The late Stuart Marshall, who was Motoring Correspondent of the Financial Times for 20 years, had a lovely way of putting himself into the right frame of mind for driving..
Neil Lyndon chauffeurs the latest Ford S-Max ST-Line
“I tell myself that I am chauffeuring a titan of industry to the airport to take a flight,” he said. “We are slightly tight for time, so I need to be as brisk as possible, but it is also essential that the great man should be completely comfortable in the back and not disturbed or distracted for a moment by my driving.”
That dictum was often in my mind during our week with the latest Ford S-Max. This big, ugly lump of a family bus (for which the kindest thing that can be said is that it vaguely resembles the shape of the finned, rear-engined Tatra 603) would be an ideal vehicle for Stuart’s Jeeves-like role. In fact, he could comfortably have transported a platoon of titans in this car; but if he ever pushed it too hard through bends, he’d soon have been collecting his P45 (if he hadn’t already collected God’s own Final Demand).
Our test car was the ST-Line 2.0 EcoBoost SCTi with Auto-Start/Stop. It came with about £5000-worth of extras, including 19-inch alloy wheels instead of the 18s that are standard, panoramic roof, heated steering wheel and the “ST-Line Lux Pack”, which adds powered seats and tailgate and part-leather upholstery. All that kit and caboodle took the total price to £39,490 which caused my wife to shriek “Forty thousand pounds? My God!” Answer: “Yes, my dear. Welcome to the world of harsh reality.”
That upholstery with subtle red stitching is one of the many features to enjoy inside this S-Max. I can’t remember a car I have driven in recent years which made me feel so comfortable and so much at home. The powered seats and adjustable steering wheel, together with immense windscreen, provide a perfect position for forward vision, aided by a left-foot rest so chunky it feels as if a sleeping dog has curled itself up down there specifically to be a cushion for your shoe. However, rearward three-quarter vision – especially over your right shoulder – is not so clever because it is largely obscured by thick B-pillars. Ford’s latest DAB audio and navigation system is standard, as is an 8” touchscreen with the brilliant SYNC3 set-up for voice controls. Rear passengers got their own air-conditioning controls on our test car, along with sunblinds, 220V power output and trays in the backs of the front seats.
The cherished passengers in the back during the S-Max’s week with us were not business moguls but our two teenage daughters. A few times they were joined by classmates or by the older girl’s boyfriend; so we had occasional use of the two seats folded flat in the load space under the tailgate. It speaks volumes for the S-Max that these passengers took absolutely no notice at all of the car in which they were being so luxuriously transported. They took completely for granted the comforts of the S-Max’s interior and its serene progress in motion.
To a certain extent, their complacency and indifference was owed to their driver. Following Stuart Marshall’s teaching, I was tender with my right foot on the pedals and sensitive with the wheel in my hands. Under that treatment, the S-Max was a lovely place to be together. If I had been chucking this car around, I would certainly have been hearing a lot about it from the back.
The few times I shifted the six-speed automatic gearbox into its Sport setting and started using the paddles on the steering-wheel for changes, I very quickly found I’d had more than enough. The 240 PS and 345 Nm of torque available are considerably beyond the compositional fortitude of the S-Max – which is to say that if you push this bus a bit through bends, it rapidly develops a nasty case of the heeby-jeebies. Despite being fitted with sports suspension, the S-Max pitches and yaws under power through a corner like a Thames barge.
It is perfectly possible that this car’s top speed is 140 mph and 0-62 acceleration in 8.4 seconds, but I never went near either of those figures (nor the claimed 35.8 mpg, come to that).
Car reviewed: Ford S-Max ST-Line 2.0 SCTI 240ps Auto - Base Price On the road £33,945 price with options as tested £41,210 0-62mph 8.4 secs Top speed 140mph Fuel Economy combined 35.8mpg CO2 emissions 180g/km Engine 1999cc SCTi 4-cylinder EU6 Max Power 240PS@5400rpm Torque 345Nm@2300rpm Transmission 6-speed automatic with manual mode
Very comfortable interior
Good choice of options
Likeable red stitching
Can be pricey
What the others say on YouTube...
No items found, please search again.