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IT must I be one of the most irritating feelings imaginable. You reach the peak in your chosen field, only to be eclipsed by an even more talented sibling. And it's not uncommon. Just ask Venus Williams, Ralf Schumacher and Wladimir Klitschko their thoughts about playing second fiddle to Serena, Michael and Vitali respectively.

The motoring equivalent must surely be Ford's Grand C-MAX and S-MAX. Regular readers will know we're fens of the former: it defeated the VWTouran and Peugeot 5008 in our group test in Issue 1,144. But after bringing it together with my long-term S-MAX, 1 don't think I'd swap.

Yes, the Grand has the advantage of sliding rear doors for easier access. Yet that large rump counts against it. The swoopier profile of the S-MAX pulls off the neat trick of helping you forget you're in an MPV, which is magnified by the sporty drive. So, it's the S-MAX for me.

However, with their seven-seat cabins the two cars do occupy the same territory, so what's the reasoning behind selling them in tandem? Over to Ford for an official explanation.

Apparently, the S-MAX is a "lifestyle" vehicle for those who want room without sacrificing style. The Grand is a medium-sized MPV where space is prioritised. (And just to dear things up, the huge Galaxy is seen as the Grand's big brother, while the smaller C-MAX is more in tune with the S-MAX's DNA.) Confusing, huh?

I'd balk at the suggestion I lead the sort of'active' lifestyle Ford imagines its S-MAX owners enjoy, but the car's charms are hard to resist. The fold-flat flexibility of the seats has proven its worth on more than occasion, most notably letting me transport a table from my parents' home in Montrose, Angus, to my house in London. The S-MAX is fentasticon the road, too, with the IVDC adaptive damping allowing it to switch from sporty handler to com fortable cruiser at the touch of a button.

But it's some of the kit that has really made its mark. The DVD sat-nav is one of the better integrated systems I've tried, rarely putting a foot wrong, while the daytime running lights give a sharper look to the front of the car. The rear camera is invaluable, too - parking such a big motor is no easy task in London's congested streets, but with manoeuvres transmitted in full colour on to a centre console screen, there's 110 chance of any mishaps. The blind spot warning has also been welcome. Initially, I was sceptical of its merits, yet having a light illuminate on the wing mirror when another vehicle is overtaking is something I've grown used to, and miss badly when 1 drive cars that don't have such a system.

Our model's Ice White paintjob continues to divide opinion, though. While it's hard to keep dean in winter, I'm a fan. But reader Duncan Lome contacted me to say he'd heard rumours that this particular hue was notorious for colour mismatches.

Ford says this isn't the case. A spokesman told me: "It reacts both to light and dirt, and to the angle of the panel it's sprayed on, and appears as subdy different shades right across the vehicle, which is what it's designed to do."

Glad to set the record straight. All in all, then, the S-MAX is one of the best all-round cars on our fleet. And no family argument will persuade me otherwise.

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"With four generations of relatives to transport to a recent family bash, what better car to use than the S-MAX? My grand-daughter joined me up front, son and partner brought up the rear, and my parents took the middle row - and we still had space for one more!"

LESLEY HARRIS, ROAD TESTER

Renault M├ęgane ST New arrival

Reports online at autoexpress.co.uk

Suzuki Swift Issue 1,140

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up with Grand C-MAX

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