
The volume players are also under threat from premium and semi-premium cars as user-choosers look for a desirable badge on which to spend their monthly allowances. In the middle of this turmoil, Ford has decided to launch its latest weapon in the bid to make petrol more attractive to fleet operators. Called SCi (smart charge injection), the system has been developed in conjunction with Bosch and is currently offered on the Mondeo Ghia and Ghia X.
SCi uses less fuel, especially under low engine speeds or low load conditions, which makes it ideal for improving fuel economy in everyday driving.
Direct injection is a relatively scarce offering in the sector at present, available on the Vectra estate, but not yet the saloon or hatchback, and almost invisible, but present, in the Peugeot 406 range in 2.0HPi format.
Toyota offers it on the 2.0-litre Avensis, while Renault's Laguna also has a direct injection 2.0-litre engine, but in these cases they are not an alternative to the conventional petrol engine and are the only choice.
So opinion is divided on strategy, and the Mondeo 1.8 SCi is offered as a high-specification version of the lower-power cars, sitting above LX and Zetec models with the conventional 1.8.
The Mondeo is also fresh from a mid-term facelift with a range of subtle changes to improve the perception of quality of the car.
There are some tasteful chrome touches on the outside, while inside, better quality materials have been used. In a first for the D-sector, the Ghia X has heated front seats in conjunction with 'climate seats' which can be set on cool when front seat occupants are feeling warm, while heated rear seats are also available.
The interior is roomy and comfortable and very well specified indeed for the £19,700 on-the-road price.
The Ghia X model certainly feels as well finished as cars wearing premium badges while the SCi engine is exceptionally refined. The car travels in near silence at steady speeds but, in keeping with the Mondeo's excellent ride and handling balance, the SCi engine seems to come to life at higher revs which reveals a fruity note.
It might not have the outright grunt of a TDCi, but it does feel livelier than the standard 1.8-litre petrol engine, thanks in part to a six-speed manual transmission that makes the most of the available torque.
Even on the Ghia X model's standard 17-inch wheels the ride is supple, and it combines with excellent steering feel and superb body control to make the Mondeo a car that can really appeal to driving enthusiasts.
It's a shame that in rolling out the SCi programme Ford has made it available only with high-spec Ghia and Ghia X cars. Although Ford should not be singled out over this – Peugeot is also guilty with its 406 HPi models – it makes no sense if direct-injection petrol engines are a means of reducing running costs with improved fuel economy.
Ford Mondeo 1.8 SCi Ghia X
Delivered price, standard car (P11D value): £19,530
CO2 emissions (g/km): 178
BIK % of P11D in 2003/04: 19%
Graduated VED rate: £145
Insurance group: 10
Combined mpg: 38.2
CAP Monitor residual value: £4,650/24%
Depreciation (23.82 pence per mile x 60,000): £14,292
Maintenance (2.50 pence per mile x 60,000): £1,500
Fuel (9.99 pence per mile x 60,000): £5,994
Wholelife cost (36.31 pence per mile x 60,000): £21,786
Typical contract hire rate: £394
Three rivals to consider
OFFERING the new direct-injection technology on top-spec Mondeos turns up some stiff competition for Ford in this saloon car comparison. As well as the obvious equivalent Vauxhall Vectra, there is a more powerful Toyota Avensis at the same on-the-road price, as well as the new Honda Accord which is significantly less. The more powerful rivals are likely to be hampered when it comes to fuel costs. If Toyota had offered a T Spirit with a 1.8-litre engine, we would have included that instead.
FORD and Vauxhall are likely to lock horns throughout this comparison, and there is a mere £24 difference on service, maintenance and repair costs, with the Mondeo sneaking a narrow advantage. However, the two Japanese cars are better. While the Mondeo is likely to set the fleet operator back £1,500 over three years/60,000 miles, the Avensis costs £1,398 and the Accord is just £1,296 – £102 and £204 cheaper than the Mondeo over the typical fleet term.
A RATING of 38.2mpg on the combined cycle puts the Mondeo at just under 10ppm, although smaller wheels would result in an improved figure. Despite Ford's fuel-saving direct injection petrol technology, Vauxhall achieves a better mpg figure, with the Vectra offering a £72 saving over the Mondeo over 60,000 miles. The direct-injection Avensis is the thirstiest of this group, while the 155bhp Accord is in third place.
With CAP predicting a retained value of 24% over three years/60,000 miles, the Ford is the worst of our group and is not helped by the highest P11d price. The Vectra's 25% rating and lower price helps lift it above the Mondeo, while the Avensis is better still, with 28% from CAP. As saloons, the RVs of these three are worse than the equivalent five-door hatchback versions. However, the Accord is expected to retain an astounding 37% of its value, making it £3,660 cheaper than the Ford on depreciation.
THE Mondeo never recovers from its poor residual value rating. At 36.31ppm, it would cost £21,786 over three years/ 60,000 miles, which compared with the Honda Accord at £18,168, looks pricey. The Mondeo's most likely adversary, the Vectra, would save a typical fleet more than £1,000 per car, while the difference between the Mondeo and the thirstier Avensis is £864 in the Toyota's favour. The Accord is a resounding winner in this category.
Emissions and BIK tax rates
VAUXHALL has done its best to pre-empt the benefits of Ford's SCi direct injection petrol engine and has reduced the Vectra 1.8-litre emissions by 9g/km compared with earlier cars. Toyota also uses direct injection with the 2.0-litre Avensis to return 191g/km and, despite being the most powerful car in this comparison, the Honda does itself proud with 182g/km. The Mondeo would cost a 22% taxpayer £68 a month in BIK tax this year while the Accord would cost £69.
THE Ford Mondeo is an excellent car, but the combination of expensive high-specification cars with the SCi engine seriously hampers its running costs performance. Vauxhall can achieve better running costs with a conventional petrol engine while the Honda Accord is better equipped, more powerful and £3,660 cheaper over three years/60,000 miles – more than any sensible fleet discount. The Accord can be the only realistic choice and is the winner here.
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