Is the Ford Mondeo ST220 currently a better buy than the Sierra Cosworth? Time was we'd have to hide under our desks for even suggesting such a thing. But when Cosworths are so expensive that they're fast becoming the preserve of the 'stick it in a heated garage and look at it now and again' brigade, there's an argument in favour of a performance Ford people can actually afford and use - especially when it comes at a tenth of the cost.
True, the Mondeo doesn't have the presence of the Sierra, or its move-it-or-lose-it styling, or indeed its outright rawness. In short, it isn't as special. But it is - whisper it - more rounded, more usable and less compromised. Outright lairiness makes way for veiled aggression; laggy turbocharged punch is replaced by creamy V6 torque. And instead of the Sierra's slightly twitchy handling and wooden steering, you get a sophisticated suspension setup with sharp, crisp responses from the well-weighted wheel. If the Sierra's an open-handed slap around the face, the Mondeo's a punch in the gut from a leather-gloved fist.
"Nonsense," you'll be spluttering by now. "You're missing the point. The Sierra was a rear-wheel-drive touring car hero. The Mondeo is just a dressed-up front-driven family car." And you've got a point. These are two very different cars, with two very different places in the market. So let's stop trying to compare them for a sec, and instead evaluate today's Spotted on its own merits.
Let's start with the way it goes. 225hp means the ST220 can complete the sprint to 62mph in a shade over seven seconds, followed all the way by a muted, woofly snarl from that big-chested engine. But this six isn't just a torque monster; it can be stretched, too, giving you the option to wring it out right to the red line, should you so choose.
Underneath it all is that chassis, far quicker and more nimble than a family hatch has any right to be. Turn-in is fantastic, and you never get a sense of the weight hanging out over the front wheels; understeer comes only if you're being brave, at which point a mid-corner lift tucks the nose in neatly. True, the tendency is toward precision and grip rather than outright hooliganism, but that just means you can maintain momentum startlingly well, and lends the Mondeo an air of crispness and delicacy, which is what makes it so satisfying. It should be noted, too, that despite all this, the ride is endlessly comfy, too - and it's no small feat to combine both traits in a car this big and heavy.
Low-mileage, unmolested ST220s are super-rare now, with many having been subjected to naff light conversions, daft alloy wheels or suspension tweaks that messed up the fine work of Ford's engineers. Which is what makes this example such a tempting buy. Granted, it isn't as cheap as some ST220s we've seen recently - you can pick up a slightly daggy example for little more than a grand if you're not too fussed about condition or provenance - but in the grand scheme of things, £3750 isn't an awful lot of money for a car with such a broad range of talents. Nor, indeed, one that's been looked after so well.
So, what goes wrong? Well, lots of owners report suspension issues, from bushes to springs to arms; you might also find yourself going through electrical niggles. You should also be aware that this 2006 example sits in the £540-a-year tax band, and as per all ST220s, it likes a drink too. Fortunately, those high running costs are mitigated by the fact that any repairs or maintenance you need doing should be pretty cheap, given that it's a Ford - and of course, any garage will be able to carry the work out for you easily, if you aren't feeling handy with a spanner yourself.
This is, obviously, not yet the 'collector's car' the ad claims. But so much the better, because that makes it the sort of car you can treasure and use at the same time. Something you can take out for a blat of an evening, but also squeeze your mates or your kids in the back of so that you can bore them senseless with the inevitable Clarkson DB9 comparison the ad also makes. And something you can feel proud to have sitting on your driveway.
Perhaps it's still a stretch to suggest that the ST220 is better than a Sierra Cosworth. But it is the fast family Ford that's been unfairly left in the shadows - and on the evidence of this example, perhaps it is in fact the one you should actually buy.
SPECIFICATION: FORD MONDEO ST220
Engine: 2,967cc V6 petrol
Transmission: 6-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Power (hp): 225@6,500rpm
Torque (lb ft): 207@4,900rpm
First registered: 2006
Recorded mileage: 49,000
Price new: £23,565
Yours for: £3,750