Ford S-MAX MPV
“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 to the Citroen Grand C4 SpaceTourer, while even the BMW has a slightly lower starting price. Not only is it dear to buy, but the S-MAX can also cost slightly more at the pumps, with fuel economy figures falling behind the class best.
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. Our pick is the 148bhp manual, with reasonable performance and the best economy. A 1.5-litre EcoBoost petrol engine was previously offered and it may be worth hunting out a pre-registered example if you’re only going to be doing short journeys around town.
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.
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 four trim levels, called Zetec, Titanium, ST-Line and the posh Vignale. All four 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, and if anything highlights the value of the standard model that’s £10,000 cheaper.
The S-MAX didn't appear in our 2020 Driver Power customer satisfaction survey, but Ford’s 24th position out of 30 brands is considerable drop from the 16th position they 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.