One of the reasons for liking the Mazda 5 is that it’s actually a minivan, rather than a maxivan, which is what the likes of the Dodge Grand Caravan and Honda Odyssey have morphed into. The Mazda seats six and accepts plenty of luggage, but it doesn’t take up tons of space on the road and is actually pretty good to drive.
Over in Europe, smaller minivans in the same vein are all the rage. And the best of them—according to critics over there—is the Ford S-Max, which shares its underpinnings with the Mondeo mid-size sedan. Ford CEO Alan Mulally agrees with the critics and was reportedly so impressed by the S-Max that he’s keen to bring the next-gen version to the U.S. (The smaller, Focus-based C-Max is headed here for 2012.)
So, what are we missing out on? Well, the S-Max is a supremely comfortable, versatile vehicle that provides most of the utility of a full-size modern minivan with driving dynamics that are closer to a mid-size sedan’s. Plus, it has a smaller footprint, with an overall length of 187.9 inches compared with a Grand Caravan’s 202.5.
Loads of Options, Versatility for Loads
The high-spec Titanium edition we drove in England had all the requisite bells and whistles, including a rear-seat DVD entertainment system, seven-passenger seating, and a fancy navigation/infotainment system. Our car was powered by a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine that makes 161 hp (114- and 138-hp versions are also available) and was mated to an optional six-speed dual-clutch automated manual transmission. Performance is . . . “urban,” with 0 to 60 mph taking 9.8 seconds, according to Ford, and top speed coming in at 126 mph. However, our observed gas mileage, at 33 mpg, was pretty startling for a 3750-pound vehicle transporting a family of four and its myriad belongings.
You’d expect a vehicle of this type to have a great deal of interior versatility, and so it goes with the S-Max. The rear seats fold flat to the floor and those in the middle row slide forward and fold. The vehicle takes seven passengers pretty easily, although there’s not a lot of luggage space behind the third row in this configuration. As a five-seater, cargo space is voluminous. The exterior styling is, well, vanlike—but Euro-modern—and the interior has high-quality materials throughout; there’s no skimping in this segment in Europe.
But the best aspect of the vehicle is the way it goes down the road. The steering is faithful, there is minimal body roll, and it deftly copes with curving two-lane roads. The ride quality is excellent, too, compliant yet well controlled. The diesel engine gives superb mid-range power, but upshifts occasionally occurred earlier than we wanted, which can be alarming in the middle of an ambitious overtaking maneuver.
We’ll Take It
Overall, we can see why the head honcho at Ford is so impressed with his company’s Euro offerings, including this one. But there is one rub: an S-Max equipped like our tester is frighteningly expensive at the equivalent of $53,350, or about $46,000 when shorn of the U.K.’s Value-Added Tax. Even a base gasoline four-cylinder 2.0-liter Zetec model comes in at about $29,000, so if Ford wants to bring the vehicle here, it will have to find a way of taking cost out of the architecture.