You can’t buy Ford’s S-Max people mover, nor are we likely to see one of these highly versatile crossovers cross our shores for at least three years. That’s a pity because this Belgian-built five-door wagon is one of the hottest shots in Ford’s global arsenal.
The S-Max, built on Ford’s EUCD (Mondeo) front-drive platform was introduced four years ago and recently freshened. That suggests a full remake is due in about three years and, assuming Alan Mullaly is serious about his One Ford mission, a US-spec S-Max should be in the offing.
Three years ago, this vehicle won European Car of the Year honors. We recently bombed one all over England and were highly impressed by the S-Max’s brilliant combination of utility and versatility with a jovial driving personality. In fact, this is one of the best executions of the crossover concept we’ve ever experienced.
In Europe, S-Max is the meat of a people-mover sandwich. The Focus-based C-Max at the bottom layer is a product we will soon receive. The top slice, called Galaxy, is essentially an S-Max with a too-tall roof. Galaxy and S-Max both cast a shadow similar in size to the (outgoing) Ford Explorer.
ENERGY IN MOTION
S-Max was the first of many Ford vehicles to embody the Kinetic Design initiative created by Ford of Europe’s design director Martin Smith. In essence, this is using sharp edges and trapezoidal shapes to impart energy and motion into boxy proportions. In the case of the S-Max, the hungry fish front-end flows dramatically into creatively sculpted side and roof surfaces. A sleek windshield and eye-catching front corner windows give the upper body a pleasing shape. But don’t think this is styling run amok. To the contrary, the S-Max’s outward visibility is excellent and there is ample useful space inside this sleek box.
COME HITHER CABIN
The top Titanium X Sport trim helps make this a very inviting place to sit down for a driving spell but the low beltline, wide doors, easy entry floor height, and well engineered seat release systems also do their share. The front buckets are Porsche-worthy in terms of trim, support, grip, and sporting flavor. The second row is divided into three seating positions, all with tilt-adjustable backrests, while the third row adds another pair of adult-sized accommodations. Both back rows fold flat to provide six distinct combinations. There’s also an underfloor cargo hold at the rear of the interior and various shades to hide what you’re carrying from unscrupulous eyes. In addition, the door trim offers large beverage container stowage and there’s a handy bin built into the top-center surface of the dash.
Designers went all out with an entertaining U-shaped parking brake handle, contrasting French-stitched trim, Alcantara seating inserts, and metal-plated pedals. Door trim spears are finished with a convincing titanium-like appearance. There’s a useful left foot dead pedal and a 4-spoke steering wheel designed for serious drivers. Upper spokes are loaded with toggle switches that operate the audio system (left) and instrument cluster menus (right).
POWERTRAIN OF THE FUTURE
Two different 2.0-liter gasoline engines and two turbo diesels displacing 2.0- and 2.2-liters are available in S-Max along with two manual (5- and 6-speeds) transmissions and one 6-speed automatic. Luckily, we scored the most interesting combination — a 2.0-liter EcoBoost engine rated at 200 horsepower mated to the 6-speed “Powershift” dual-clutch automatic.
In terms of power and smoothness, the EcoBoost four is as good or better than the V-6s we’ve experienced of late. There was no detectable shake under power or shimmy at idle. The intake and exhaust notes were pleasantly unobtrusive. We didn’t measure mileage but the 18.5-gallon fuel tank provided a surprisingly large operating range.
A manual mode, engaged by moving the shift lever to the right into an S (sport) gate, was capable of holding gears to and at the 6500 rpm redline. Automatic shifts were polished and there was no apparent hesitation starting from rest without help from a torque converter. In European mileage tests, this powertrain scored an impressive 29 mpg in combined driving.
WAY MORE AGILE THAN IT LOOKS
Sadly, there are precious few crossovers that provide even a hint of driving entertainment. Steering is most often calibrated for ease of parking and any hint of feedback is intentionally purged. Body motions are, by decree, mushy to smooth out bump and grind incursions.
The Ford S-Max does not subscribe to the above calibration theories. It instead has well damped ride motions and a firmly restrained body dynamics. Without pummeling occupants with a too-stiff ride, it handles quick driving and twisty roads with poise. The steering wheel isn’t merely a place for the driver to hang on, it’s where regular news reports from the pavement are delivered to keep the pilot well informed.
We found ourselves so lulled by the S-Max’s well rounded competence and superb driving comportment than we had to wake up now and then and pinch flesh to realize that this is a largish family wagon, not a German-born sport sedan. The one we drove costs the world — nearly $50,000 with top trim and a full load of options — but we’d rate it well worth the price. In present form, it would be an excellent alternative to Lincoln’s ungainly MKT. The next-generation S-Max can’t get here soon enough for us.
Ford S-MAX Titanium X-Sport
Base Price: $31,015
As-Tested: $48,000 (estimated)
Engine: Turbocharged and intercooled 2.0-liter DOHC 16-valve four-in-line
Horsepower: 200 (RPM N/A)
Torque: 221 lb-ft (RPM N/A)
Transmission: 6-speed dual-clutch automatic
Drive: Front wheel
Length x Width x Height: 187.7 x 74.2 x 65.3 in
Cargo (seats up/down): 10.1/37.1/70.6 cu ft
European fuel economy: 21/37/29 mpg (city/highway/combined)