There are some dead certs when it comes to the more stressful things in life. Changing job. Planning a wedding. Moving house. Few could dispute those.
To that list I’d add driving for nine hours with a toddler in the car. That was the challenge facing my wife Seema and I in May when we took our daughter Isla to Montrose, Angus, to see friends and family.
Two things became clear immediately. Firstly, breaking the journey would be essential, so we stopped overnight at my cousin’s in Chorley, Lancs. Job done. Secondly, having the right motor could make or break the trip.
Step forward the S-MAX. With plenty of space for a buggy, travel cot, trike, suitcase and toy box, it ticked all the boxes for our daughter’s diva-like tendency not to travel light. (My polythene bag of clean clothes squeezed in too.)
But, let’s face it, people carriers are all about space. So you’d expect the Ford to deliver here. What really marks it out, though, is just how adept it is on the road.
On motorways, it’s a consummate cruiser, lapping up the miles effortlessly thanks to its torquey and muscular 2.0-litre diesel engine. Averaging 37mpg, fuel economy is acceptable, too.
Head on to the back roads, and the S-MAX isn’t found wanting, either. I’ve praised the adaptive suspension previously, and a quick press of the Sport button on the twisty A935 from Brechin to Montrose showed it could still deliver enjoyable handling fully loaded. It’s no Lotus and never will be, but for this type of car it’s as good as it gets. A host of other neat touches also made a potentially problematic trip pain-free.
The sat-nav, for starters, gets a big thumbs-up. Simple to programme, easy to follow and, most importantly, reliable, it steered us from south-east London to the heart of Lancashire and then rural Angus in an exemplary manner.
The music options impress, too. The S-MAX switched from local radio to Isla’s Sing and Sign CD to the more eclectic sounds of my iPod seamlessly to keep everyone satisfied. Only the time-consuming process of scrolling through the hundreds of playlists on my 160gb iPod Classic was an irritant.
Other complaints? There haven’t been many during its 10-month stint on our fleet. The glossy black interior trim is a dust magnet – not ideal for a family car. As I quickly found out when Isla was born, busy dads don’t have much time for car care!
Rusting wheelnuts in the worst of the winter weather were a disappointment. Some of the clever kit has left me a bit non-plussed, too. Forward Alert, for example, comes as part of the adaptive cruise control and warns you when a car in front brakes too sharply and there’s a risk of rear ending it. But I’ve found it to be fairly random in its operation and of little tangible benefit.
That’s all nit-picking, though. As this latest adventure proved, the S-MAX is a superb all-rounder. We’ll all be sorry to see it go back to Ford, especially my daughter, who has christened it “Isla’s car”. Explaining that it’s gone could be another of those stressful life experiences I could do without…
“The S-MAX is one of the best family cars in the business. In terms of driver appeal, space and performance, our 2.0 TDCi is exceptional. Graham is going to be a hard man to please from now on after experiencing the big Ford.”
Ross Pinnock, Road test editor