Ford Mondeo

Don’t kill off the city car – they’re too much fun

NOT LONG ago I was lucky enough to be granted an audience with the chap who designed the original Mazda MX-5 – you know, the one with the pop-up headlights. Only, as it turns out, he never actually wanted it to have them because they added weight.

You’d like Tom Matano. He’s a proper petrolhead who hates cars, in his own words, “designed by committees and market researchers”, and has a soft spot for the Mini. He also reckons that ditching rev-happy, twin cam petrol engines for on-trend electric motors won’t do the world’s biggest-selling sports car a jot of harm – but only if the delicate handling isn’t ruined in the process.

Yet the one slightly depressing nugget of motoring wisdom that he shared with me is why all the other carmakers have stopped copying the MX-5’s formula for small, simple, open-top sports cars – it’s because the numbers no longer add up. There is no modern day MGF because it wouldn’t be worth someone making it.

This exactly what we’ve already seen with a couple of other endangered automotive species. The Vauxhall Insignia and Ford Mondeo are just about keeping the family saloon on life support, the Renault Espace-sized MPV has been all but obliterated by its smaller rivals and crossovers, and the small, two-door coupe is dead. The MINI Coupe and the Honda CR-Z offered a glimmer of hope for the latter, but both neither sold brilliantly here, and have long since disappeared from the showrooms.

But now there could be an even more serious casualty – the small city car, and it’s emissions regulations that are to blame. Because they’re worked out on the average CO2 a carmaker’s entire range puts out, it’s much easier and cheaper to lower the amount of nasty gases coming out of a gas-guzzling larger model, and more palatable to convert them into plug-in hybrid of electric-only models. As a result, it’s less profitable to make the smallest models – which is why the Vauxhall Viva, Ford Ka and Peugeot 108 are probably looking a tad worried by now.

Which is a real shame, I reckon, because it’s usually a carmaker’s titchiest offerings that are the most involving and least pretentious. Given the choice between a Ferrari 488 Pista and a Citroen C1 and told to go out and spend a wet October morning on any of West Lancashire’s narrow, bumpy roads, I’d pick the tiny French hatchback every time because you can use all of its power and grip, all of the time. It’s the same with the Volkswagen Up, Ford Ka and all of the other small cars in this sort of price bracket – the emphasis is on simple, lightweight tech and small petrol engines, and they’re always somehow more satisfying than their heavy, hybrid hatchback bigger brothers.

As I see it there are only two solutions. Either the EU thinks up a different way of laying out its emissions regulations, or the only carmaker that can be relied upon to come up with brilliant small cars, time and time again, comes up with a tiny hatchback so stunning that everyone feels compelled to copy it. The sort of ground-breaking car that sticks its fingers up at the management committees and market researchers, and gets a thumbs up from Tom Matano instead.

I sincerely hope someone at Fiat reads The Champion

The BMW 7-Series is a cool car – shame about the new front end

I’M GOING to stick my neck out and say it; I reckon that the 7-Series is the only truly cool car in BMW’s current range.

There are plenty of exceptionally talented all-rounders – take a bow, current 5-Series – donning the blue-and-white propeller atop their bonnets but nowadays they’re a bit too everyday, especially when you consider that the 3-Series outsells the Ford Mondeo. The M2 is a properly focused performance hero of the old school, but it’s also a bit obvious, and while the i8 comes close because it’s a hybrid that just happens to be a supercar with butterfly doors, it’s also a bit too look-at-me to be considered cool. Oh, and there are plenty of BMWs that don’t even come close. Who, at a company that’s built its entire reputation on perfectly balanced rear-drivers, though the 2-Series Active Tourer was a good idea?

But wafting about in a needlessly big, £70,000 BMW, especially when the 5-Series and the X5 off-roader already do everything it can for less, takes a particularly devoted sort of owner. To drive a 7-Series – and you invariably will, because owners tend to take the wheel rather than being chauffeured – you have to walk past the S-Class in the Mercedes showroom over the road, forget the roomier digs of the Range Rover and dismiss everything made by Jaguar, Lexus and Audi for this sort of money. It’s also the getaway car of choice in Bodyguard, for added petrolhead points.

But why – and I’m not sure if anyone at BMW’s headquarters in Munich gets The Champion delivered – did they have to give the latest version that massively oversized radiator grille? BMW itself describes it as ‘significantly larger’ than the double-kidney grille fronting the outgoing 7-Series, and points out that it’s now fitted with clever electronic flaps that can open up to give the engine – be it the V12 or, far more likely, the six-pot diesel – an extra hit of cold air when things heat up. It just about worked on the new X7 off-roader but on here it looks as though someone at BMW spent ages crafting a beautiful radiator grille, phoned over the details to the chaps working on the rest of the car but then got cut off just as he was about to relay over the dimensions.

So it’s a definite nein on the front end but I’ll happily have the rest of it. While I’m tempted to say the range-topping M760Li is the coolest of the only truly cool car BMW currently makes, simply because no one really needs to have four-wheel-drive and a 6.6-litre V12 with 585bhp, I think the one to go for is the 745e. That’s the model where you’ll get a petrol-powered straight six – the sort of engine Munich does better than anyone else – and a hybrid electric powerplant, so you can enjoy beautifully balanced BMW handling and glide happily into low emissions areas because you’ve got a hybrid.

You’ll just have to hope that nobody’s looking at that front-end, that’s all.

The Ford Mondeo still has its fans. Me, for one

The Mondeo might not be a bestseller any more, but it still has plenty of fans

THE Grim Reaper will have to pop round another time. Contrary to what you might have read elsewhere the Ford Mondeo is alive and well, and I reckon it will be for a while yet.

The car’s makers have been forced to defend its family favourite this week, after a financial analysis suggested that it – and the Galaxy and S-Max people carriers too, for that matter – be quietly pensioned off (with a few thousand job cuts too, unfortunately). The Mondeo, it says, is a core part of its British range, even if when you look at the sales stats its spot in the bestsellers list has clearly been snatched by the trendier Kuga.

It’s also abundantly clear that the family saloons the Mondeo traditionally squares up to are a bit of a dying breed. Brits can no longer buy a brand-new Nissan Primera, Citroen C5, Renault Laguna, Honda Accord or Toyota Avensis. Rover and Saab are long gone. Vauxhall is still doing admirably well with its Insignia, VW offers a triple whammy with the Passat and its Octavia and Toledo cousins, there’s the Peugeot 508 and Mazda6 – and that’s about it. Mondeo Man has either moved up to an A4 or 3-Series, or ditched saloons altogether for SUVs. Both, whichever way you cut it, have rather more panache than living in the past with the poor old Mondeo.

All of which makes me a bit sad because it reminds me of a bit of a recurring car nut truism; everyone I know who really, really likes cars rates the Mondeo. I have many fond memories of stuffing unreasonably large amounts of IKEA clobber into the back of an ST TDCi Estate and then blasting up the M57 on its seemingly endless reserves of mid-range torque. Or that time I drove 2.5-litre V6 Cougar – the Mondeo’s short-lived coupe cousin – and being so impressed that I nearly bought it. Or the time I tried a 2001 Ghia X and was so won over that I actually did buy it. It’s the same with all my petrolhead pals – almost of them have owned a Mondeo at some point, because they do everything you could ever ask a family car to while still being a joy through the bends.

The Mondeo’s a bit like Three Lions – inescapably associated with the Nineties, but on the right day and with a suitably optimistic bunch of England fans it can still top the pop charts in 2018. There’s nothing wrong with Calvin Harris and Ariana Grande, of course, but I think I’ll stick with the Lightning Seeds…