Ford’s recent announcement marked the end of the classic Mondeo and has led many to read the last rites over a whole class of cars – the traditional saloon.
The American giant is to cease production after nearly 30 years next spring, blaming changing fashions, the slump in saloon sales and the rise of family SUVs.
Launched in 1993, the Mondeo was the car whose upwardly-mobile credentials spoke to an aspirational generation and led to the notion of Mondeo Man, and woman, which was identified by Tony Blair’s New Labour government.
One last defiant roar? Jaguar’s XF flies the flag for much underrated saloon cars
In September 2006, I even revealed how Daniel Craig, in his first outing as James Bond in Casino Royale, was driving a Ford Mondeo; leading to the headline Bondeo Man.
But in more recent years Mondeo – and the saloon in general – has been taken for granted and overlooked.
Even I was pleasantly reminded of the car’s quality when I took a new 2.0-litre hybrid ST Line for a long-overdue refresher spin this week.
But is it curtains for saloon cars? Not yet, say supporters. With imagination, adaptation, and some tweaks to vocabulary, there’s life in the saloon car yet.
End of an era: Ford is to cease production of the Mondeo after nearly 30 years next spring, blaming changing fashions, the slump in saloon sales and the rise of family SUVs
Saloons are described as having the traditional ‘three box’ design, which is how a young child would instinctively draw a car: a small box at the front where the engine goes; a big box in the middle for the driver and passengers; and a smaller one at the back for the boot. The style began with the Ford 49 of 1949 and swiftly became the norm.
There have been evolutionary tweaks. More recently, boots have become more like hatchbacks that lift up the rear window, too.
The word ‘saloon’ has been quietly dropped, and in some cases replaced with sportier ‘fastback’ or ‘lift-back.’
One of those leading the charge to keep the saloon alive is Citroen’s new chief executive Vincent Cobée.
He says their new flagship C5X marks a significant evolution: ‘If any saloons are dying it’s because of a lack of creativity.
SUV influences: Citroen’s latest flagship C5X goes on sale in the second half of this year priced from about £27,000 to £30,000
‘People like touring. We are recreating the saloon with practical elements of the SUV and estate that people like and want.’
Citroen’s latest flagship C5X goes on sale in the second half of this year priced from about £27,000 to £30,000. There will be petrol and plug-in hybrid (PHEV) versions, but no diesel.
The car is big and curvy and has increased ground clearance as well as a practical boot big enough to carry a washing machine.
The French car-maker says the striking new C5X is a practical and stylish fastback mix of saloon, SUV and estate that takes its inspiration from the large sweeping, aerodynamic and eye-catching Citroens of the mid-1950s, 1960s and 1970s such as the legendary DS.
Peugeot has also continued the saloon tradition with its handsomely designed 508 ‘fastback’, which puts many premium rivals to shame in terms of looks and performance.
Prices start from £27,865 rising to £40,910 for the 225 hp GT Premium plug-in hybrid (PHEV).
Peugeot’s handsomely designed 508 ‘fastback’ starts from £27,865 rising to £40,910 for the 225 hp GT Premium plug-in hybrid (PHEV)
But for added oomph, there’s now the spirited 355 hp 508 PSE (Peugeot Sport Engineered) which accelerates from rest to 62 mph in 5.2 seconds, but costs £53,995.
A new Audi A4 – both in saloon and estate guise – is in the pipeline for 2023 with an all-electric four-wheel drive version and range-topping hybrid RS mooted.
BMW’s 3-series is the second best-selling BMW in the UK (just fractionally behind the 1-series) shifting about 20,000 a year.
Tesla’s Model 3 electric car may be cutting edge, but it too keeps the saloon shape.
Camera, lights, video action!
Should you get bored re-charging Audi’s new pure-electric A6 e-tron Sportback, pictured, you could always project a video game from its high-tech headlights onto a nearby wall.
Its LED front headlights have a ‘cinematic quality’ that can be harnessed to keep you entertained when parked up, with driver and passengers controlling the game using their smartphones. It may be a gimmick, but it does highlight the high-tech at the heart of the car.
Audi bosses say the new Digital Matrix LED headlights on the new A6 e-tron concept are so crisp that they can project ‘cinematic quality’ footage – including video games – onto a wall
Audi says: ‘Instead of on a small screen in the cockpit, they’ll see their respective game’s virtual landscapes projected onto the wall.’
Small, high-resolution LED lights project a greetings message onto the ground and also display warning symbols to warn bike riders that the car door is about to open. Another set project indicator signals on the Tarmac.
Powered by two electric motors capable of delivering a total output of 350 kW (about 476 hp), the most powerful versions will accelerate from rest to 62 mph in under four seconds.
Top speed is likely to be limited at 155 mph, with a claimed range of more than 434 miles.
The final production model will be shown next year ahead of going on sale in early 2023, priced at about £80,000.
The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) has charted the decline of the traditional saloon over the past two decades.
Saloon car sales have plummeted from 292,242 in 2001 to 96,334 in 2020 — just a third of the level of 20 years ago.
The market share of saloon cars has halved from 11.88 per cent to 5.91 per cent over the same period.
By contrast, since 2010, sales of dual purpose cars such as crossovers and SUVs have almost quadrupled from 156,552 to 562,360 as life-styles and fashions have changed.
But Professor David Bailey of Birmingham University’s Business School told me there are economic reasons why some saloons are managing successfully to hang on.
M any of the premium saloons, such as the BMW 3 and 5-series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Audi A4 and Jaguar XF and XE saloons, are company cars and used as a business tool.
Saloon car sales have plummeted from 292,242 in 2001 to 96,334 in 2020 — just a third of the level of 20 years ago
Some car-makers, such as the giant Volkswagen Group, which encompasses Volkswagen, Audi, SEAT and Skoda, have managed it because they share their platforms achieving economies of scale and allowing for some cheaper saloon models to continue.
This is the case with VW’s Passat saloon priced from £27,600, with a ninth generation version given the green light from 2023 and expected to share its platform with the Skoda Superb.
By contrast, Professor Bailey noted that Ford did not really have a shared platform strategy for the Mondeo, so it was left more exposed.
‘There was an attempt with the Jaguar X-Type back in the days when Ford still owned Jaguar, but it did not prove a great success, he says.’
But leading car design expert Professor Dale Harrow, director and chair of the Royal College of Art’s Intelligent Mobility Design Centre believes saloon cars do and should have a future.
‘I think the saloon will bounce back,’ In the age of the SUV, crossover and off-roader, the saloon has been overlooked and neglected.
‘But I think there’s a lot of potential in the saloon. They can still be some of the most elegant and beautiful cars to design.’
Gearing up to go the distance
Of the 20,000 Skoda Octavia sales, about half are saloons (though with a larger swing-up hatch-back-style boot) Priced from from £21,235
About 40 per cent of Skoda’s flagship Superbs are saloons
Vauxhall’s Insignia, arguably the closest rival to Ford’s Mondeo, has just had a facelift and is on sale from £23,795 and promising 18 per cent less fuel consumption. There’s also a new range-topping GSi version with four-wheel drive
Injecting some Italian excitement and style, Alfa Romeo’s Giulia saloon starts from £35,710. But if you’re feeling flush, pay from about £156,000 for a sporty limited edition Giulia GTA that sprints from rest to 62 mph in 3.6 seconds
Volvo may be renowned for its 4X4s and trusty estates, but the Swedish car-maker is still keeping the faith with saloon cars. Its medium-sized S60 is available from £40,045 for petrol and from £46,075 for the Recharge plug-in hybrid (PHEV) model. The larger S90 Recharge PHEV starts from £56,275
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