You could never accuse Ford of jumping on every passing bandwagon. MPVs were as established as McDonald’s in Manhattan by the time it launched the Galaxy in the mid-’90s, and even then it was a conservative kind of people carrier, destined to become a best-selling stalwart of the DNA pool it shared with the VW Sharan and Seat Alhambra.
Trouble was, it remained part of the MPV furniture ever since: practical, comfortable, dull and largely unchanged. So when the tie-up with Volkswagen and Seat ended in 2006, Ford sniffed an opportunity to grab the initiative and try something different in a typically dull segment.
So it was that Ford claimed to have produced the first truly sporty, stylish, desirable, driver-orientated, full-size, seven-seat MPV in the S-Max. The S-Max is a close relative of the more sober Galaxy – and also shares its underpinnings with the current Mondeo.
The S-Max instantly became our favourite MPV when it was launched, and it remained the best car in the segment up until its mid-life nip and tuck. One suspects Ford knew how good it was, too, because when the time came for its obligatory facelift, by the standards of age-defying tucks, the ones to which the S-Max have been treated are mild.
The real changes in the latest S-Max lie under the skin, with a whole host of new engines, plus claimed improvements to the ride and handling. In a segment where, so often, extra space means a compromise on performance and driving enjoyment, Ford seems to have struck an ideal balance in making sure the S-Max fills two roles, one as a family load-lugger and the other as an engaging daily driver.
Question is, does the S-Max still deserve its place at the top of our MPV list?