Ford S-MAX review
The Ford S-MAX is a seven-seat MPV that’s great to drive and comes with loads of standard kit
The Ford S-MAX was launched back in 2006 and while many newer rivals have arrived since then, it’s still one of the best MPVs money can buy. Although it lacks the sliding doors of the SEAT Alhambra, it still has plenty to offer family car buyers. It’s stylish and great fun to drive, yet comfortable and practical enough to transport an entire family. You could even use it to move house, thanks to its enormous boot capacity. The rearmost row of seats is better suited to children, though, so if you do need to carry seven adults you might be better off considering the Galaxy. There’s a wide line-up of engines, too, including the manufacturer’s efficient EcoBoost petrol engines. A replacement model is due in 2014 and could feature a similar pillarless door system to that shown in the new Ford B-MAX.
Our choice: S-MAX 2.0 TDCi (140) Zetec
Although the S-MAX is starting to show its age, a facelift in 2009 has ensured that it’s still one of the best-looking MPVs available. It’s more stylish than a VW Sharan or Renault Grand Scenic, and sportier than the larger Galaxy, yet the sleek shape doesn’t come at the expense of practicality. It’s a tactic that helps it hide its dimensions well. Every model comes well equipped, with even entry-level Zetec cars coming with air-conditioning, all-round electric windows and parking sensors. Titanium models also get a start button, automatic headlights and wipers, cruise control, ambient lighting and a DAB radio. At the top of the range, Titanium X Sport models also get a sporty bodykit, Xenon lights, sports suspension, part-leather seats, a panoramic sunroof and sporty detailing such as red stitching on the gearstick. The interior all feels well made, with lots of soft-touch materials and logically placed controls.
The S-MAX is great to drive and from behind the wheel, you would be hard-pressed to spot you were in a tall people carrier. It attacks corners and resists body roll, while the firm but compliant ride is also great at soaking up nasty bumps – your family will never suspect you’re having so much fun. Our pick of the range is the gutsy 2.0 TDCi diesel engine in 138bhp Zetec trim – the 113bhp version feels a bit underpowered, while the 161bhp only comes in Titanium trim and costs almost £2,500 more. The flagship 200bhp 2.0-litre EcoBoost petrol is a fast and surprisingly efficient replacement for the thirsty old 2.5-litre five-cylinder model, but it is expensive to buy. The Powershift automatic gearbox is quick and smooth, but costs an extra £1,000 across the line-up and has a big impact on fuel economy and emissions.
The S-MAX finished an impressive 24th in our 2012 Driver Power survey, putting it streaks ahead of the smaller VW Touran. However, it has since plummeted to 80th place in the 2013 results, thanks to disappointing scores in the reliability, build quality, braking and in-car tech categories. It still finished 12th for practicality, though. There have been a variety of recalls, too, with known faults including problems with the heated screens and brakes, which should all have been fixed now. As for safety, the S-MAX has a full five-star Euro NCAP rating for adult occupant protection and four stars for child occupant. It comes loaded with airbags, including front and side airbags for the two front seats, along with window airbags for the front two rows. There's also a knee airbag for the driver. Traction and stability control are also fitted as standard, as well as Isofix child-seat fixings.
As you would expect from a full-sized MPV, the S-MAX is a very practical car. With all seven seats in place, the boot measures in at 285 litres - which is about the same as most superminis – but this increases to a van-like 2,000 litres with the second two rows folded. The rearmost seats are only really suitable for children, though, which mean that it’s likely that most of the time these will be folded flat to allow for more boot space. Doing so is a doddle, thanks to some easy-to-pull toggles, and the seats then sit flush with the floor. There’s plenty of head and legroom in the middle row seats, but they also slide back and forth to create even more room. There are also plenty of useful cubbies, including places to stash things like your mobile or maps, as well as overhead storage bins. You sit high but still low enough to feel like you’re in something sporty, while the slim A-pillars mean it’s easy to see out, and the driving position has loads of adjustment.
The S-MAX is a very big car and, as such, is never going to be cheap to run. That said the 2.0-litre EcoBoost petrol version isn’t as thirsty as you might expect, with official figures of 34.9mpg and CO2 emissions of 189g/km. It’s also smooth and quick, but does have a higher insurance group rating then the diesels. All of the 2.0 TDCi engines, regardless of power, have the same economy and emissions figures - 52.3mpg and 139g/km. However, if you opt for the Powershift automatic gearbox, the mpg figure drops to 47.1 and the emissions rise to 159g/km, which makes it much more expensive to tax. As for other running costs, the S-MAX is a large car and owners have reported heavy tyre wear. Budget a reasonable amount for diesel servicing, too. Service intervals are 12,500 miles for every model, while the 650-strong dealer network means there’ll be a Ford workshop near you to fix any problems. And as the S-MAX is set to be replaced soon, you should be able to negotiate a big discount on the list price, too.