Once Ford had Ghia as its luxury aspirational brand. From the mid-70s there were Ghia versions of all its cars in Europe but they were to overlap with the emergence of marques like Audi and Volvo entering the same classy sales pitch.
I am not sure about the economics of this upbranding – if that’s what they call it. Citroën has invented DS Automobiles to sell posher versions of Citroëns.
Its Renault compatriots had a flurry of aspiration at the dawn of the century with the Vel Satis luxury hatchback and two-door abysmal Avantime. The former, a practical large car, lasted seven years with total sales of 62,000. The Avantime, fancy but flawed, was here and gone in two years and sold less than 9,000.
Nissan’s Infiniti brand and Toyota’s pioneering Lexus have made the cross-over and are here to stay. Which brings us to Vignale, like Ghia, a Turin coach builder with a distinguished back catalogue. Alfredo Vignale worked with all the Italian carmakers before being taken over by De Tomaso, which owned Ghia. The whole shooting match was swallowed by Ford.
Time passed. Now it is time for Vignale’s renaissance as the Ford premier brand, above Titanium X, if you are a Ford watcher. The first is the Mondeo Vignale. Titanium models were already big sellers and Ford wants to profit from even more expensive models.
A Vignale costs around £5,000 more and for this you get a hand-built leather interior, even the dashboard top is leather. There are the latest audio synchronising systems, advanced parking assistance, a rear camera and a decent navigation system. The exterior has a highly glossed multi-coat paint which looks as lustrous as anything else on the road, even a Smart. There are silvery body details including the surround for the new grille design. It runs on 18-inch wheels.
Sales are through selected dealerships which have the VIP Vignale customer care. This includes a real live Vignale manager in a Vignale Lounge and 24/7 support service. This may be useful if, like me, you can’t make headway with the website. Its Ambassadors page shows three dudes you may veer away from in a narrow alleyway. Or are they Audi customers? There’s free home delivery, collection and return for servicing, even a free carwash. Heck, you even get a free Clooney coffee and can buy a Vignale handbag.
Underneath is the latest Mondeo saloon and estate, softened in ride from the previous models in readiness for the expectations of Vignale man and woman and their Vignale accessories. Their hour has come. Vignale Kuga and S-Max models are following. For now you can have the Mondeo saloon or automatic estate with a 178bhp diesel engine, an automatic hybrid saloon (Ford is responding to early comments about the gearbox), or the 237bhp automatic petrol estate. On price there’s not a lot between them. They are respectively from £29,345, £30,595, £30,095 and £32,155. Extras could include 19-inch wheels (£700), city braking (£200), blind spot monitors (£500) and for the estate a powered tailgate (£400) and self-levelling suspension (£375).
It is a front-wheel-drive car but 4x4 drive combined with automatic gears is offered on the 178bhp saloon and estate.
Tested here is the 178bhp diesel saloon with 4x4 and automatic gears at £32,345. Extras include 19-inch wheels (£700). Vital statistics include 53.3mpg combined with 138g CO2 in the showroom brochure. The 0-62mph time is 9.3 seconds from this two-litre, four-cylinder turbo diesel. Torque is a hefty 295lb ft from 2,000rpm. Top speed is double the UK motorway legal limit.
The same money would get you into Audi’s slightly smaller A4 Allroad Quattro with manual gears or, with rear-wheel drive, an entry level BMW 5 series and Mercedes E Class or a well-specified though smaller Jaguar XE or Volvo S60.
This is the predicament for any manufacturer wanting to move up market. Why would you spend similar money on a brand without the cachet of recognition or the confidence of holding as much value at trade-in time? Maybe the hope is you’ll wander into a Ford showroom for a Mondeo and be lured towards the Vignale, glittering in its own floor space with a scary ambassador lurking. It’s similar to going into a watch shop to buy an Omega and leaving with a Rolex. Easily done but at least the Rolex holds its value better than does a family car.
From a detached view point the Vignale is a pleasing car. Its looks got the nod from strangers. The demonstrator was brand new and so its economy may improve and the slightly coarse diesel noise at low revs may settle down. For the record, on short local drives it recorded 32mpg, improving to 39mpg on longer trips. Under pressure the engine makes a rewarding roar but mostly I cruised. This is a Vignale not a Viggen.
The interior was dark and trying to be classy though the quilted panels on the seats and the white side edgings are not to my taste at all.
I do like the Volvo-style skeletal central stack. Choices on the info screen can be selected by finger pressure or from keys on the steering wheel. This can be fiddly and distracting.
A BMW-type control pad is better, and despite its aspirations, the Vignale does not offer head-up display or remote latches to drop the rear seats.
Verdict: You say “vinyally”. I say good luck. For this money you could get something to impress the neighbours without any explanation necessary.