You can opt for an auto, but we had a crack with the six-speed manual gearbox. It’s a pleasure to sift through the slick gate, and lets you extract the most from the agreeably smooth engine. Sure, you can hear some distant diesel clatter at slow speeds, but otherwise it hums away in the background, complimenting the hushed road and wind noise, and advancing the claim that the Vignale’s a sophisticated beast.
It's sporty-ish, too, with well-managed body control and decent composure down a lumpy B-road. Our car came equipped with Ford’s new toy – the optional variable steering. It gives the car great high-speed stability, with a supercar-quick rack at slower speed. Its urgency needs time to dial in to, but the more natural self-centring action, compared with that of the standard steering, is an instant hit.
A well set-up chassis can often aid passenger comfort, too. So the S-Max Vignale is a pleasant car to drive, or be driven in, from coast to coast. It has the ability smooth out roads that in lesser cars, appear to be strewn with stalagmites. If you’ve ever hired an S-Max on a skiing holiday, as I did a few months back, you’ll know it’s also a roomy five-seater. You can make that seven if you use the kiddy-sized pull-up seats in the back; or leave them down and make use of the huge boot.
So we know it’s comfortable, refined and spacious, but what about quality? It’s an area Ford isn’t known to excel in, and one that the premium brands tend to have licked. Well, the seats looks good in their agreeably soft hides, and happen to be extremely supportive, pleasurable even, with the massaging feature in play. The stitched leather over the dashboard and piano-black inserts also set the Vignale apart from lesser S-Maxes. Then you look a little farther down the cabin and the bubble bursts.
That’s where the scratchy stuff resides, like the hard plastic glovebox lid. Ford may get away with this on a car costing £25k, but at not at this level, when competing with the premium German brands.
This was our first chance to sample Ford’s new Sync 3 infotainment system, and it’s a real improvement. The menus seemed more intuitive, while the larger icons no longer need fingers like needles to hit with any degree of accuracy. It’s still no iDrive, though.