Big Daddy’ comes to the rescue of parents

Jun 01, 2007

THE LAST Ford Escort rolled off the assembly line at the end of the 1990s – the staple diet for many salesmen and a reliable mode of transport for the family.

Although respected and perhaps viewed even affectionately by many of us who had owned one, it became perhaps too familiar in its latter years and Ford lowered the axe on the household name.

The Focus has been doing an excellent job since its inception in 1998, living on the top step of the podium as Ford’s mid-segment figurehead. The ride and handling engineers excelled themselves with a clever multi-link rear suspension configuration married to the simple but effective McPherson strut at the front.

My work in the motor industry has given me the opportunity to drive most of the Ford range on test tracks throughout the UK and in Europe and I have to admit I am a big fan of the blue oval badge. The reason? They make cars that are involving to drive.

I am not referring to the quality of the interior, the body styling nor how quiet they are to drive – and I would be the first to agree with you that they do not have the up-market brand image of some German manufacturers. Where I feel they excel is the quality of the ride, the level of grip and the steering response. They communicate with the road with a level of sophistication that casts even some sports cars into the shadows.

Enter the S Max, the ‘Big Daddy’ of the second-generation Focus range and capable of seating seven in comfort. You could even sleep two in the back if you fold all the seats flat. Surely this cannot be as nimble and precise as I have come to expect?

Visually we are off to a good start: geometrically pleasing, headlights dominate the head-on view, sporty vents and a fresh feel to the styling for such a large vehicle complete the picture.

Open the door and the low sill makes climbing aboard easy. The seating and pedal position work well together: I often experience backache and an unnerving feeling I am going to disappear under the dashboard when sitting in such an upright position. However, here the pedals are perfectly placed to alleviate this problem.

The interior works well, with padded soft touch materials in all of the right places. The brushed aluminium effect splashes of bright work, complimenting the chrome door handles and air vent surrounds.

The large centre console finished with a satin effect silver. Facing me, two large round dials giving engine and road speed, a steering wheel loaded with cruise control and stereo adjustments completing the Titanium specification. It’s time to turn the key.

The 2.0-litre Duratorq turbocharged diesel engine sounds a little busy as I leave Evans Halshaw’s showroom in Bedford. Joining the queuing traffic on the Ampthill Road, the brakes surprise me – breathe on the pedal and we are stopping (make a mental note to apply the pedal with a vernier touch and we will be fine!)

On to the A421 and any negative thoughts are evaporating. On to Great Barford through the twists and turns – they have long been forgotten. I feel like stopping the car and applauding.

This is a large people carrier that responds and feels like a vehicle half its size. No lumbering body roll or exaggerated inputs into the steering coaxing the weighty beast around a corner but a nimble responsive flow through one corner to the next.

Look long through the corner and select a radius on the steering and the S Max dutifully obeys without correction. The engine pulls strongly the six speeds offering a selection of ratios to match the beefy torque curve.

The S Max ultimately has to be a victory for all parents. No longer do you have to sacrifice a positive driving experience to move the family around. At last, a people mover that performs dynamically without compromise and that looks great too.

You may just find yourself enjoying the school run a little too much and leaving the sports car in the garage at weekends.

Colin Hoad is director of CAT Driver Training, based at Cranfield.

For more information on the Ford S Max, visit

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