Ford's new S-Max is great for long trips - so long as you're not sitting in the back, says Alona Simister

You'd have to be mad even to consider it. Daft, slightly silly, perhaps a little eccentric? Hardly the most sensible way of travelling, one would think. The journey in question: a four-day epic drive across Europe. Destination: Kotor, Montenegro, for one week in August. All to be followed by three days back to England. Over the course of 14 days, the Simister family travelled through 10 countries, including three capital cities, picking up my boyfriend in Croatia along the way.

Given that there were three of us, driving gave a smaller carbon tyre track than flying would have done, but was obviously far more time-consuming. Still, it gave us a chance to put the new Ford S-Max well and truly through its paces. As a backseat driver, I give it close to top marks. As a backseat passenger, my response is more mixed.

The S-Max is fantastically roomy, a downfall when trying to park in full-to-bursting cities such as Dubrovnik and Trieste, but a bonus when filled up with everything from an electric fridge to swimming towels. I had plenty of reachable places to store all the snacks vital for a long journey, as well as enough space to curl up with a pillow. Another good point for those in the back is the proliferation of air-conditioning vents. Although the air-con system isn't as sophisticated as some that allow for individual temperature-setting, nor was it just a placebo giving the illusion of control, meaning I could adjust it to shut off the freezing gale favoured by my father.

The main reason I am not wholly enamoured of this massive (1,884mm wide) machine is its suspension. Although in the front it feels sporty and smooth, in the back the motion reminds me of a rocking horse - a sway forward when the brakes are applied and backwards during acceleration. The car's body moves just slightly too freely from its wheelbase, which in the back of the car leads to nausea over long periods. However, most people don't drive for four days straight, and England doesn't have too many roads like the Ladder of Cattaro in Montenegro, which twists up the mountain with 32 hairpin bends.

Unlike the Ladder of Cattaro, the road to Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina, is dead straight. For me, the Balkan wars were a lifetime ago - the conflicts were always on the news when I was growing up, but I was too young to understand the causes. So my reaction to our drive through Bosnia and Herzegovina was somewhat mixed. On the one hand, the bullet-pocked buildings are a horrific reminder, and on the other, they appear a rather hopeful memorial, if that isn't too oxymoronic. They remain standing, and the country is getting on with getting better. All of the former Yugoslavia is gradually returning to its feet, working together in a way that could hardly have been considered a few years ago.

Although the currency in Bosnia and Herzegovina is the Bosnian mark, euros were readily accepted. The official Montenegrin currency is the euro - although Montenegro is not quite far enough advanced into the EU to recognise European car insurance, meaning we had to pay €15 (£10) for a "green card" (actually blue) which was shown every time we crossed the border.

A similarly unexpected charge came when driving towards the Croatian border. Along another straight, wide-open Bosnian road, we were stopped for exceeding the speed limit - a limit not shown on any signpost. We were travelling at 86kph (53mph). The limit was 50kph (31mph). An extremely helpful police guard informed us of the limit - "all the way to Split, 50, all the way" - while happily relieving us of a further €15.

The difference between Eastern Europe and countries closer to home is perhaps most evident in the sudden increase in prices. While a night for three in a Croatian hotel came to €70, the Italian bill on the way home came to €224. Or another way to consider it: in Dubrovnik, a huge Italian ice-cream comes to 5 kune (50p), while in Trieste a smaller one is €1.50. I know where this student will be holidaying again - only next time, I'll drive.

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