Ford S-Max – European Crossover OK for USA?4
I’ve been driving the Ford S-Max Crossover for about a week now through England and Wales. The S-Max is a derivative of Ford’s European Minivan – the Galaxy – and its European Mid-Size Car – the Mondeo. Very impressive vehicle in many ways. It was selected as the European 2007 Car of the Year as judged by 58 journalists across 22 European countries. Apparently, Alan Mulally, Ford’s new CEO is trying to bring the S-Max to the USA in 2009 or so. Will the S-Max work in America?
Is S-Max a Crossover SUV, Minivan, Station Wagon or Something Un-Identifiable?
First, what is it? We at VehicleVoice and AutoPacific have found that if a buyer cannot categorize a vehicle, i.e. figure out if it is a Minivan or SUV or Wagon, they will shy away from it. This is what happened to the Chrysler Pacifica and the Mercedes R-Type. Ford positions the S-Max as a Crossover SUV – a segment that is booming in the USA. At a glance, S-Max has little “SUV” ambiance. It is a very useful MPV – meaning multi-purpose vehicle – but where is the SUV DNA? S-Max has a very fast windshield with “canard” windows between the windshield and the A-Pillar. This gives a very sporty silhouette, but may yield a shape that is too Minivan-like.
The S-Max is a seven-passenger vehicle with a small third-row seat. The third row easily folds flat for loading luggage. If S-Max were introduced in the USA, how would S-Max fit among the other Ford Crossover SUVs – the 5-passenger Ford Escape, 5-passenger Ford Edge, and the 7-Passenger Ford Taurus X (Freestyle)? It is not as SUV-like as Escape and Edge – maybe similar to the SUV DNA of Freestyle/Taurus X.
S-Max, in some ways, comes across as similar to the Mazda CX-7 or a slightly smaller version of the Mazda CX-9. It does not come across as similar to the larger General Motors Lambda Crossover SUVs like the Saturn Outlook, GMC Acadia or Buick Enclave.
Equipment Level Impressive
The S-Max is totally contemporary with the exception of not having an automatic transmission available for the first year (unheard of for a vehicle sold in the USA). Today’s driving experience on Britain’s roads revolves around the navigation system and convenience features and not the powertrain and chassis. With all the speed cameras around, driving in a “spirited” way is expensive.
The S-Max Titanium Edition has a very good NAV system… large and bright screen with a turn-by-turn information screen in the center of the instrument cluster. The redundancy is especially appreciated because the turn-by-turn display shows which exit from Britain’s infamous roundabouts to take. The thing you miss after becoming addicted in the USA is satellite radio. Sure BBC is OK and there are other stations, but give me XM or SIRIUS any day.
S-Max has rain sensing windshield wipers, front and rear parking sensors, selectable (comfort, normal and sport) shock settings, automatic up and down driver’s window, automatic headlamps. The center console includes a horseshoe shaped parking brake lever – very cool. The cupholders aft of the brake lever are practically useless with drinks getting knocked about every time a gear is shifted. This would have to be reworked before the S-Max comes to the USA.
Diesel-Powered S-Max Makes a Desirable Proposition
This S-Max Titanium was powered by a 2.0L 4-cylinder common rail diesel. You wouldn’t think that such a large vehicle (based on the Mondeo) would perform very well with such a small 4-cylinder, but the diesel has great torque that offsets the lack of displacement and horsepower. Inside the S-Max you don’t even know the vehicle is powered by a diesel. It is very smooth and quiet. When you open the door, there is some diesel clatter. After filling up the S-Max the trip meter registered 629 miles to empty. While spirited driving brought the miles-to-empty down quickly, the fuel consumption is very thrifty without giving up performance.
Understandably, driving in England and Wales is much different from driving in the USA. Frequent roundabouts (for traffic “calming”) keeps the speeds down and plays to the virtues of the diesel. Still, this powertrain with a 6-speed automatic transmission would be very acceptable in the USA. Oh yeah, diesel fuel is almost £1 per liter – that makes it about $8 per gallon. Eeeeeek!
Can Ford Bring S-Max into the USA at a Reasonable Price?
This particular S-Max has an MSRP of a bit over £27,000. That translates to $54,000 at present exchange rates and this represents one of the major problems facing Ford in bringing the S-Max to the states. The British are privileged to pay almost double for a product than they would pay in the USA. At $27,000 to $32,000 (fully equipped) the S-Max represents a good value even if it would sit on top of the Ford Edge in its price position.