The Ford S-MAX Concept has been revealed with this barely disguised glimpse at the seven-seater MPV, due to arrive in early 2015.
The head-on view shows a bold chrome grille and a set of headlights that runs back almost as far as the A-pillars. Lower air intakes either side of the bumper also appear to run around on to the edges of the S-MAX, helping draw attention downwards and outwards. The result is a car that looks immediately more sporty and aggressive than the outgoing model. There’s also a strong resemblance to the latest Fiesta and the Fiesta-based B-MAX compact MPV.
The bold crease along the sides of the car and narrow glass area help make the S-MAX look lower and longer. Ford has also retained a few design cues from the original, such as the raked windscreen, the windowline and wraparound tail-lights.
Martin Smith, Ford of Europe’s design boss, said: “Our mission was to exceed buyers’ expectations in every area while respecting the core of what they love about the S-MAX.”
It was the original Galaxy, the Ford S-MAX’s forebear, that invited us to “travel first class” in its advertising campaign back in the nineties. Anyone who’s ridden in the back of a well used Galaxy mini-cab recently might argue it’s more Easyjet than Emirates, but it identified a trend decades early.
Yet while the current S-MAX is still neatly positioned as one of the sportiest, most premium seven-seat MPVs on the market, the new car won’t be able to rely on that USP, because the prestige brands are coming.
BMW’s Concept Active Tourer previews the brand’s first foray into the MPV market, while Audi is also deep into development with its first MQB-based MPV, expected to be called the A3 Spaceback. The only crumb of good news is that Mercedes’ front-wheel-drive platform, on which the B-Class is based, isn’t thought to be flexible enough to stretch to anything much larger.
By the look of the S-MAX concept, the Ford will be a high-quality car itself, but there’s no denying the effect of badge appeal – even at this pragmatic end of the market.
The new S-MAX’s interior can be set up with four to seven seats, and Ford has concentrated on making it as versatile and easy to use as possible. The middle seat in the second row, for example, folds flat to the floor so you can have six people on board with easy access to the rear seats. The third row of seats is lighter and thinner, and can be raised or lowered in one smooth action.
In the previous Ford S-MAX, the back row seats were cramped and, while we’re expecting a bit more space in the new model, it won’t be a full seven-seater like the Galaxy.
The interior focuses on a more upmarket feel, revealing the direction Ford wants to take the S-MAX. The instrument binnacle and dash are wrapped in leather, the centre console uses gloss black plastics and metal inserts, while the seats are trimmed in leather, with carbon fibre details.
Martin Smith explained: “Each and every element of the interior stands up to close inspection with intricate and thoroughly considered design.”
As with the latest Range Rover, Ford has also managed to reduce the number of buttons and switches. A few remain for infotainment and climate control, but the majority of functions will be controlled through the centrally mounted touchscreen. The gearstick has even been replaced by a Jaguar-style rotary selector, plus there’s an electric handbrake to free up as much space between driver and passenger as possible.
S-MAX scores on tech, with iPad docks in headrests. But quality also takes a step forward, with premium stitching and a classy finish. The S-MAX Concept gets Ford’s latest SYNC technology, including a Wi-Fi hotspot, so passengers can surf the Internet. The rear seats have docking stations for tablet computers, enabling occupants to charge and integrate their own devices with the car.
AppLink is also included, so drivers can use voice control for certain apps such as the music streaming service Spotify. The touchscreen in the centre console is a dual-view display, too, so the driver can use the sat-nav while the passenger watches a movie.
All that technology sounds likely for the production version of the new Ford S-MAX, but there are a few more far-fetched features included on the concept. It has an ECG set-up in the seats, which monitors the driver’s heartbeat. Ford says this can keep an eye out for unusual cardiac activity and – through the SYNC system – alert emergency services or take control of the car if it considers the driver is in danger.
There are also plenty of other safety systems on offer, including one that detects pedestrians in the road and applies the brakes if necessary. Active Park Assist, which parks for you, has now been added to the S-MAX and includes a system that can alert you to crossing traffic as you pull out of a space.
Car-to-Car technology features on the concept, too, allowing it to communicate with other cars and deliver warnings if a vehicle is parked round a blind bend.
We’re expecting a range of turbocharged EcoBoost petrol and TDCi diesel engines and even a hybrid for the 2015 S-MAX, but the concept is powered by an all-new 1.5-litre four-cylinder EcoBoost.
No other details are given – only than it will be built in Bridgend, South Wales – but it looks set to replace the 1.6-litre EcoBoost and should offer similar performance. This means it’ll probably be offered with 148bhp or 178bhp. The slight change in displacement comes because Chinese cars get tax breaks if their engines are 1.5 litres or under.
The new S-MAX will share a platform with the next-generation Mondeo, due here in September 2014, and the two cars will be built at Ford’s plant in Valencia. Expect the S-MAX shortly after the Mondeo, in early 2015, with a starting price of around £23,000.
As well as the next-generation S-MAX, Ford is busy readying the future Galaxy. You may be wondering why the brand needs two seven-seat MPVs, but it sees them as very different cars. The current S-MAX has a roof three inches lower than the Galaxy’s and it’s set up to be sportier. The Galaxy, on the other hand, prioritises comfort and space. It also has a higher roofline and is slightly longer, so there’s more room for rear passengers.
Even so, the new Galaxy will get a similar design, with the same bold grille and swept-back headlights. The luxurious, stylish interior won’t be limited to the S-MAX, either, as we’re told it’ll be rolled out across the future Ford line-up.