Ford S-MAX MPV
Price: £23,105 - £32,875
- Practical yet stylish
- Neat interior design
- Good fun to drive
- Rearmost seats tight
- Limited boot space
- High running costs
"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 people carrier may now be getting a bit long in the tooth, but it remains a very flexible family car. You can get bigger and roomier MPVs in the UK market, but most of them won’t offer you the same sense of style or sheer driving fun as the S-MAX.
It even looks good, thanks to some genuinely sharp design work and sleek dimensions and it handles well too, especially for such a big vehicle. Plus, while the Ford Galaxy, is larger, the S-MAX is almost as practical, offering a massive boot that has 2,000 litres of storage capacity when all the seats are folded away into the floor. With all the seats in place, it will sit seven fairly comfortably – provided you don’t mind squeezing into the back row and don’t really need much headroom.
Overall, the S-MAX remains a great family MPV that should be on any list for buyers interested in this type of vehicle.
MPG, running costs & CO2
Diesels are cheapest to run, and used values are good
Something as big and heavy as the S-MAX was always going to be expensive to run, and this is where it begins to show its age. It's weight means lots of tyre wear (which adds up) and none of the engines are able to get close to the class-best levels of fuel economy. The diesels are the most efficient, returning 50mpg in combined fuel economy, while the punchy 138bhp model is our recommendation.
Even the EcoBoost engines don’t match the kind of efficiency reflected across the rest of the Ford range – CO2 emissions leave a lot to be desired, ranging from 139g/km to a rather shocking 194g/km. At least the petrol engines are fast and smooth, but their economy is even worse than the diesels.
The nail in the S-MAX's coffin are the dated pre-paid servicing plans, which lag behind those offered by its key rivals.
Interior & comfort
Interior is smart, practical and functional and the ride is decent
The suspension easily irons out up any big bumps or major potholes you may encounter and its stiffness actually proves to be more reassuring than irritating over long drives. Wind, road and tyre noise are barely audible in the generally calm interior, while all the controls are nicely laid out and the cabin feels nice and roomy. Most noticable is the dashboard-set gearlever, which frees up room around the front seats and allows you to change gears with just a flick of the wrist.
Three adults can sit comfortably in the back with good head and legroom, though the two seats in the third row are basically in the boot and only really suitable for small children. That said, they do fold away tidily into the boot floor when you’re not using them – which works wonders for boot space.
Practicality & boot space
Surprisingly practical given its sleek looks
The S-MAX's large and spacious interior means loads of headroom throughout the car – except for the third row of seats, which are basically only suitable for small children. The dashboard may look old-fashioned now, but its neatly laid out and compactly designed so that it frees up extra space. The boot only offers 285 litres of space with all of the seats still in place, but that expands to a mighty 2,000 litres when they’re all folded away – more than enough for most driver's (or even van driver's) needs. If you do need to use the third row of seats, the boot space isn’t particularly practical, which can create a luggage vs passengers dilemma for long journeys - but it still offers enough room for two big squashy bags. What's more, there are numerous storage compartments and cubbies throughout.
Reliability & safety
Quality is good and safety is first class
Age finally caught up with the Ford S-MAX in the 2013 Driver Power customer satisfaction survey. Having been around since 2006, it dropped a massive 56 places to rank 80th in the list of the top 150 cars, with reliability being one of its primary problem areas. Of course, this will all be dealt with when Ford launched the next model in the not-too-distant future, but you should always bear this in mind when buying any model that's more than five years old. It's also worth remembering that any models made after 2010 have better quality interiors and still feel well constructed, solid and safe - even if the style now lags behind Ford's current range. The S-MAX did have some mechanical problems that led to recalls earlier in its life – including faulty heated windscreens, for instance – but these problems have now all been dealt with.
It was awarded the full five-star rating in the Euro NCAP crash safety tests and comes fitted with window airbags for front and rear passengers, and knee airbags for the driver, electronic stability control (ESP) as standard safety equipment. It may no longer be up there with the best in the MPV class, but the S-MAX is still solid family transport.
Engines, drive & performance
The S-MAX is fun to drive for an MPV, feeling like a much smaller car on the road
When behind the wheel, the S-MAX feels like a smaller car, driving more like a family hatchback than a larger people carrier. It's stable when driving through corners, resisting the temptation of rolling its body through the really tight bends. Of course, the trade off is that the ride can feel a bit harsh on some occasions, but it's mostly soft enough to absorb any bump and lumps on the UK's rough road network – even when sporting its larger alloy wheels.
We’d recommend avoiding the entry-level 113bhp 2.0-litre TDCi diesel because it feels underpowered, and going for the mid-range 138bhp 2.0-litre TDCi diesel, which is quick, economical and refined. We also like the petrol 2.0-litre Ecoboost engine, but it only comes in the top-spec Titanium X Sport and positively gulps fuel compared to the diesels. The optional Powershift automatic gearbox is surprisingly good, changing gears smoothly and proving easy to live with, particularly around town.
Price, value for money & options
Expensive to buy but equipment is good across the range
The Ford S-MAX available in three main specifications – entry-level Zetec, mid-range Titanium and top-of-the-range Titanium X Sport. The entry-level Zetec is fitted with climate control, electric windows, parking sensors and Bluetooth connectivity as standard, while Titanium throws in automatic headlights and windscreen wipers, cruise control, a DAB digital radio and a USB port for iPods. The top-spec Titanium X Sport cars naturally offer the best equipment levels, adding a sportier exterior look, sports suspension and part-leather seats, but you do have to cough up a lot of money for all these accessories – and you’re more likely to get a larger discount on a Citroen C4 Picasso or Vauxhall Zafira Tourer.
The S-MAX does have strong resale values on the used car market, however, so you should be able to get some money back when you look for a good second-hand deal. In fact, that market may be the place to start your search for an S-MAX as used Fords often represent the best value for money.
What the others say
"Ford says the S-Max is an MPV for those that enjoy driving. The steering gives lots of feedback, there's plenty of grip and a lack of bodyroll all make it surprisingly sharp on twisty roads. However, when the mother-in-law is in the rear, the suspension is supple enough to provide good comfort, easily soaking up road imperfections."
"What's the new engine like to drive? Extremely good. The 200bhp unit manages to deliver decent power, increased efficiency and lower emissions compared to the larger 2.5-litre five-cylinder turbo it effectively replaces. Acceleration is responsive, turbo lag is virtually negligible and delivery is smooth all the way through the revs."
"European Car of the Year 2007 and the first genuine 7 seater sportscar. Excellent combination of comfort and handling."
Last updated: 15 Jan 2014