THE NEW Ford S-Max is possibly the world’s only full-size MPV that doesn’t look, and drive, like the No 29 bus. Although the styling of the second generation model is very much a case of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, beneath the surface hide big advances in technology.
Top billing is given to one of the most depressing automotive developments yet to emerge. You can order your new S-Max with, among other “smart” innovations, an Intelligent Speed Limiter. The system reads speed-limit signs and prevents the car from going any faster.
It does allow you to set an “auto-limit” 5mph higher (presumably because the police allow 10% plus 2mph over the speed limit), and you can override the system entirely by pressing extra-hard on the accelerator.
Intelligent Speed Limiter reads speed-limit signs and prevents the car from going any faster
Intelligent speed limiters sound quite a useful idea at first: no more speeding fines and a load off the minds of parents who are already feeling harassed by the brood in the back.
But there are worrying ramifications here: it seems we may be on a slippery slope, with drivers having less to do and paying ever less attention to what happens around them.
Another ratchet-click towards autonomous driving comes with the automatic emergency braking system, or Pre-Collision Assist with Pedestrian Protection. However, this is reactive and intervenes only to prevent an accident, so should be welcomed. As should options such as headlights that are able to detect cars in front and dip sections of the full beam around them. This gives you maximum visual range without dazzling other road users, Ford says. We’ve yet to put it to the test.
The front camera that is able to see the road as you pull out of a blind junction is also a handy option, as is the automatic parking system, which can tackle supermarket spaces as well as kerbside parallel parking.
And then there’s Sync 2, Ford’s all-in-one multimedia and control system, which replaces a bevy of switches and can be controlled (not always successfully) by your voice. It’s an acquired taste – many buyers will stick to the manual controls.
So that’s the gadgetry. What about the car? The original S-Max, launched in 2006, filled a slightly sporty MPV niche that was previously unexplored. Arguably, it’s not been ventured into by any other manufacturer since, either.
Though this latest S-Max looks pretty similar to what went before, every panel is new. It’s a little curvier, and the intended air of sophistication is bolstered by new paint colours, including Metalicious – a sort of warm grey/brown/taupe apparently favoured in the worlds of fashion and furniture design.
The ride over bumps is more absorbent than it was but the driver can still enjoy this hefty car’s surprising agility
The underpinnings are all new, too, based on those of the latest Mondeo, and that’s a good thing. The ride over bumps is more absorbent than it was, which will please passengers, but the driver can still enjoy this hefty car’s surprising agility.
This is enhanced by the optional adaptive steering, which speeds up the response when you’re driving slowly and calms it when you’re going quickly. In other words, parking requires less arm-twirling but the S-Max doesn’t become twitchy at speed. It works very well and feels surprisingly natural.
The interior has much the same layout as before. From the comfortable driving position with its fine view forward you can enjoy driving an S-Max more than before in the way it goes, steers and tackles bends.
In the back, sliding and folding centre-row seats are now able to tilt forwards more easily for access to the rearmost pair. As before, this third row is suitable only for children because of limited legroom, but helpfully the rear seats now fold automatically into the boot floor at the press of a button.
A new option – borrowed from the Ford Kuga – is a tailgate that opens automatically when you kick your foot under the back bumper – handy if you’ve got armfuls of shopping. Doing so reveals a boot of 965 litres if the rearmost seats are folded but just 285 litres with the whole extended family aboard.
As for engines, diesels have always dominated S-Max sales and that won’t change. The 2-litre unit can be bought in four outputs, ranging from a gentle 118bhp to a storming 207bhp, this last one boosted by twin turbochargers. The 178bhp example we tried pulled enthusiastically via its six-speed manual gearbox; a double-clutch automatic is also offered.
Two turbocharged EcoBoost petrol engines are also offered, a 1.5-litre with 158bhp and a 2-litre with 237bhp, the latter mated to a six-speed automatic gearbox. This, too, we sampled in top Titanium Sport trim; it moves with great verve and impressive refinement, but with 180g/km CO2 emissions and the related high road tax, it will be on few buyers’ wishlists.
So that’s the new Ford S-Max: same idea, better execution. No Ford has gatecrashed the premium party more effectively – used S-Maxes hold their value with a tenacity unusual in something large and bearing a blue oval badge on its nose – and this new one builds on that attribute.
Think hard before opting for that automatic speed-limiter, though. It’s a slippery slope towards total driver disengagement.
Ford S-Max 2.0 TDCi 180 specifications
- Price: £28,445
- Engine: 1997cc, 4 cylinders, turbodiesel
- Power: 178bhp @ 3500rpm
- Torque: 295 lb ft @ 2000rpm
- Transmission: 6-speed manual
- Acceleration: 0-62mph in 9.7sec
- Top speed: 131mph
- Fuel: 56.5mpg
- CO2: 129g/km
- Road tax band: D (free for first year; then £110 per year)
- Release date: June
Ford S-Max rivals
Volkswagen Sharan, £25,325
- For Brilliant use of space
- Against Lacks driver involvement
Peugeot 5008, £24,950
- For The best to drive of the S-Max’s seven-seat MPV rivals
- Against Slightly smaller and you won’t buy it as a fashion statement