If you’d asked me a month ago to name five brands I would consider in the search for a new car, it would go something like this: Audi, Mini, Jeep, Mercedes and Jaguar. So far, so predictable.
There are a number of iconic brands that roll off the tips of our tongues; names synonymous with touch points in our childhoods, teenage year and adulthood. One of those brands for me was Ford. Having been driven around in one as a child (my dad’s Sierra), learned to drive in one (my instructor’s Fiesta) and been picked up for nights out in one (a friend’s Focus), my impression of the brand was one of quiet predictability and disinterest.
Turns out I wasn’t the only one. Cue the new Ford ‘Unlearn’ UK ad campaign encouraging people to let go of preconceptions about the brand as well as life itself. The thought-provoking ad uses different scenarios in which people must “unlearn” what they already know, such as a 104-year-old marathon runner who defies stereotypes about OAPs, and a celebrity who is asked for a selfie on the red carpet instead of an autograph. It ends with a mother holding her newborn baby, wearing a hospital band that says: “unlearn everything”. Clever, but for me it normally takes more than an expensive ad campaign to change my perception of a brand.
I prefer practical to perception so a recent driving trip with Ford through France and Italy to test drive the new range-topping S-Max Titanium Sport, went a long way to changing my views on this 113 year old brand.
After an afternoon drive to Calais and night in the 18th century surrounds of the Chateau de Cocove hotel in Recques-sur-hem, I took off on a scenic 500km to test out what this car had to offer. Launched in 2006 and over 82k sales later, this latest version of the popular Ford S-MAX has the seven-seat practicality, sharp handling and sleek design that makes it an obvious hit for a family who love to travel. Despite it not being the lifestyle option for a single guy like myself, this car was a joy to drive.
The S-Max feels like a well-polished executive car with well weighted steering and supple suspension to make it both fun to drive and comfortable on long trips. It belies its size and weight, and with loads of grip in the four-wheel drive model I was driving, it gives a remarkable amount of confidence and security.
My clean eight-inch touchscreen was my trusted companion throughout the trip, with sat-nav, Bluetooth, privacy glass, auto lights and wipers and cruise control, on top of the basic parking sensors, keyless go and DAB. At times, however, it was a case of information overload with options more befitting a pilot than a driver. After a seamless five hours on the road, I was happy to finally pull into the charming town of Saulieu for a night in the stately family-owned Hostellerie de la Tour d’Auxois, including wine tasting and a spell-binding seven-course, 3 Michelin star feast at the world renowned Relais Bernard Loiseau.
Famed for it Pinot Noirs, Chablis and Beaujolais, this region of Burgundy is filled with never-ending vineyards, crisscrossed by a network of navigable canals and studded with grand châteaux, one of which played host to the following day’s off-road adventures. The stunning Chateau de Thenissey, made up of 15th century and 18th halves is set in 200 hectares of glorious French countryside. Its challenging off-road tracks allowed me to test the four wheel drive capability of the S-Max which deftly handled the twists, turns and climbs of the tracks on the route. Not exactly an environment you’ve ever expect to take a car like this, nevertheless, it did illustrate that it can handle any unexpected terrains you might face on a trip.
After an outdoors lunch of roasting sausages and marshmallows over a tree trunk fire, it was time to, literally, step up behind the wheels of the stellar Ford Ranger 4×4 Pick-Up. This machine is robust, rugged and tough as nails. Bar the lumberjack check shirt I wasn’t wearing, I felt suddenly transported into an Americana style setting. I loved every second of driving this Ford; smooth, powerful and all conquering. The highlight was the steep, wet and mud-drenched hill where I let the technologies of the Ranger’s Electronic Stability Program Ranger take over and safely navigate the challenging descent. These cars I imagine are a niche choice here in the UK but obviously, first and foremost, a commercial vehicle.
From the muddy slopes of rural France, it was back into the S-Max for the 400km drive into the Italian Alps and the snowy slopes of the exclusive ski resort Courmayeur, located at the foot of the southern side of Mont Blanc.
Movement was the theme of this trip and that continued with two days of skiing, Bond-esque snowmobile rides and a final road trip to Geneva to catch my flight home.
While I wouldn’t be in the market for an S:Max (too big) or a Ranger (too impractical), something did catch my eye as I was escorted into the Grand Hotel Royal, one of Courmayeur’s most illustrious hotels. Parked prominently at the hotels’ entrance was the Ford Mustang, a car so sleek, striking, modern and worthy of a place in my top five.
The S:Max Titanium Sport 2.0 is £33,345