Test drive: Ford S-MAX Titanium X Sport 2 litre TDCi 6-speed PowerShift auto
The TotallyMotor Verdict
Let's get the obvious out of the way first - this pumped-up Ford S-MAX Titanium X Sport is one mean-looking MPV.
Sure, it definitely looks spacious enough to swallow some serious family-size loads but just check that it doesn't scare the children too much, before you buy one!
We're taking this top-of-the-range 7-seater into its natural habitat for this TotallyMotor test drive - namely the rat-runs, side streets and B-roads of a crowded London suburb.
This Titanium X Sport test car is packed to the gunnels with gadgets and luxury as standard and from the options list - some of which you may be interested in and others you won't.
But it's the diesel-turbo engine married to a 6-speed automatic gearbox that sounds like a useful combination for pricey Britain, especially in the week that fuel prices hit new highs. We're looking for that perfect MPV-mix of practicality, easy yet exciting driving; hopefully with a decent dash of economy, and dare we say it; a little style, too.
Undoubtedly a car with real presence and a quick walk around it with the camera quickly confirmed that this Hypnotic Silver metallic MPV doesn't have a bad angle. And from the front three-quarter view its one distinctive, brutally-pretty, family-friendly piece of transport kit. So if you don't want to your sacrifice statement-making for puritanical practicality, the S-Max certainly takes sharp-MPV-styling to an unforgettable level.
It's the Titanium X Sport trim pack that adds all the extra aggression to this S-Max. Starting with that deeper and sharper front splitter, chunky 18-inch 5-spoke alloys and lowering sports suspension.
Now, the S-Max was no softy to start, with its wide and vented wheel arches, chiselled body detailing and scowling face, but with these hunkering Sport styling extras, impressions will always be striking. And with such liberal ticking of the options list we've ending up with a rather striking price - around £32,000 for this all singing and all dancing S-Max.
Into the interior:
It's a cavern, all right. A very comfortable cavern. You may not use the third row of (smaller) seats; you may just be looking for a 5-seater 'estate' car with that extra headroom. The choice is yours and it's an easy one.
Just a glance around the interior and I immediately found myself conjuring ideas of all the big stuff I could carry with the seating quickly and easily stowed. Not that I have that many wardrobes that need shifting, but if I did, I could.
Second-row passengers get stacks of space behind the driver even with this taller-road-tester making the most of his full-range of seat adjustability, and with the kids stowed all the way back there you might even forget that you've got them onboard.
Couple-in a bit of 'Multi-Media DVD Rear Seat Entertainment', at a fairly princely £1550, and the kids will surely be happy and quiet, and you can really get the mile-crunching cruise going.
Space is aplenty, but so is that all-important comfort and relaxation for the driver. I immediately felt at home in the modern and supportive seats, and with so much space and adjustment to move my own seating around, I soon found myself fantastically at ease behind the leather wrapped, button bedecked steering wheel.
Visibility was unhindered and the deep dashboard and vast glass outstretched in front gave the forward cabin and driving experience a relaxed, quiet and calming demeanour. However, I did knock the odd steering wheel button when resting my hands and in general the centre console commands and functions took a while to fathom, but these are just little things that you'll soon learn to live with.
Most importantly of all, my elbows found comfy armrests, my back got all the right seating support, and the steering wheel was just a quality and ergonomic touch away. And with my seating position perfectly in place, that's when I could let the torquey turbo engine and economical auto 'box really do their thing.
Sit back and relax and let your journey waft away. This automatic S-Max is very easy to drive. The steering is light and direct enough, the interior calming, and the drivetrain simply sublime.
With 160bhp from the 2-litre, turbo-diesel engine there are enough ponies to make speedy progress, but it's that turbo-torque that lets you waft effortlessly, which, I think, is how we like to spend most of our journey times, especially if the nippers are onboard. In fact, if you're gentle with the go and stop controls, the refined S-Max really turns into a cocooning cruise-liner of a car.
Just dabble in and out of the throttle and the short-shifting PowerShift double-clutch automatic gearbox will quickly up-shift to the taller gears where you'll have to listen hard for engine and road noise. Diesel engines can get loud and ragged closer to the revs redline, but leaving this car in auto mode will see it shifting within its wide spread of torque with no need to overwork and over-rev the engine, but you'll still be making good forward progress. And this easy-going driving style should see decent fuel economy of around 37mpg on a mix of urban and motorway use.
For the sake of testing I did try the manual shift option, which worked the gears quickly and accurately, but I can imagine this side of the gear selector gathering a bit of dust, with most drivers of this auto and diesel-turbo combination happily sticking to the mechanical carpet ride in automatic mode.
Ride is a little firmer thanks to that Sport pack sport suspension. It's what I'd go for if I was buying my own S-Max as I like a firmer, less rolling ride. Those 18-inch wheels with low-profile rubber also add a dash of sharpness to the overall ride experience, but the usual 17-inch wheels and standard suspension will soften things up for those that like more compliance.
But even if softer is usually your thing, give the Sport S-Max a test drive too, as it is the sportier ride and big-wheel-grip that really lets you forget you're in a practical MPV and not an extremely generously proportioned hot hatch.
The cornering, composure and grip in this sporting family-ferry-about is definitely more impressive than you'd tend to expect, and I had to remind myself that this S-Max could attack the bends with much more keenness than I was showing. She can hustle all right, but you'll probably be too busy just being relaxed.
Safety and gadgets:
Any S-Max will come with the usual host of standard airbags and electronic safety aids, but it's this car's solidity of feel and on-road composure that I found to be its best 'natural' safety features.
I always felt in control of this quite-big-car, with the direct steering and enhanced chassis grip always at hand regardless of the situation. The brakes felt firm and chunky, while the whole package felt solid and well screwed together around me - something that will surely put parents' minds happily at rest when carrying the most precious cargos.
Ten second sum up:
Solid, striking and well-built, and in this turbo-diesel automatic guise an extremely refined and relaxed drive, with all the space, storage and seating a big family could need. If price isn't a factor the S-Max is definitely a winner, but those families looking at the budget end of the MPV scale might sacrifice all those dynamic S-Max dynamics in search of a bargain. But, make sure you drive it before buying any other MPV.
Prices and availability:
Prices start at £21,845, rising to over £33,000 for a very high-spec car. Available now.
TotallyMotor rating: 93%
By Daniel Anslow
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