Yes summer is officially here but it’s time to remember the horrors of last winter’s weather.
Gales, floods, ice and for some long months of deep snow so how many of us were just wishing to have 4×4 traction for our family or work cars?
Most of the major volume sales manufacturers are saying that up to 20% of customers are now choosing a 4×4 model from their range of medium and large family saloons, hatchbacks and estates and that is not including the boom in demand for SUV/Crossover model types.
Ford now includes the option of All Wheel Drive (AWD) for their second generation S-Max seven seater MPV range. MPVs have taken a bit of a sales hit in recent years as customers moved towards SUV/Crossover types of vehicles.
They would rather give up the practicalities in seating of the ‘family-bus’ styling for the more fashionable rugged off-roader image, even if some of these vehicles only have 2WD. It is not just a UK thing, sales of SUV/Crossovers in Europe have made it the highest selling sector and around the World it is much the same story.
Combining AWD with the practical but still sporty styling of the S-Max seven seater is a smart move. It will give better traction in winter motoring conditions yet it retains the family-friendly versatility of carrying up to seven people, or with the individual folding seats, more load space and less passengers.
Access is through four side-hinged doors plus a tall and wide tailgate. With all seven seats in use there is a 285-litre boot, fold the third row of two individual seats down into the floor and this goes up to 965-litres. Drop down the middle row of three individual seats and there is a huge 2,020-litres of long load space, ideal for business or family use.
By adding the AWD function the S-Max doesn’t become an off-roader but it will perform well with better on-road grip, improved adhesion lightweight off-roading and ideal for going skiing or towing boats, caravans, jet skis or light horse trailers.
I know from experience that the extra grip from an AWD system makes much lighter and safer work of getting a boat on its trailer down or up a slip-way, which generally can be a slippery experience.
The AWD function adds £1,500 to the price of an S-Max but it also has slightly higher running costs but for some the advantages of the adaptive on-demand AWD system can be priceless. The S-Max range has prices starting from £25,145 and these range up to £33,695. There are currently Zetec, Titanium and Titanium Sport specification levels and a high-end ‘premium’ Vignale version is due.
Engine options, depending on the spec level chosen, are 1.5-litre 160 and 2.0-litre 240hp EcoBoost petrol units and 2.0-litre TDCI turbodiesel units with 120, 150,180 and 210hp outputs. The AWD models have the 2.0-litre 150hp unit turbodiesel engine with a 6-speed manual gearbox and Titanium specification priced at £29,945, or a 2.0-litre 180hp turbodiesel with a 6-speed PowerShift automatic transmission and Titanium Sport spec costing £33,695.
I have just tried the S-Max Titanium Sport 2.0-litre TDCI turbodiesel AWD PowerShift auto variant with a range topping price tag now of £33,695 following a recent increase. So what do you get for your money before we address the AWD pros and cons?
Well the Sport element to the already high level offered by Titanium adds a full body styling sports kit with aero bumpers, side sill skirts and a rear spoiler. Twin chrome trimmed exhaust tailpipes are housed in a black rear diffuser.
The wheels move from 17 to 18-inch alloys, it has a firmer sports suspension and heated front seats. The Titanium spec level on which the Sport version is based includes Ford DAB audio and navigation system, privacy glass, rain sensing wipers and auto headlights, keyless entry, lane keeping aid, traffic sign recognition and cruise control.
These items are in addition to standard fit features such as SYNC3 communications with an 8-inch touchscreen, front and rear parking sensors, push button start, electric windows and door mirrors, mini spare wheel and electric handbrake.
My Titanium Sport spec version had the added cost options of the very useful, given the vehicle’s length of 4,796mm, park assist for parallel and perpendicular parking which costs just £150 but much more expensive was the £750 panoramic sunroof with a blind and the £2,025 Titanium X pack which adds adaptive LED headlights and leather upholstery.
The only niggles were the lack of blind spot monitoring, given the size of the vehicle, the fiddly electronic handbrake and the fact that some of the heating and air-flow distribution functions had to be done via the touchscreen rather than easy and safer to use simple fascia mounted controls.
Although the S-Max is an MPV it is car-like to drive and travel in and the large windows generally give good visibility apart from the rear quarters – hence my comments about the lack of blind spot monitoring.
The handling is also car-like with the Sport suspension being firm but it coped well with absorbing impacts from potholes. The vehicle has Ford’s new active front steering which adjusts the steering ratio to match the vehicle’s speed.
At lower speeds a small turn of the steering wheel translates into a big turn of the front wheels. At higher speeds the wheel must be turned further for the same response so no matter whether driving in town or the sweeping bends of country roads the response and precision was impressive for such a large vehicle.
Cruising on motorways was effortless and the S-Max ate up the miles with ease and my passengers seemed to enjoy the comfort, space, and luxury it provided.
The AWD system is totally non-intrusive as it is ‘adaptive’ which means it moves the driving torque between the front and rear wheels as needed. It is split 50-50 between the front and rear wheels rather than front- biased in normal driving.
One of the many selectable function displays available shows in real-time the power being moved between the front and rear wheels. In particular during acceleration when 50% of the driving torque is transferred to the rear wheels which does away from torque-steer from the strong 2.0-litre turbodiesel engine.
With CO2 emissions of 149g/km VED road tax is £145 each year and company car drivers will pay 29% Benefit-in-Kind tax.
True it will not be a mainstream model but it is a useful addition to the new car market if interior space, high spec, a strong engine an all-weather grip are requirements.
Ford S-Max Titanium Sport 2.0 TDCI Auto AWD £33,695. Engine/transmission: 2.0-litre, 4-cylinder, TDCI turbodiesel, 180hp, 400Nm of torque from 2,000rpm, 6-speed dual clutch auto with Sport mode, adaptive AWD traction.
Performance: 128mph 0-62mph 10.5-seconds
Combined Cycle 48.7mpg (43.2mpg on test), CO2 149g/km, VED road tax £145,
BIK company car tax 29%.
Insurance group: 24E.
Warranty: 3-years 60,000-miles.
Dimensions/capacities: L 4,796mm, W 1,916mm, H 1,655mm, boot/load area space 285 to 2,020-litres, 5-doors/7-seats.
For: Stylish and very spacious, easy to use versatile seating layout, high spec, strong fuel efficient engine, slick auto gearbox, AWD traction.
Against: Higher purchase price and running costs than a 2WD S-Max, fiddly to use electric handbrake, no blind spot monitoring, heater/ventilation air-flow adjustments have to be done through the touchscreen.
© David Miles