The last Ford I drove was the Mustang. It’s so special you can only buy it at what are called in a blue collar mode, Ford Stores – obtusely reserved for the brand’s high performers.
I did attempt to hire a Fiesta in Ibiza the other week. When I showed up at the desk there was a friendly shrug as he handed over the keys for a Chinese estate car, a Landwind. I smirked, so did his chum, who had the tan and looks of a middle-aged tennis coach. There was a flicker of a smile as the key was handed over. Mumblings about a Zafira class car – a damning comparison. Maybe this was pay-back time for a complaint to agents last year when my €750 deposit spent several weeks in their account. They’d given me a Landwind then, contrary to my request.
OK, so it’s two classes larger than a Fiesta but a couple of rungs down in quality, even without the body scuffs from Ibizan walls. This was not, by the way, the racy Landwind clone of the Range Rover Evoque. It had no name badges, not even its maker’s name – better not knowing, perhaps? But at just €38 a week? It rattled off like an old car, so noisy I thought it was a diesel until I went to fill it up. Fortunately it did have one of those safe-fuel inlets – pioneered by Ford. They make it impossible to get a petrol nozzle in to a diesel filler neck.
Now I am in another Ford. It’s the recently rebuilt S-Max seven-seater MPV and it is the nicest Ford I have driven. The only small print is that it will be gaining from a halo effect because it was the first car driven since that Landwind hirer.
The S-Max dates from 2006 and is a racier version of the Ford Galaxy. It immediately won the European Car of the Year title. Users and critics liked its interior space and the folding seats which leave a perfectly flat floor between the tailgate and the front seats.
The new model is still bearable as a seven-seater, with a scramble-though to reach the rear pair of seats, but it’s very practical as a five-seater with lots of luggage space. The middle three seats slide to and fro and the backrests recline to make a bed of sorts. The load bay length is six feet, with a large rear loading gape 32 inches high by 45 inches wide and a diagonal, for those Old Masters, of 51 inches. The elbow room in the front seats, door to door, is an outstanding 60 inches – enough for two beefy occupants.
This latest model shares engines and gears with the Galaxy and Mondeo. All three plus the Kuga are made at the sunny Valencia factory. It is all familiar Ford powertrain territory, with a Vignale de luxe version on the way.
The cheapest S-Max is the Zetec 1.5 at £24,795, its feisty petrol engine producing 158bhp. Diesel models start at £25,495 for the high torque 119bhp 2-litre Zetec. Automatic gears come in at £27,795 on the Zetec with a 148bhp version of the diesel engine.
Ford sent us this engine with manual gears in the upper bracket Titanium trim specification. Private buyers using a leasing scheme often go for higher trim because it is relatively affordable on the monthly payments and gives them a better experience and potentially better value at changeover time. The test car had Ford’s all-wheel-drive system and the showroom price is £29,595 (of which £1,500 is for the 4x4 transmission).
The extra traction was never needed but the added weight (60kg) helps knock the edge off economy and acceleration.
Ford quotes a 0-62mph time of 12.1 seconds and overall 52.3mpg and 139g CO2. If you need/want 4x4 versatility it’s worth the penalties. The test car was very low mileage and so one would hope its economy would improve on the trip computer’s regular 38mpg.
The diesel engine noise was virtually not there. Roar from the 17 inch Bridgestone Potenza tyres was lower than on many similar cars.
In daily use the car was fine. I never filled all seven seats. They are not a place for adults, even with the slide-forward action on the middle seats helping your entry. The seats erect and fold away easily, except that the rigid cross bar for the load cover blind is fiddly to remove/refit on your own. This is a familiar problem with other brands.
Footnote: Fords are not common on Ibiza but my friendly car hire shop did have at least one. A quartet of young Poles were upgraded to a Focus from the baby Citroën C1 they had booked. My ire was dire. They were ecstatic.
Verdict: The S-Max is a large, smart car. It will suit people not ready for the cost or exposure of Audi’s luxury Q7.