Ford S-MAX MPV review
“The Ford S-MAX is a stylish seven-seat MPV that’s also good to drive, without scrimping on practicality”
- Style and practicality in one package
- Comfortable to drive
- Seven seats
- Lots of safety kit is optional
- Not as efficient as Citroen C4 SpaceTourer
- Third-row seats not the biggest around
The popularity of large MPVs has waned in recent years with the boom in fashionable SUVs, but there is still a good argument for bucking the trend with a car like the S-MAX. Rather than looking like a van with windows, the Ford is more like a tall estate car with a nicely sloping roofline, and it has been engineered to drive and handle like a well-sorted saloon. Only the BMW 2 Series Gran Tourer can offer a similar experience behind the wheel.
So it’s the best MPV among its rivals to drive, but this clearly comes at a cost, because the Ford S-MAX is also quite expensive compared with the Citroen Grand C4 SpaceTourer, while even the BMW has a lower starting price. Now the long-lived diesel engines have been discontinued, the S-MAX is only available with a hybrid petrol engine, and prices have risen as a result.
In 2020, Ford slashed the engine choices available, leaving a choice of 148bhp or 187bhp 2.0-litre diesel engines. The smaller engine allows you to select either a manual or automatic gearbox, while the most powerful version is auto-only but comes with the option of four-wheel drive. In February 2021, the hybrid S-MAX launched with its 2.5-litre petrol engine and electric motor; as of November 2021, it’s the only engine available.
The S-MAX is impressive on long trips, with a compliant ride meaning motorway journeys are comfortable and rough surfaces are smoothed out. While the latest model isn’t ultimately as sporty as the old S-MAX, it still handles well and the benefit is better refinement. Four-wheel drive provides extra grip for bad weather and cornering, but it does have a negative impact on fuel economy and since the S-MAX is predominantly about practical family life rather than enthusiastic driving, it won’t make sense unless you regularly tow or encounter wintery conditions.
With plenty of soft-touch plastics, the S-MAX feels reasonably upmarket inside and the front two rows of seats have lots of head and legroom. The third row should be very handy, but is best thought of as occasional seating, as they’re only really useful for children or use on shorter trips. If you need to use the third row more often, a Ford Galaxy will suit your needs better.
The S-MAX has a flexible interior, too, thanks to rear seats that can be folded individually to create more load space. When all seven seats are in place, the boot shrinks to 285 litres (almost as much as a Ford Fiesta), but in five-seat guise it’s an impressive 700 litres – more than almost any SUV.
There are three trim levels, called Titanium, ST-Line and the posh Vignale. A cheaper Zetec model was previously available. All are well equipped, with Ford’s SYNC 3 eight-inch infotainment screen, front and rear parking sensors, DAB radio, cruise control and automatic wipers fitted as standard. Titanium adds features like privacy glass, auto headlights with high-beam assist, sat-nav and keyless entry, while ST-Line has a body styling kit and 18-inch alloy wheels along with sports suspension and heated front seats.
The S-MAX Vignale is distinguished by chrome exterior details, luxurious leather upholstery and features like an upgraded stereo. Owners also benefit from a concierge-style approach that adds a personal touch to customer service. Costing more than £40,000, the Vignale is an expensive choice, although all models are quite costly now that the diesels have been discontinued. An entry-level Citroen Grand C4 SpaceTourer costs around £8,000 less than the cheapest S-MAX, while the eight-seater Citroen e-SpaceTourer electric car is considerably more affordable too.
The S-MAX didn't appear in our 2021 Driver Power customer satisfaction survey, but Ford’s 25th position out of 29 brands is a considerable drop from the 16th position it occupied in 2018. At least safety isn’t in debate, with a five-star rating from Euro NCAP an important consideration for a family people carrier.