The Ford S-Max Vignale is the company's premium executive express. Can it really be worth the extra over the standard S-Max?

What is it?

Ford is being squeezed, and it’s all down to our buying habits. A couple of decades ago we’d likely have rocked up to the Harvester in a Mondeo to enjoy a steak dinner with the clan; these days we’re more likely to be pulling up to Jamie Oliver’s Diner in an Audi, BMW or Mercedes.

So our tastes have moved upmarket, and the Vignale range – which now includes this Ford S-Max and the Edge alongside the Ford Mondeo - is Ford’s answer. The theory makes sense: take a fine car such as the S-Max, trim it out in high-grade leather, add high-end features such as massaging seats, and serve with a personal concierge service.

What's it like?

We’ve been driving the front-wheel-drive 178bhp diesel, although other varieties are available: you can have four-wheel drive, a more powerful 207bhp twin-turbo diesel, or a 237bhp petrol.

The 178bhp is a fine reference point. It’s not the fastest thing on four wheels, but that term ‘adequate’ seems to spring readily to mind. It’ll hit 70mph with no fuss, but little enthusiasm either.

You can opt for an auto, but we had a crack with the six-speed manual gearbox. It’s a pleasure to sift through the slick gate, and lets you extract the most from the agreeably smooth engine. Sure, you can hear some distant diesel clatter at slow speeds, but otherwise it hums away in the background, complimenting the hushed road and wind noise, and advancing the claim that the Vignale’s a sophisticated beast.

It's sporty-ish, too, with well-managed body control and decent composure down a lumpy B-road. Our car came equipped with Ford’s new toy – the optional variable steering. It gives the car great high-speed stability, with a supercar-quick rack at slower speed. Its urgency needs time to dial in to, but the more natural self-centring action, compared with that of the standard steering, is an instant hit.

A well set-up chassis can often aid passenger comfort, too. So the S-Max Vignale is a pleasant car to drive, or be driven in, from coast to coast. It has the ability smooth out roads that in lesser cars, appear to be strewn with stalagmites. If you’ve ever hired an S-Max on a skiing holiday, as I did a few months back, you’ll know it’s also a roomy five-seater. You can make that seven if you use the kiddy-sized pull-up seats in the back; or leave them down and make use of the huge boot.

So we know it’s comfortable, refined and spacious, but what about quality? It’s an area Ford isn’t known to excel in, and one that the premium brands tend to have licked. Well, the seats looks good in their agreeably soft hides, and happen to be extremely supportive, pleasurable even, with the massaging feature in play. The stitched leather over the dashboard and piano-black inserts also set the Vignale apart from lesser S-Maxes. Then you look a little farther down the cabin and the bubble bursts.

That’s where the scratchy stuff resides, like the hard plastic glovebox lid. Ford may get away with this on a car costing £25k, but at not at this level, when competing with the premium German brands.

This was our first chance to sample Ford’s new Sync 3 infotainment system, and it’s a real improvement. The menus seemed more intuitive, while the larger icons no longer need fingers like needles to hit with any degree of accuracy. It’s still no iDrive, though.

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Should I buy one?

We like the S-Max Vignale, for the same reasons we like the regular S-Max. Why wouldn’t we? It’s got nicer trim and a whole bunch of extra goodies, so it’s bound to be better.

Yet there’s that elephant in the room, pointing out the obvious question: would we spend £35k on one, over say, a cheaper BMW 2 Series Gran Tourer?

I think you can guess where this is heading. Comparatively, the Vignale is going to have the equivalent of financial alopecia, shedding great chunks of its value by trade-in time. In the unlikely event that money happens to be no object to you, chances are you will be a badge snob: that is, you’ll want to be seen at Jamie’s rather than the Harvester, pulling up in a BMW rather than a Ford.

So there you have it. Yes, you will have ‘Ford Vignale Services’ at your disposal, which Ford states will attend to your every whim, but unless that entails sending a chap to do your ironing, the kids’ homework and put the bin out on Thursdays, we can’t see many of you changing your buying habits anytime soon.

Ford S-Max Vignale 2.0 Duratorq TDCi 180PS

Location Hampshire; On sale Now; Price £33,395; Engine 1997cc, diesel; Power 178bhp at 3500rpm; Torque 295lb ft at 2000rpm; Gearbox 6-spd manual; Kerb weight 1726kg; 0-62mph 9.7sec; Top speed 131mph; Economy 56.5mpg (combined); CO2/tax band 129g/km, 25%

John Howell

John Howell
Title: Senior reviewer

John is a freelance automotive journalist with more than a decade of experience in the game. He’s written for most of the big car mags, not least as a road tester for Autocar and as deputy reviews editor for our sister brand, What Car?. He was also the features editor at PistonHeads and headed its YouTube channel.

Cars, driving and machines are in his blood. When he was barely a teenager he was creating race-bale racetracks on his family’s farm – to thrash an old Humber Sceptre around. It broke regularly, of course, which meant he got a taste (and love) for repairing cars. That’s why he eschewed university, choosing instead to do an apprenticeship with a Jaguar dealer. That’s where he built up his technical understanding.  

After that he moved into high-end car sales, selling Rolls-Royces, Bentleys, Ferraris and Maseratis through the franchised network. But it was a love of writing and appraising cars that, eventually, led him to use his industry experience to prise open the door of motoring journalism. He loves cars that exceed their brief in some way. So he finds as much pleasure in testing a great, but humble, hatchback as he does sampling the latest Ferrari on track. Honest.

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Andrew Lee 29 June 2016

Teg Type R

It was Cortina 1600E and Corsair 2000E btw. Back to my allotment now...
bowsersheepdog 29 June 2016


Like high quality, good value, desirability or fit for purpose, premium is just one more descriptor which should never be used in conjunction with the word Ford.
jagdavey 28 June 2016

Vignale just a modern day Ghia

I read that Vignale was an Italian design house, just like Ghia was!!!!!!
So "Vignale" is the modern day equivalent to "Ghia" & we all know where that went!!!!!
(down the tubes!!!)
Ford hasn't got a leg to stand on in it's battle with the premium brands, even VW's Golf has surpassed the Focus in the UK sales charts.