Ford on the button with new driver aids
Driverless cars are a long way off, but Ford's new S-MAX will make driving a lot safer, writes Martin Brennan
The pipe-dream of roads full of driverless cars may be years away, but Ford is pushing the buttons on technology that makes journeys less stressful and a lot safer. Come September, when the new S-MAX arrives here, a wide array of driver aids will be in place to keep us and other road users safe and legal.
The most impressive is Intelligent Speed Assist, a first here, which uses a forward-facing camera to read road signs and then slows the vehicle to the correct speed, using road signs and Sat/Nav information. This is important, as gardai and other police forces said during a 24-hour Pan-European crackdown on speeding on Thursday that 40pc of road deaths are caused by speeding. Speed traps-avoidance technology, "Fuzz Busters", as they were called, were outlawed here, but Ford says its device is designed to prevent accidental speeding rather than stopping drivers from breaking the speed limit. The foolhardy among us can, of course, over-ride the system which uses Ford's Traffic Sign Recognition system in conjunction with its adjustable speed limiter. This technology will eventually be available in other Ford models, but will come at a cost.
Other manufacturers are also making great strides in safety features in cars, and with such developments on the way it is time for the motor industry and motoring organisations to press for a reduction in insurance premiums, or at least control the increases, as claims are bound to be reduced dramatically as more technology is rolled out by manufacturers. In Ford's family car, the Focus, owners can control speed by entering a password if a younger member of the family is driving, and even prevent the car from moving if seat belts are not engaged.
Other safety and accident prevention features available in the S-MAX include second-row seat-side airbags and airbags in the rear of front seats to prevent joint injury; automatic LED headlight which splits and diminishes light so there is no glare for on-coming traffic while giving good vision ahead; pedestrian and cyclist recognition system through the front camera; intelligent all-wheel drive controlled by 25 sensors, which check road conditions every 16 milliseconds and will transfer torque to wheels where needed; new adaptive steering, which uses mechanical gearing and an electric motor to make for more manoeuvrability in towns at low speeds and more stability at high speeds; active parking, which aids perpendicular and parallel parking, with reverse-out radar and camera which covers 180 degrees and also helps when emerging from oblique junctions.
Inside, creature comforts include heated and cooled front seats; push-button, electrically operated third-row seat collapse; a sport, normal and comfort suspension setting with performance linked to the steering as well as changing the driving dynamics; and a fully flat boot area (2,000 litres) when second and third row seats are collapsed.
Ford has used the new Mondeo chassis here, and despite the large body the S-MAX handles well on corners and is whisper- quiet even at high speeds, thanks to more aerodynamic styling which is not radically different from the outgoing model. It now has a more premium look with a slimmer front end. The large glass area gives good visibility, but by moving back the A pillar a lot of the space between the windscreen and fascia seems to be wasted. Also, the touchscreen could be located in a better position, as it attracts glare and is too far away from the driver's line of vision.
Expect prices to start at €33,860 with standard specification of dual-zone air conditioning, Stop-Start, 17" alloys and SYNC. Engines available include a 2-litre diesel with the option of 120bhp, 150bhp and 180bhp power output. There is also a bi-turbo 210bhp and the petrol option is a 1.5litre 160bhp EcoBoost.
Ford has also carried out improvements to the Focus-based 5-seater C-MAX and the 7-seater Grand C-MAX which arrive here in June.
The exterior look has been refreshed and there are improvements to handling with attention to suspensions and steering.
The engine line-up includes an economical one-litre petrol EcoBoost, the new 1.5 litre diesel with a choice of power outputs of 95bhp and 105bhp, and a two-litre diesel unit with 150bhp and 170bhp power output options.
The 1.5 litre unit is more powerful, more fuel-efficient and puts out less C02 than the outgoing 1.6 litre unit.
Prices start at €25,775 and €28,355 with 75pc of buyers expected to opt for the five-seater version.