It was 17 years ago when Ford of Europe hit rock bottom with the universally derided 1990 Escort. Three years later it pulled off the first Mondeo, which won it back a lot of praise, and in 1998 found success again with the Focus.

It might be argued that Ford was then a little becalmed with the second Mondeo, the long-delayed C-Max and the rather tepid current Fiesta. It's now burst back out of the traps, and back onto top form, with the ground-breaking S-Max MPV.

In the first seven months of this year, the S-Max came very close to outselling the Renault Espace by 2-to-1 in Europe. What's more, Ford dealers ­ including those how have spoken to Autocar directly, say that the S-Max is enticing Audi, BMW and Merc owners.

Renault, hitherto king of the MPV,­ is not too pleased. The new Espace isn't due for two years, and there has to be some doubt as to whether it can match the manners, styling and packaging of the Ford.