Long-term tests

Ford S-MAX

We’re dazzled by the array of optional kit included on our new Ford S-MAX. It offers all the comfort and technology of the Lexus it replaces – at half the price

  • EQUIPMENT LEVELS While this Ford looks expensive, its kit tally is in fact a match for cars nearly twice the price. The 18-inch alloy wheels look great, too!<BR><BR>HANDLING With its responsive chassis and smooth ride, the S-MAX should satisfy even the most demanding drivers.<BR><BR>FUEL ECONOMY A full 65-litre tank of diesel gives the MPV a range of well over 500 miles. That’s good news when the black stuff tips the scales at £1 per litre these days!
  • QUICKCLEAR SCREEN Ford’s solution to clearing the frost from the windscreen is flawed. The tiny wires embedded in the glass create reflections and spoil visibility, particularly at night.

Bear with me on this... A new car is like a pair of shoes. OK, so there is a world of difference on price, but the kind of familiarity that ensures your favourite footwear is so welcoming is exactly what makes life behind the wheel bearable.

Think of it this way. New cars are an unknown quantity. Want to retune the radio at 5.30am on a dark A-road? Better make sure you know where the knobs and controls are. Want to dip the headlights to avoid dazzling oncoming traffic? Do you push or pull the control stalk? The same is true if you’re loading the boot or fitting a child seat.

In my view, the best cars don’t need the skills of a clairvoyant to operate. That was certainly true of my last long-termer, a Lexus GS450h – it was packed with space-age technology, yet so simple a five-year-old could drive it. How would our new long-term Ford S-MAX compare? I was particularly interested to find out as the extra kit fitted to our Titanium-spec model has boosted the £21,995 price tag by £8,400!

So where has the cash been spent? A glance at the specification (see right) reveals there isn’t a great deal missing. Gadget for gadget, it’s at least as luxurious as the £50,000 Lexus.

What has helped enormously is the fact all the kit is so simple to use. The adaptive cruise control has radar-controlled support for late-night drives home, while the sat-nav is easy to programme and gives clear, concise instructions.

The touchscreen cuts down on time searching for the right buttons, while the Convers+ colour display between the instruments is crystal clear, with steering wheel-mounted controls that make navigating its varied functions easy. Parking in town is straightforward, too, thanks to great visibility and accurate parking sensors.

So what’s not to like? To be honest, not much. But I can’t help feeling that Ford’s Quickclear windscreen technology, with its thousands of tiny wires, should be consigned to history. It spoils visibility and is rarely that valuable – although I may well change my opinion when winter starts to bite.

I can’t seem to get my phone to link to the Bluetooth hands-free system, either – and I’m not the only one to have struggled with the connection. At least that means no one can call me on the move, which leaves me free to enjoy the car’s impressive chassis. Road test editor Oliver Marriage agrees that it’s well balanced and great fun to drive, thanks to its pinpoint accuracy and supple suspension.

One thing I am looking forward to getting to grips with is the seven-seat cabin. With a young family and plenty of cross-country journeys planned, I’m sure there will be no shortage of opportunity. In the meantime, I’m reassured that my one-year-old daughter seems as happy and comfortable with her Recaro Young Sport child seat in the S-MAX as I am with the whole car.

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