Cars: All aboard. The S-MAX takes a different route
Less room but better drive than Galaxy
Just like buses, new people carriers, or multi-purpose-vehicles (MPVs) as they are also called, seem to come along in groups. The Ford S-MAX is among a group of recent arrivals which include the Volkswagen Touran and the Ford Galaxy.
Unlike buses, I'm glad to say, they come in different sizes and, to a degree, shapes.
I've outlined before how, relatively speaking, the Galaxy and S-MAX are quite close on price with the former being a bigger bus altogether.
The S-MAX with its lower roofline and slimmer build is made, as far as I can ascertain, to suit people who don't want the extra bulk and size, especially as they will use it for jobs (such as dropping the children to school) where driving/parking space is at a premium.
It really is a matter of buses for courses but if you pushed me on which is the better as an MPV, I'd have to opt for the Galaxy. It has more space, and importantly, is more accessible.
For some reason I found it more difficult to flip and flop seats, especially the second row, in the S-MAX. Indeed I have to be critical of it in that area because most seating arrangements in such cars these days nearly do what they're told at the click of a finger. I found the middle seat of the second row the least accommodating.
Equally, there isn't anything like the same amount of room and the seats at the back are quite, quite small.
And yet, contradictory individual that I am, I preferred my time in the S-MAX. I'll tell you why. Where the Galaxy is like the famous 46A bus from Dún Laoghaire and is all things to all commuters, the S-MAX is like a single-decker flyer that seems to get around with greater ease.
Yet I have to be careful here because you will need the Galaxy if you have a larger family and don't want to go the SUV/Crossover route (and not everyone does).
It's alright for me to say I preferred the S-MAX because it has a lot more going for it as a car to be driven.
I'm aware that no-one with four or five children to ferry around is going to be bothered, frankly, or thank me for my esoterics.
But if you only occasionally need the two tiny-tot third-row seats and you do a fair bit of driving, the S-MAX, despite its less-than-impressive seat inter-change, has an edge.
I'll tell you how I sometimes work out how I really feel about a car and that may help explain my choice.
I had been travelling abroad a fair bit across four days, late to bed and early to rise to meet schedules and deadlines. I got back to a wet and windy Dublin tired and weary. I picked up the S-MAX and headed for home in heavy traffic, under overcast skies and plenty of work ahead.
Yet on that shortish spin and over subsequent longer ones, I found myself enjoying the drive. The seats suited, the steering wheel adjusted to where I wanted it and there was little or no noise getting in.
Sure, I had loads of room and the cabin to myself for some drives, especially on journeys to the midlands and back (though I had two passengers around Dublin plenty of times). Yet the sharp bit of steering, decently smooth gear shift and punchy 2-litre diesel on a sprightly chassis meant I enjoyed rather than endured.
And there was a good level of equipment, though I wouldn't bother with the sunroof (extra/optional) on my test car. Air con should be more than sufficient to keep the rear-seat occupants cool or warm enough as the case may be.
And I'm still not a fan of their voice control Sync 2 which 'lets' you 'tell' the system to phone someone, switch channels, etc. Sorry to those who forgot I exist for missed calls appearing on their screens.
I think Volkswagen's Touran has some advantage with its five ISOFIX child-seat anchors and the Citroen C4 Grand Picasso has an enormously loyal following.
But the S-MAX scores well on a sufficient variety of categories to be taken seriously - as befits a successor to a European car award winner.
Facts & figures
Ford S-MAX people carrier, 2.0TDCi (180PS), 129g/km (€270 road tax).
Equipment includes cruise control with intelligent speed limiter, front/rear parking sensor, 17ins alloys, front fogs, Sync Gen 2 with 8ins touchscreen, electric handbrake, auto lights/wipers, lane keeping aid, traffic sign recognition.
Options include panoramic roof, 18ins alloys, tri-zone air con, Sony satnav system/12-speaker audio, electric tailgate, automated parking system.
Prices start at €35,860; my Titanium model from €43,235. Options push price to €48,570. Remember, delivery and related charges are extra.
My side of the road
I was doing 90kmh on the N11 on a wet night. I've never hit brakes harder to avoid a crash. The car in front had no brake lights and slowed sharply due to an accident ahead. I had about half a metre to spare. I got a text from a friend two days later. The car in front of theirs had a blow-out and swerved across them. In both cases the saving grace was leaving enough room to react. Critical.