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First Drive: 2010 Ford S-Max. Image by Mark Nichol.

First Drive: 2010 Ford S-Max
The updated Ford S-Max is so much more than a new chrome strip on the back - there's a new engine and twin-clutch gearbox.


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| First Drive | Jerez de la Frontera | 2010 Ford S-Max |

Like Phil Collins, Ford has this habit of being sensational at everything it turns its hand to. In the S-Max, against all odds Ford has made a people carrier that can dance. And to add to the appeal, it's now fitted a new 200bhp EcoBoost engine that offers the refinement and power delivery of a petrol unit, but with flexibility and fuel economy close to a diesel's. It's taken a while - you can't hurry this stuff, you just have to wait - and it didn't come easy, but now that the 'One Ford' global strategy has past its genesis and is in full swing, worldwide engines like this are beginning to filter through.

There's a Powershift automatic transmission too - already seen in the Focus - that has two clutches for instant, seamless changes. Two hearts, if you will, living in just one... never mind.

In the Metal

Sporty is how Ford wants us to think of the S-Max. Is that possible? It's an MPV, remember. Some of the details are sport-ish, though, like the vents on the front wheel arches, the integrated rear spoiler, and the general angularity of the new mouth.

This facelift is not the most comprehensive you'll see - not quite a Ford Scorpio job. Most will have to put old and new side-by-side to properly appreciate the work. The LEDs at the front are new, the trapezoidal grille is too, there's chrome around the side glass, the rear lights are now LEDs and the wheels are a fresh design. Inside there's some new trim to choose from, and the easy to use 'fold flat' seating system is standard across the range - it wasn't before. But most of the interior additions, like the mega premium stereo and the panoramic roof, are either options or only standard on top-end cars.

The cabin remains as squishy and quality of feel as ever. It's a lovely environment: classy, lovely to touch and designed with flair. As you'd expect, there's plenty of room too, although as is usually the case with these seven-seat vans, the foldaway pair of chairs in the back are rubbish for real people and when erected make the boot rubbish for most stuff.

What you get for your Money

Ford hasn't told us what it will cost to buy but, as is the Ford way nowadays, expect moderate price increases across the board on a car that's already expensive.

Three trim levels will be offered: Zetec, Titanium X and Titanium X Sport. Each gets dual-zone climate control, parking sensors all round, sports seats, 16-inch alloy wheels and seven airbags. Titanium X adds an inch to the rims, front LEDs, cruise control and a few smatterings of chrome. Top-level cars get 18-inchers, sport suspension, a sporty body kit, Alcantara and leather seats, piano black for the centre console, a panoramic roof and bi-xenon headlamps. In this guise, it really does feel like a premium product.

Driving it

There's a much more 'regular car' feel to the S-Max than there should be; it's setup better in all respects than you could expect of an MPV. No sacrifice, you might say. On the one hand, the ride is supple and comforting (even on sport suspension with big wheels), with the body allowed a little bit of give so that it eats up ground with limo-like composure. On the other, it handles with a tenacity, a level of grip and levelness that's saloon-like. We'd go as far as to say it's fun to drive. The steering is meaty, the soft-rimmed wheel lovely to hold, and because the body doesn't sway like its proportions dictate it should, there's a surprising agility and flight about its movement.

And the combo of the 200bhp Ecoboost engine with the new Powershift gearbox handling the cogs is a deft one. The 'box offers quick changes that are appropriately timed dependent on how you're driving, chasing a high gear for economy's sake most of the time, but clinging onto its gears right to the rev limiter with the fast pedal mashed. Changes are rapid and seamless.

The EcoBoost unit is impressive too, with a chunky spread of torque right across the rev range so it is flexible and lag-free - although it never feels urgent because of the bulk of the car. Still, it's quiet most of the time, and when it does start screaming it's a nice thrum. In lieu of prices, though, we'd suggest that this will be a pricey double act, and one which doesn't quite offer enough by way of additional performance or acceptable day-to-day economy to justify good money over a diesel. Figures of 34.8mpg and 221lb.ft are impressive for a petrol unit, but 49.5mpg and 251lb.ft of pull are better again. That's the new 161bhp TDCi's stats, by that way, which we've driven in the new Galaxy. How many people rev these cars or drive them keenly anyway?

Worth Noting

Despite the pretty non-dramatic nature of the changes, Ford has used 1,500 new parts on this car. The firm is trying to more clearly differentiate the S-Max and the Galaxy, making this one the sportier of the two, and the other the more 'premium' product. It's still difficult to tell them apart unless you've really paid attention to your people carriers, and aside from the bigger, blocker rear of the Galaxy, there's little architectural difference between the two. If you really want to plush up your Galaxy, however, there is new softer leather, called Windsor, which you can't have in the S-Max. So there.


Ford's new S-Max is hugely impressive, and in fact, no people carrier better marries spaciousness and comfort with this sort of dynamic ability. The cabin ambience is top notch too, giving away much about the character of the car by being both plush and sharply drawn. If you're a family person and an MPV floats your overused boat, there's little to complain about here. But it'll be expensive - that's almost certain. Plus, wouldn't you rather have a 4x4, Buster?

Mark Nichol - 3 Feb 2010    - Ford road tests
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2010 Ford S-Max. Image by Juan Cajones.2010 Ford S-Max. Image by Juan Cajones.2010 Ford S-Max. Image by Ford.2010 Ford S-Max. Image by Ford.2010 Ford S-Max. Image by Ford.

2010 Ford S-Max. Image by Ford.2010 Ford S-Max. Image by Ford.2010 Ford S-Max. Image by Ford.2010 Ford S-Max. Image by Ford.2010 Ford S-Max. Image by Ford.

2010 Ford S-Max. Image by Mark Nichol.

2010 Ford S-Max. Image by Juan Cajones.

2010 Ford S-Max. Image by Mark Nichol.

2010 Ford S-Max. Image by Mark Nichol.

2010 Ford S-Max. Image by Mark Nichol.

2010 Ford S-Max. Image by Mark Nichol.

2010 Ford S-Max. Image by Mark Nichol.


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