The new S-Max, like the old one, is a car you can enjoy driving with a bit of spirit. Its moderately high grip levels, meaty steering and fairly taut body control defy the MPV mould and give the car more handling composure and deeper dynamic reserves than you might expect of it.
It’s still quite tall and quite heavy and has a long wheelbase, so you wouldn’t mistake it for a sports saloon. It turns in to corners neatly, but with a certain amount of body roll and a sincere but not avid keenness to change direction.
But for Ford to have aimed for anything more could have compromised the car’s ride compliance, stability and drivability, and its chassis engineers are much too wise for that.
For owners of other more gently tuned seven-seat rivals, the S-Max’s hold on the road and mastery of its own mass should certainly impress, which is most of what it needs to do.
Whether it’s a significantly better-handling car than its predecessor is more questionable and will depend a bit on personal taste. Ford’s latest electro-mechanical power steering systems haven’t done the Focus any favours, and although better on the larger Mondeo, they certainly don’t give the S-Max the same slick and oily-smooth, feelsome helm it used to have.
You can guide the car as precisely as ever, but there’s just enough elasticity and stiction in the rack to prevent you from striking up the ideal relationship with the front contact patches.
If you were expecting true handling balance here, though, forget it: you’ll have to settle for unflappable security. Truth be told, it’s a common compromise for high-sided cars, and although the previous S-Max was a touch more neutral, there isn’t another MPV on the market now that’ll offer much other than non-negotiable understeer when push comes to shove.
The steering’s lack of fluency only gets more noticeable as you add more cornering load into the front suspension, but its assistance levels remain consistent. Also notable by its absence is the old S-Max’s fluent, progressive primary ride. The car’s increase in torsional body stiffness has probably been used as an excuse to ramp up chassis rates – and if so, we wonder if the change was necessary.
Where the old S-Max would glide over crests and through dips thanks to soft enough springing and sufficient wheel travel to allow its dampers to work, this new one is a little more restless, and less supple and deft in its interactions with a choppy surface.