THE Ford Mondeo was once king of the road.

But the days when it was as common a sight as a string of traffic cones on Britain’s motorways are long gone.

Now it competes more than ever with the premium brands in its sector - not to mention the ever-increasing numbers of crossovers and SUVs – as a load-lugging, mile-crunching family car.

It’s hard to believe that a little over two decades ago this was among the top three best-selling cars in the UK.

Yet there can be no doubt that the current generation is better than ever as a comfortable motorway cruiser.

And Ford is hoping to boost sales with a hybrid version with a refined automatic transmission and the ability to pull away silently.

Ford reckons the hybrid will account for up to 50 per cent of sales, but it is a more expensive option, does not prove as economical as a diesel version and cannot match the excellent petrol versions as a driver’s car.

Yes, it is a greener alternative, but I cannot say it was as enjoyable to drive as a standard petrol version employing the excellent EcoBoost engine.

In addition, the hybrid requires some boot space for its battery pack, which will deter those looking for maximum amounts of carriage space. There is only 382 litre of capacity in the hybrid, compared with 550 litres in the hatchback.

In both wagon and coupe-inspired four-door body styles, the self-charging hybrid is capable of pure electric driving and offers silent key start capability in city and stop-start driving scenarios. The powertrain also eliminates both range anxiety and the need for customers to use an external power source to charge the battery.

The powertrain delivers 187 PS, and combines a 2.0-litre non-turbocharged petrol engine, electric motor, generator, 1.4 kWh lithium-ion battery and a Ford-developed power-split automatic transmission that emulates the performance of a continuously-variable transmission.

Regenerative braking technology captures up to 90 per cent of the energy normally lost during braking to replenish the battery, contributing to CO2 emissions of 108g/km and a claimed fuel efficiency figure of more than 50mpg.

There’s some clever stuff going on in the instrument panel, behind the dashboard and under the bonnet to help drivers optimise efficiency.

For example, Ford’s SmartGauge interface monitors fuel and energy consumption with features including brake coach that encourages gradual braking to help return more energy to the battery.

Electric power-assisted steering and electrically-powered air-conditioning, powertrain cooling and vacuum systems, which significantly reduce drag on the engine, all help to conserve energy.

There’s even a specially-developed exhaust gas heat recovery system that enables faster cabin warming

For those looking to carry large loads, then the new wagon body style provides 403 litres load capacity beneath the cargo cover for customers with the rear seats in place, and up to 1,508 litres with the rear seats folded, while a flat floor makes loading and unloading of large or bulky items easier. Additional storage is concealed beneath the load floor.

If you are a company car driver, then the hybrid might make sense to you.

But it is only available in the top-end trims of Titanium and Vignale and will not qualify for exemption from the London congestion charge.

The usual high standards of materials are on show, and there is no denying that the Mondeo – in whatever format – continues to provide a comfortable and enjoyable drive.

But the nature of the transmission means it cannot match the acceleration of the two-litre diesels and only equals the 1.5-litre petrol unit. In addition, I doubt whether the claimed mpg figure can be achieved in the real world. My experience was that I could not achieve more than 45mpg.

In the final analysis, I reckon there are not enough good reasons to switch to the hybrid.