From £38,5808
The original S-Max was a game changer – your only option if you wanted a fun, seven-seat MPV. The new model aims to be the same, only better.

What is it?

The Ford S-Max proved a point. It turned up in 2006, all slicked-back and angry looking, and showed the world that seven-seat MPVs don’t have to be constrained by right angles and tedium. In fact, it showed that a sensible people carrier could be fun, and it’s been our favourite MPV ever since.

This all-new model sticks to the same principles. It keeps the 2-3-2 seating layout but gets a swankier looking dash and touchscreen multimedia system, and a new platform using MacPherson struts up front and independent integral link at the rear.

The engine range includes a 1.5-litre petrol Ecoboost and a 2.0-litre turbodiesel in four different power outputs, including a stonking 207bhp bi-turbo version. For the first time you can now also get it with four-wheel drive.

What's it like?

Our 177bhp 2.0-litre diesel test car came in straightforward front-wheel drive, six-speed manual guise, and in full bells-and-whistles Titanium Sport trim with optional £2200 Titanium X Pack and £475 variable steering.

Unfortunately, it also came on adaptive dampers, which aren’t available in the UK. However, if - as Ford suggests - the default normal mode is representative of the passive set-up bound for our shores, UK drivers shouldn't feel short-changed. 

Sling the S-Max into a corner and it sticks with light-footed precision, keeping you keyed into whether you’re bleeding into understeer while delivering that fluid response and well-controlled body movement that only Ford seems to be able to nail in your everyday family car.

There’s a bit of kick-back over awkward cambers and ruts, and the self-centering could be less aggressive (the electrically-assisted steering has lost a touch of the old model's organic feeling). Even so, the new S-Max still has a more incisive helm than you’ll find in any other MPV, and even in a fair array of standard hatches.

Don't bother adding the variable steering since Normal does the job in every situation, and makes the other settings seem unnecessary.

Does the ride suffer for the pointy handling? Not really. Glance off a pothole and you get little more than a remote thump as the body dips and the suspension soaks up any harshness. While slightly soggy damper rebound results in some body float, the compression is perfectly controlled. Overall, the new S-Max is spot-on for blending fun and comfort.

It’s just a shame this engine is laggy at low revs, with a fairly abrupt step-up in power delivery as the turbo kicks in. However, it has a torquey, flexible mid-range that makes for satisfyingly rapid progress, and it's fairly refined, too.

In fact, refinement is one of the biggest areas of improvement overall in the S-Max. It's only a bit of wind flutter you're really aware of on a steady cruise, as tyre and engine noise fade to a subdued background dirge.

It’s better than ever for all the practicalities, too. Even with our test car's full electric seat adjustment (part of the Titanium X pack) you can drop the driver's seat quite low for a more hatchback-like feel. Alternatively, there’s loads of adjustment and padded rests on the door and centre cubby that make it perfect for the casual, elbow-resting style that really suits the S-Max.

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The standard 8.0in touchscreen and generally solid feeling cabin is a step forwards on the old car, too. All trims but base Zetec get sat-nav, on top of all the essentials including front and rear parking sensors. So, while there are masses of options – including a system that automatically adjusts the car's speed to match the speed limit – you don’t need to tick the boxes to get a well-specced car.

Seating flexibility is as good as ever. There's a lever on each of the outer two seats in the middle row which, when operated, flings the seat forward and up for better access to the third row.

Otherwise, there are still the three seats in the middle row that slide, recline and fold individually, and offer masses of space. The two boot-mounted seats can be lifted easily and will be fine for shorter adults, provided the journey's not overly long. 

In terms of luggage space, only a compact buggy will fit behind the raised third row but drop the rearmost seats and you have a really wide, well-shaped 700-litre boot. Fortunately, because it's hidden snugly underneath the car, the space-saver tyre doesn’t intrude on luggage space.

Drop the middle row of seats and the uninterrupted boot floor and cavernous space could probably be partitioned and sold as a studio flat. Only truly van-like MPVs such as the VW Sharan and forthcoming new Ford Galaxy will edge the new S-Max for space and general utilitarian goodness.

Should I buy one?

So here comes the real problem: price. The S-Max is not that cheap by any measure. A Citroën C4 Grand Picasso offers similar interior space but costs well over £2000 less, like-for-like.

A Vauxhall Zafira Tourer is also substantially cheaper, and both the Citroën and Vauxhall are available with engines that deliver comparable real-world performance with lower emissions and company car tax than any S-Max model, let alone this 177bhp version.

Still, the S-Max is cheaper than slightly roomier MPVs such as the VW Sharan and Seat Alhambra, so if you’re keen to have a seven-seat people carrier but don't want beige and boxy, the big Ford is likely to be worth the extra cost.

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Ford S-Max 2.0 TDCi 180 Titanium Sport

Location Mallorca; On Sale August; Price £29,945; Engine 4 cyls, 1997cc, turbodiesel; Power 177bhp at 3500rpm; Torque 295lb ft at 2000-2500rpm; Gearbox 6-spd manual; Kerb weight 1726kg; 0-62mph 9.7sec; Top speed 131mph; Economy 56.5mpg (combined); CO2/tax band 129g/km, 23%

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Add a comment…
danielcoote 1 May 2015

Could be interested.... this car but currently loving my arguably much better looking Zafira Tourer SRI! The zaf really does drive well for something that weighs 1700kg but guess the std sri suspension helps here. Even the old tech 2.0 diesel 165 (about to be replaced by a new 170 unit in the next 3-4 months I think) seems quite refined at speed (and always gives + 40mpg tank average to boot). Smax does look a touch roomier mind.
rickerby 28 April 2015

Another quiet Ford launch

I can remember the days when the launch of a new Ford would have been shouted from the roof tops. No one could make the world aware that the MK2 version of their car had arrived quite like Ford. It often ended up as a slot on the evening news,in the days when the news lasted half an hour rather than an endless loop. Now though new Fords limp onto the market with hardly anyone noticing and marketing material now looks like something done by a first year media studies student - (Remember the magnificent, UK specific all model CARS brochures of the 70s and 80s?). I can only assume this apparent lack of zeal to do business in the UK is the reason for the permanent downward spiral in Fords market share.
Jeremy 27 April 2015

S-Max v Zafira Tourer

Interesting to see the S-Max v Zafira Tourer comments. We hired a Zafira Tourer recently on holiday and whatever the dimensions it does feel half a class smaller than our S-Max. It feels more comparable to a C4 Grand Picasso in my opinion. We've also got a VW Transporter Shuttle - now that really does knock all these MPVs into a cocked hat when it comes to room!