I feel a bit sorry for the humble MPV, if I’m honest. At one point, they were the go-to family option, transporting people across the country in great comfort and with the ability to bring all of their bags along too. New and shiny, they found favour throughout the UK.
And then the SUV craze hit, and sadly MPVs just weren’t ‘cool’ any more. People wanted to sit up high, to be big and imposing and to have the ability to go off-road – even though barely any do. It’s a bit like Woody from Toy Story being ousted by Buzz Lightyear as the favourite toy.
But sometimes I struggle to get my head around this. Take our long-term S-Max. It’s a big, spacious seven-seater which, when needed, provides over 2,000 litres of boot space. When you’re done transporting old wardrobes (which I did with the S-Max recently), then there’s seating for seven passengers and a selection of their bags. I’ll admit, with both rearmost rows in place the boot is 285 litres in capacity which ain’t all that big, but it’s enough for several soft weekend bags.
Though those people sitting in the third row are likely to feel a little cramped, there is just about the right amount of legroom. Kids will have no issue sat back there whatsoever. Meanwhile, those sitting in the middle have plenty of space, decent door bins for all manner of odds and ends and even a folding tray table in front of them. It’s like a business class British Airways flight. Sort of.
Then there’s the pilot and co-pilot sat up front. Both front pews are heated and ventilated (though you can’t do this at the same time) and there’s a massage function too. Even the steering wheel is heated, which has been a welcome feature with the recent fall in temperature.
Would you be getting this much spaciousness and comfort in an SUV? Unlikely. I’ll admit that our top-of-the-range Vignale S-Max does get all of the bells and whistles – as well as a price tag north of £40,000 – but to get a similar standard of equipment and practicality would cost far more in the SUV segment.
But it’s behind the wheel where the S-Max makes sense. Okay, an MPV will never match a saloon or an estate car for driver involvement, nor is keeping a keener driver truly happy the outright objective of a car like this, but there’s a good degree more fun to be had helming the S-Max than you’d expect. It corners keenly, manages body roll well and is reasonably accurate too – despite the slightly rubbery steering. Finding these traits in a well-priced SUV without a premium badge? It’d be a tricky task.
I get the craze for SUVs. They make you feel confident behind the wheel and, despite the fact that almost all modern cars are packed with safety equipment, a lot of people feel a certain amount of comfort from having more ‘car’ around them. I like driving Caterhams – which have the crash protection of a damp paper bag – more than anything, so I can’t say I agree with this feeling, but I understand it.
But to dismiss the S-Max because of its more car-like tendencies is a shame. During my time with the big Ford, during trips back and fore to Dorset as well as a myriad of other jaunts in between, it’s left a pretty strong impression. Far more than the one given by most SUVs, I might add.
Yes, the MPV might not be ‘cool’, and it might not have the kerb appeal of an SUV, but it gets the job done – and done well. The S-Max is by far one of the best and I’m glad that we’ve still got several months left with ‘ours’. I can only imagine things are going to get even better from here on out.