► First test of S-Max Vignale
► We drive 2.0 TDCi in 210hp trim
► Can they posh up an MPV too?
When we drove the Mondeo Vignale a year ago, our conclusion was that it felt ‘more Aldi than Audi’. That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement of Ford’s luxury wing; and with sales figures of around 500 units since, the car-buying public appears to echo the sentiment.
Unperturbed, however, the Blue Oval is marching on and rolling the anti-RS brand out across its whole range of large cars, complemented by VIP treatment at one of the 70 Ford Store dealerships across the country.
The new Ford S-Max Vignale is the latest model, and frankly it makes far more sense to us. This seven-seat MPV might just be the poshest people-carrier that ain’t an SUV, à la Volvo XC90. Read on for our full review.
Can Ford really do premium?
Sort of. The S-Max Vignale is a very refined place to be, and the seats are lovely on first inspection. It doesn’t take long for the premium feeling to begin unravelling, though. Poke around a bit and you’ll find the same hard plastics you’d expect from most Fords, regardless of its £35k price tag. The posh, admittedly soft, Bentley-spec quilted Windsor leather is only trimmed on the seat facings - resolutely not the real deal - and the plastic paddles behind the steering wheel on our auto version feel unashamedly low-rent.
In contrast, there’s a neat new instrument panel that smartens up the driver’s view, and our first go with the new Sync 3 multimedia system actually impressed. It lacks the sort of intricate graphics and user interface of most rivals, but seems to respond well to finger inputs – something that’s meant to be redundant with Ford's latest voice-activation system, but this tester simply couldn't get this to work.
Ok, so how is the Ford S-Max Vignale to drive?
Surprisingly good. The S-Max has long been the driver’s choice of MPV, and it’s refreshing to remind ourselves why. It’s all about that front end – not only is there an eerie amount of chattering feedback through the wheel about what’s going on at the front wheels, but the response when you turn it for the first time is surprisingly sharp, the car darting obediently at the merest suggestion of direction change.
There’s Ford’s trademark blend of ride and handling to fall back on too; no adaptive dampers here, just a well-judged set-up that doesn’t suffer too much even with the bulbous, Vignale-spec 19-inch alloy wheels on our test car.
The driveline stands up well to scrutiny too. Ford’s Powershift gearbox is a decent attempt at a luxury slusher, and suits the nature of the car perfectly despite its reluctance on occasion to shift down when you’re pressing on. The higher-powered diesel motor we’re driving here has an extra turbo for a chunk more torque, and that’s always welcome, but crucially you can’t hear much of a din from the four-cylinder 2.0-litre turbodiesel. That’s thanks to Ford’s noise-cancelling tech and the thicker, laminated windows – both features that do help prop up the Vignale’s premium pretensions.
The Vignale spec is designed to be Ford's best luxury effort, and it’s certainly not a bad attempt. It makes far more sense than the Mondeo version for us simply because it has less competition – it’s easier to shine. If that sounds like it’s damning the S-Max Vignale with faint praise, then fair cop: it’s not a match for a well-specced premium-brand car. Lexus does interiors better; Vauxhall recently stole the march on the multimedia front.
The Ford S-Max does drive particularly well, though. Taken in isolation there’s a lot to like about Vignale in this format. More so than the oddball Mondeo, anyway.