What is it?
Ford is being squeezed, and it’s all down to our buying habits. A couple of decades ago we’d likely have rocked up to the Harvester in a Mondeo to enjoy a steak dinner with the clan; these days we’re more likely to be pulling up to Jamie Oliver’s Diner in an Audi, BMW or Mercedes.
So our tastes have moved upmarket, and the Vignale range – which now includes this S-Max and the Edge alongside the Mondeo - is Ford’s answer. The theory makes sense: take a fine car such as the S-Max, trim it out in high-grade leather, add high-end features such as massaging seats, and serve with a personal concierge service.
What's it like?
We’ve been driving the front-wheel-drive 178bhp diesel, although other varieties are available: you can have four-wheel drive, a more powerful 207bhp twin-turbo diesel, or a 237bhp petrol.
The 178bhp is a fine reference point. It’s not the fastest thing on four wheels, but that term ‘adequate’ seems to spring readily to mind. It’ll hit 70mph with no fuss, but little enthusiasm either.
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.