Ford Galaxy universally popular

Ford has powered the Galaxy to a higher plane with new engines and a facelift, says ANDY RUSSELL.Are you sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin… if you're in the Ford Galaxy you will be and this is a huge success story for Blue Oval.

Ford has powered the Galaxy to a higher plane with new engines and a facelift, says ANDY RUSSELL.

Are you sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin… if you're in the Ford Galaxy you will be and this is a huge success story for Blue Oval.

Originally launched in the mid Nineties with Volkswagen and Seat, which are only just replacing the Sharan and Alhambra respectively, Ford stole a march a few years ago when it chose to go it alone with the next-generation Galaxy and sportier S-Max.

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Now with an all-new Sharan and Alhambra in the wings, Ford has risen to this new challenge by giving its people-carriers a mid-life facelift and new engines and technology.

While they share the same running gear, these two Fords have their own appeal - the more compact S-Max looks and feels sportier but if you regularly plan to carry seven large passengers the Galaxy is the best bet and still good to drive.

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The Galaxy's makeover has been a subtle one - a new front end with a more sculptured bonnet and grille featuring chrome bars to give it a bolder face. The roof has new integrated silver rails for crossbars - ideal for extra carrying capacity such as a roof box - and at the back there are distinctive new LED lights and a body-coloured lower fascia. The already plush interior features new colours and materials.

But the highlight of the new models is under the bonnet. For drivers looking for serious performance the S-Max and Galaxy were the first Fords to get a new 203PS 2.0 EcoBoost SCTi turbo petrol engine. Mated to the new PowerShift automatic gearbox, they offer more power and performance and much lower fuel consumption and emissions compared to the old 2.3-litre automatic.

That said, nine out of 10 Galaxy buyers go for diesel so Ford now offers three choices. They're all new 2.0-litre turbo diesel units rated at 115PS, 140PS and 163PS with six-speed manual gearboxes as standard and automatic an option on the two most powerful versions.

I drove the 163PS TDCi engine - if you regularly travel fully laden you might appreciate the extra power and there's no penalty at the diesel pumps.

It's so smooth and refined across the rev range that one passenger questioned whether it was a diesel. With 340 Newton metres of torque it pulls strongly from low revs and has plenty of mid-range punch for swift, safe overtaking even in sixth gear yet still returned a respectable 43mpg overall after fast dual-carriageway work and stop-start city driving.

The Galaxy may not quite have the sporty feel of the S-Max but it's the most rewarding big people-carrier I've driven. Supple suspension soaks up bumps and lumps regardless of speed with well-mannered, secure handling that belies it size and inspires confidence on twisty roads. Fast corners bring out some body roll but it's well controlled and there's plenty of grip.

The Galaxy's greatest strength is its interior which is as practical as it is plush.

There's a huge amount of space for seven passengers - three individual middle-row seats each slide back and forth and the backs recline. The side ones move forward to provide reasonable access to the two rearmost seats that flip up from the boot floor and offer decent legroom for adults provided those in the middle give up some of their ample space not a hardship.

With all the seats in use boot space is limited to stacking soft holdalls behind the seat backs but in five-seat mode it offers a huge flat-sided estate car-like load bay that swallows luggage. Fold down all five rear seats and you're left with a flat floor with 2,325 litres of space to the roof.

When it comes to style, design and ergonomics, Ford produces some of the best interiors in the business. The Galaxy has oodles of storage, a must for any people-carrier, and I love the row of flip down compartments along the length of roof - ideal for toys and games to keep children amused.

The high driving postion gives commanding views of the road and a full range of adjustment to get comfortable behind the wheel while the dashboard is a model of clarity and efficiency.

Three trim levels are offers - Zetec, Titanium and Titanium X. Even the entry model is well kitted out with dual-zone climate control, front, front side and full-length curtain airbags, front fog lights, front and rear parking sensors, heated windscreen and Bluetooth phone connection. Titanium gains bigger 17in alloys, automatic headlamps and wipers, heat-reflecting windscreen, rear compartment cooling system, keyless starting and cruise control while Titanium X adds leather seats, electrically-opening rear quarter lights and brighter Bi-xenon headlamps and washers.

The Galaxy and S-Max also saw the debut of a new system with lights in the door mirrors to warn of vehicles hidden in the blindspot - ideal if you spend a lot of time on motorways.

The Galaxy leads the way in large seven-seat people-carriers and proves that practical family transport doesn't have to be dull.

Ford Galaxy 2.0 TDCi 163PS Titanium X

Price: �29,545 (range starts at �22,945)

Engine: 2.0-litre, 163PS, four-cylinder turbo diesel

Performance: 0-60mph 9.5 seconds; top speed 126mph

MPG: Urban 39.2; extra urban 57.7; combined 49.6

Emissions: 152g/km

Insurance group: 23E (out of 50)

Warranty: Three years/60,000 miles

Will it fit in the garage? Length 4,820mm; width (including door mirrors) 2,154mm; height 1,807mm

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