Ford S-MAX MPV
Price £23,310 - £33,085
- Practical yet stylish
- Neat interior design
- Good fun to drive
- Rearmost seats tight
- Limited boot space
- High running costs
At a glance
"The Ford S-MAX is very practical and well equipped – but the key to its appeal is its sporty drive and youthful image."
The Ford S-MAX proves that buying a practical MPV needn’t mean settling for a car that's boring to drive. That much is clear the minute you clap eyes on the S-MAX – it might lack the low-slung profile of a sports car, but its wedge-like shape makes it look sharper than key rivals such as the SEAT Alhambra and Volkswagen Sharan.
Despite this, the Ford is extremely practical. It boasts seven seats that can be arranged in an assortment of layouts to fit your needs. Fold all the seats away and you’re left with a load capacity to rival a van.
Buyers can choose from a range of petrol and diesel engines, but we would choose one of the latter – the 2.0-litre 138bhp diesel offers gutsy performance but also strong economy. It combines well with the Ford S-MAX's excellent chassis and means the car is much more fun to drive than you’d ever imagine.
There are three trim levels to choose from – Zetec, Titanium, and top-of-the-range Titanium X Sport. Even if you go for the basic Zetec model, Ford fits it with a decent amount of kit including air-conditioning, front and rear parking sensors, electric windows all round, and alloy wheels.
MPG, running costs & CO2
Diesels are cheapest to run, and used values are good
Our pick of the engine range – the 2.0-litre 138bhp diesel – can return fuel economy of 49.6mpg and CO2 emissions of 149g/km so that road tax will set you back £145 annually. Interestingly, despite its useful extra thrust, the 161bhp 2.0-litre diesel engine is actually better on fuel, returning 53.3mpg and CO2 emissions of 139g/km for road tax of £130. It does cost significantly more to buy though. The most powerful diesel engine is the 2.2-litre, but it can only manage fuel economy of 42.8mpg, while the 1.6-litre diesel is quite slow and only marginally more economical than the 2.0-litre engines.
The S-MAX’s range of petrol engines may be hi-tech but they still fall behind the diesels in terms of running costs. Fuel economy ranges from 41.5mpg (1.6-litre EcoBoost) to 34mpg (2.0-litre Ecoboost), while the same engines cost £180 and £265 respectively to tax each year.
Ford has one of the biggest dealer network in the country and offers fixed-price services that are priced at £125 for a minor service or £195 for a major one, and include Ford roadside assistance as part of its Motorcraft 4+ scheme. Insurance groups run from 18 in the Zetec models to 27 in the Titanium X Sport fitted with the 237bhp petrol engine.
Engines, drive & performance
The S-MAX is fun to drive for an MPV, feeling like a much smaller car on the road
On a motorway slog, the S-MAX makes for a relaxed cruiser but the real revelation comes when you come across a twisting country road. There the Ford feels much smaller than it really is, cornering flat, and offering lots of grip.
Our pick of the engines – the 138bhp 2.0-litre diesel – can spirit the MPV from 0-62mph in 10.2 seconds and gives adequate performance even when the car is fully loaded. Completing the 0-62mph dash takes 13 seconds in the 1.6-litre diesel, while the 2.0 161bhp diesel and 2.2-litre 197bhp diesel get from 0-62mph in 9.5 and 8.6 seconds respectively. Fitting the S-MAX with a less economical petrol engine doesn’t make a lot of sense even if the 2.0-litre 237bhp version is the fastest model of all – getting from 0-62mph in 7.9 seconds. The basic 1.6-litre petrol manages the same in 9.8 seconds.
The PowerShift automatic gearbox is slick to use but comes at a £1,000 premium and makes the S-MAX more costly to run.
Interior & comfort
Interior is smart, practical and functional and the ride is decent
Climb aboard the S-Max and you’ll discover a light and airy interior with a sporty looking dashboard that features three circular air vents as its focal point. Most of the plastics are soft to the touch and feel upmarket, while the controls are well laid out and easy to use. Ford has also fitted an electric hand brake that frees up space for a large storage area between the two front seats.
The S-MAX’s raised driving position gives its driver a good view of the road, while a wide range of adjustment for both the driver’s seat and the steering make it easy to get comfortable behind the wheel. The standard front and rear parking sensors also come in handy when it comes to parking the car.
Out on the road, Ford’s expertise at making cars fun to drive as well as comfortable really shines though on the S-MAX, and the car’s cosseting suspension takes the strain out of long journeys. The top-of-the-range model’s big alloy wheels and sports suspension means it is stiffer than the more basic models.
Practicality & boot space
Surprisingly practical given its sleek looks
Space in the front two seats of the Ford S-MAX is excellent and the second row of seats is roomy, too. They can slide forwards and backwards to free up extra legroom or increase the capacity of the boot and also recline. Hidden in the boot, the third row of seats are best reserved for children.
Unlike in some rivals, the Ford offers a decent boot capacity of 285 litres even with all the seats up, but put them all down and that grows to an impressive 2,000 litres. That’s usefully bigger than the 1,865 litres you’ll get in a Skoda Superb estate. No boot lip, a huge boot opening and seats that fold completely flat make it easy to load even awkward items into the back of the S-MAX.
There are lots of storage areas for smaller items, too, thanks to a large glovebox, big door pockets, a hidden storage area for your mobile phone, numerous cupholders and the lidded cubbyhole between the two front seats.
Reliability & safety
Quality is good and safety is first class, but Ford's reliability remains an issue
Something that does put a dent in the S-MAX’s appeal is its poor performance in our 2014 Driver Power Owner satisfaction survey, where the car finished 116th out of 150 cars. That represents a steady decline for a car that finished 24th in 2012 and 80th in 2013. Reliability in particular fell short of owners’ expectations. Hopefully the new model, which is due to launch in 2015, can turn the S-MAX’s fortunes around.
As the S-MAX is bound to spend a lot of time carrying your family, it’s good to know that it is safe. It got five stars when it was crash tested by Euro NCAP in 2006 and comes with seven airbags, stability control, and ISOFIX mounts for child seats.
Price, value for money & options
Expensive to buy but equipment is good across the range
With air-conditioning, electric windows front and rear, parking sensors and a Bluetooth phone connection, the S-MAX Zetec gets all the basic in terms of equipment. Titanium models get larger alloy wheels, a DAB digital radio, extra overhead storage and cruise control, while Titanium X Sport trim gets even bigger alloy wheels, a sporty body kit, a leather interior, sports suspension, a panoramic roof, and powerful bi-xenon headlights.
If you cover a lot of motorway miles then we would highly recommend adding adaptive cruise control, an £800 option. It can match the speed of the car in front, before returning to a pre-set cruising speed when the road is clear. At £1,400, the touchscreen sat-nav system is not cheap, but it is a useful option and includes a rear parking camera and USB connectivity.
Second-hand values vary according to the model, so while the 138bhp diesel S-MAX will hold onto 45 per cent of its original value after three years/36,000 miles, the top-of-the-range petrol can expect to keep just 37 per cent. Those figures come close to matching the Volkswagen Sharan.