Tuesday, 2 September 2014

How to ruin one of Ford's finest efforts

IMAGINE sitting down, glass of champers in hand, to watch the perfect theatrical performance.

It’s a hit new play which has received rave reviews in all the papers – including, naturally, The Champion. The venue offers a view of the stage unobscured by even the tallest of fellow showgoers, and acoustics Bang and Olufsen would be proud of. From the off, you’re gripped by a script blending all the best elements of Shakespeare, Noël Coward and Willy Russell, delivered by an ensemble cast comprising Dame Helen Mirren, Martin Freeman and Timothy Dalton.

You’re hooked, and as the first act draws to a climatic close Richard E.Grant launches into his finest soliloquy since he quoted Hamlet to a pack of wolves at the end of Withnail and I. Yet mid-sentence, amid this bout of theatrical perfection, a work experience student wanders onto clumsily onto the stage, knocks over one of the props, and looks at the leading man with an expression so exasperated it kills the whole performance stone dead.

“Am I on yet?” he asks pointlessly, but it’s too late. Consider your night ruined!

That’s how I felt after spending the best part of 500 miles with a Ford S-Max last weekend, gorging myself on everything from narrow country lanes to motorway outside lanes. 

While it’s starting to show its age it’s hard to deny that it looks great for a people carrier – a box on wheels with added seats, essentially. Its Mondeo-based underpinnings make it far more fun than any slab-sided diesel family wagon has any right to be, and the car’s star leading light, in the form of the 2.0 litre, TDCi turbodiesel engine, delivers a gutsy and reassuring performance.

It’s still my favourite people mover, but there’s a place in hell reserved for the automatic transmission.
The PowerShift system is like the work experience student ruining Richard E.Grant’s greatest moment – just when the turbodiesel comes on song, the gearbox wanders in, spending an eternity asking whether you’d like it to change up and then delivering a huge jerk of torque long after the overtaking opportunity’s gone. It’s particularly bad when pulling out of junctions, delivering a pause Jeremy Clarkson would be proud of at precisely the point.... ....when you don’t want it.

It’s not that I’m anti-auto, as I’m now on my second car equipped with a ‘slush box’, but this particular system was definitely the weakest link on a great package, hindering the whole of the car with its dim-witted demeanour. Happily, there is a manual mode on the PowerShift system which works very effectively, but that defeats the point of having an expensive, self-shifting transmission at your disposal. 

If you’re the sort of frustrated mum or dad who needs a family wagon capable of conveying seven but secretly wants a car that’s fun to drive, then by all means go out and look at an S-Max. Just make sure it’s a manual.

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