Stuck in the familiar congestion around one of our major-population centres, I’d become a little confused. The vehicle in front was clearly displaying the distinctive blue oval badge of a Ford, but below it, in elongated silver letters, larger than any other model badging, was the word ‘Vignale’. This struck a chord deep in my memory, but nothing I could pull forward instantly. So I phoned a friend.
A quick shout to Siri, that great oracle, came up with a lengthy response that I reviewed on my return home. And the light came on when I remembered another manufacturer, previously in the Ford stable, that had used the name. All was about to become apparent.
Alfredo Vignale was born in 1913 in Grugliasco, near Turin. In 1948, he incorporated Carrozzeria Alfredo Vignale. This went on to become a major, boutique automotive design consultancy, with bespoke coachbuilding at its heart.
At that time, it was not uncommon for a car company’s customers to want something a little different to the norm – or commission a car to be made for a specific purpose. Also, companies like Fiat, Lancia and Maserati would farm out their requirements for manufacture of small volume designs. Primarily, in the late forties and early fifties, Vignale worked for the Italian car firms around him, many of them no longer with us. His speciality was low-volume, luxury variants of the main production cars. The range of his work is perhaps best illustrated in his reworking of the Fiat 500 into the Vignale Gamine and the seminal 25 Briggs Cunningham Continental C3s that were produced. Perhaps the most famous and valuable car to carry his name to date is the Lancia Aurelia B52 Vignale.
In 1973, Vignale was sold to Ford, along with De Tomaso who had acquired them in 1969. Vignale next emerged with Ford at the 1993 Geneva Motor Show. This was under the guise of the Lagonda Vignale concept car, and later at the 2004 Paris Motor Show with a Ford Focus Vignale Concept Car. These both held true to the idea of coachbuilding on existing platforms. All stayed quiet for the Vignale name, until some 12 years later, when Ford of Europe announced that the personalisation and bespoke nature so synonymous Vignale was to return.
The interior design concept of the piece was founded on straight statistics. At launch, Jim Farley chairman and CEO of Ford Europe, said: “Our customers have high aspirations and they want more from Ford. On some vehicles, our top-of-the-line Titanium specifications make up 70 per cent of all sales.”
These statistics are borne out by other manufacturers too. It apparently seems we are buying more size-appropriate cars and remaining with long-term manufacturer relationships. These more realistic purchases are then being spec’ed to the highest possible level, and beyond those of other supposed luxury brands.
The Vignale concept, however, seeks to provide an overall enhanced experience, and it’s this that you are becoming part of. The first step was to introducing relationship managers and lounges for the customer. No doubt this also creates aspiration from other existing and new owners to have access to a specialised space. The concept of having a personal contact to attend to your every need and provide a dedicated service around you is an attractive one in the time poor world. This also adds a level of service and a dealership experience, that feels like that you get when ordering something more akin to a Rolls Royce.
Vignale allows you to choose from five models in the Ford line up. This means, whether you require an SUV, people carrier, crossover, executive or city car, you are fully catered for. We reviewed the Edge, S-Max and Fiesta models and were stunned with the level of detailing across the range.
The Edge compared favourably with the large four-wheel drive brethren, and was actually better equipped than, say, a Range Rover Évoque or Discovery Sport. It was certainly more luxurious. The big surprise for me was Fiesta, which reminded me of Paris. Why? Because the French have a penchant for smaller cars and have always liked high-level interiors. The level of luxury and comfort features in the car would make even the best designer on the Left Bank happy.
So how does the Vignale experience work?
Once you have selected your vehicle with your relationship manager, you can begin the personalisation process. “Is it the Mondeo, S- Max, Kuga, Fiesta or Edge you would like?” I was asked, with just a hint of pride in the tone. The next stage is to choose a body colour, with some special colours only reserved for use on these special vehicles. I particularly like the magnetic silver, which is a deep, quality, dark grey, not unlike the one often used on more teutonic vehicles.
Rather like visiting the best Savile Row tailor, you will be offered the chance to look at stitching and interior materials from a sample book. This certainly beats the old photograph-in-the-brochure approach, and the selection process is detailed and makes you feel part of the creation of your vehicle. A plethora of choices are then to be made, including unique wheels, exclusive detailing, premium leather interiors. I designated subtle metal inlays and a premium leather stitched dashboard, with honeycomb quilted handmade leather seats to match the unique grille. I can guarantee that, if you blindfolded someone and asked them to run their hands across the interior, they would struggle to tell you who had manufactured the car. I did exactly that on one of our test vehicles, the Ford Edge, and the guesses were all positioned towards other prestige manufacturers. When the silk was removed, the first response was surprise and then interest over the retail cost of the vehicle.
The amount of advanced technology that can be specified on the vehicle is astonishing too. From the personalised screen that reads ‘Vignale’ as you turn the vehicle on, through to ambient lighting, automatic lane control, LED adaptive headlights, proximity alerts and, of course, the high end Sony in-car entertainment.
Additionally, as comfort and personalisation is key here, acoustic glass has been used to reduce external noises by several decibels. We are all familiar with noise-cancelling headphones, but Ford have now taken this principle and applied it to vehicles. Active Noise Control has been added to the Vignale package on larger diesel models to help diminish any engine sound that makes it into the cabin. Three concealed microphones pick up background noise, which is then cancelled out with inverted sound waves played back through the audio system. On testing, I found this very effective, especially during motorway driving. Ford’s rationale is that it enhances driver concentration, makes conversations clearer and improves your favourite music.
Dedicated Vignale support is available in the virtual space as well. Now, as part of the package, FordPass connect has been added turning the vehicle into a mobile WiFi hotspot with connectivity for up to ten devices. This really is a very effective and comprehensive system. With the emphasis on streamlining life, it allows Live traffic updates to save time in traffic, and acts as the hub for use of the FordPass mobile application.
The FordPass app allows you to really take control of the vehicle in many ways. For instance, it can assist by helping owners locate their car in the ever-sprawling car parks of modern shopping centres. If the owner is unsure of fuel level, oil life, or even the status of their car alarm, this can all be done remotely. The latter being quite handy if you’re unsure whether you’ve left your cockapoo in the boot of your Ford Edge – you don’t want your hound terrorised by an ever-howling alarm.
Again, if you have left the vehicle on that important phone call, you can lock it from your mobile phone, and unlock it on your return. eCall functionality exists within the suite of extras too, which means, should you have an accident, it’s a one-button touch-call from the vehicle to reach the emergency services. A customer service line called Ford One Call also gives this premium customer base 24/7 access to vehicle servicing and collections.
To build a complementary brand – which is what Ford have effectively done here – around an Italian designer would not be possible with adding some accoutrements. The Vignale has allowed the creation of a collection of beautifully designed products with Italian influence to allow customers to fully immerse themselves in the lifestyle of their bespoke vehicles. Premium materials and craftsmanship have been employed to provide a range of luggage, wallets, iPads cases and key rings to ensure those around you know you are part of the new cognoscenti. And very tastefully it has been done too.
So, if you, too, are stuck in traffic and spot the Vignale badge, you can assure yourself of several things. The encumberent driver is sat in no less than luxury, surrounded by some of the finest materials, tailored to their individual taste. This sub-brand encompasses a series of distinctive qualities, signature elements and unique characteristics, along with sophisticated features and state of the art technologies. Ultra-modern, yet timeless design is enhanced by high-quality materials and superb craftsmanship. Vignale is a more individualistic way to enjoy luxury and express style; it exudes sophistication and premium sportiness. Maybe it’s time to revisit Carrozerie Ford. I think Alfredo would approve.