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
When the S-MAX first went on sale in 2006, Ford proved you needn’t sacrifice family practicality for driver enjoyment – marrying the two to create one of the finest-handling MPVs on the market.
The all-new model goes on sale in 2015, and we’re pleased to report it’s as good as ever. It may not have the sliding doors of the SEAT Alhambra, or the rear seat practicality of its bigger brother, the Ford Galaxy, but it’s still an impressively rounded family car – and a welcome alternative to the recent raft of seven-seat SUVs.
There’s just as much room inside as there was before, meaning three individual seats in the middle row, and a pair of smaller ones in the back. There are loads of cubbies and storage bins dotted around the cabin, and those in the rearmost seats even get a pair of cupholders to make longer journeys less painful for small kids. Bootspace is decent, though with all seven seats in place you’ll be restricted to a few squashy bags rather than a plethora of hard-backed suitcases.
Buyers get a choice of three trims – from the familiar Zetec, through Titanium and Titanium Sport specifications. All cars get Ford’s new SYNC 2 infotainment system and 17-inch alloy wheels, as well as parking sensors, keyless go and a DAB radio. Titanium cars add the all-important sat-nav and USB connectivity, while top-spec Titanium Sport models boast bigger wheels, a sporty bodykit, sports suspension and heated front seats. For around £2,000, customers can add the Titanium X pack, with LED headlights and electrically operated leather seats.
There is a wide choice of engines, too: four diesels and two petrols, as well as manual and automatic gearboxes, and two or four-wheel drive. Ford expects the mid-range 148bhp 2.0-litre TDCi diesel to be the biggest seller, though the more powerful 178bhp version adds more torque and costs just £750 more. The top-spec, 237bhp petrol should be avoided though, as it doesn’t feel as flexible as the diesel and will cost a fortune to run.
Our choice: S-MAX 2.0 TDCi 150 Titanium
At first glance, you’d be forgiven for thinking this new S-MAX was in fact an old S-MAX. Ford insists it’s an all-new car, but in terms of styling, it’s still immediately recognisable as the popular seven-seat MPV.
It gets the same rakish yet practical profile, low stance and wide rear end. Changes include the refreshed Aston Martin-style grille, as well as new head and taillights, repositioned foglights and revised bumpers. While it may not look strikingly different on the outside, the biggest changes have been made to the interior.
All models get Ford’s innovative SYNC2 infotainment system – which does a good job of cleaning up the previously cluttered dash – as well as a one-touch handbrake in place of the old airline-style joystick. Quality is up, too, with a much plusher feel and swathes of upmarket materials and solid-feeling controls. Yes, the usual scratchy plastics are evident if you peer into the footwells, but it’s a big improvement over the old model.
Standard kit includes 17-inch alloys, while mid-spec Titanium cars add privacy glass, LED daytime running lights and more body coloured trim. As the name suggests, Titanium Sport models are the most athletic-looking, with 18-inch wheels, a full body kit and subtle rear spoiler.
From behind the wheel, you’d be forgiven for thinking you were driving a much smaller car such as the brand’s own Fiesta or Focus. It feels nimble, belying its bulk in a way few MPVs can, with the lower centre of gravity meaning it’s more fun than many SUVs too.
However, all this handling prowess doesn’t mean it’s uncomfortable on motorway journeys. The compliant suspension does a great job of keeping the car in check, yet soaks up the lumps and bumps on pitted country roads. It’s remarkably composed, and will transport big families long distances from A to B without breaking a sweat.
Ford offers buyers a choice of two petrol and four diesel engines, with the mid-range 148bhp 2.0-litre TDCI expected to be the big seller. It offers a decent blend of performance (0-62mph in 10.8 seconds) versus running costs, and feels suitably nippy on the move. There’s a smaller 118bhp version (0-62mph in 13.4 seconds), but if you regularly carry seven people, it’s likely to feel a little lethargic.
The petrol models are quieter, but you’ll have to trade some of that refinement at the pumps. We’ve not tried the 1.5-litre turbocharged EcoBoost, but the range-topping 237bhp 2.0-litre didn’t feel nearly as fast as the figures suggest. Ford says it’ll do 0-62mph in 8.4 seconds, but the inferior torque figures mean the diesels feel more eager. We’d avoid it and go for one of the faster diesels instead.
The Powershift automatic gearbox is smooth – although it isn’t as fast as the equivalent VW Group DSG. We’d stick with the six-speed manual unless you desperately need a self-shifter.
The Ford S-MAX first went on sale in 2006, so its no surprise to see the old model slipping down the Auto Express Driver Power rankings. The old MPV finished 116th overall in 2014, falling even further in the most recent survey – ending up in 132nd place.
However, as with many new cars, we expect to see the revised S-MAX jump up the list next year, remedying the old model’s poor reliability and lacklustre build quality. If the new Focus and Mondeo are anything to go by, the S-MAX should be built to last.
The new S-MAX hasn’t been tested for safety yet, but expect it to gain the full five stars from Euro NCAP thanks when it is reviewed later this year. All cars get a host of airbags and tyre pressure monitoring, as well as ISOFIX points on all three middle row seats. Other tech includes automatic braking, variable lock steering and a system that recognises road signs and adjusts the car’s speed accordingly.
Just like the previous model, the new Ford S-MAX is a very practical car. As before, you get 285 litres of bootspace with all seven seats in place, and while that might not sound like much – it’s more than your average supermini. It’s more generous than most of its rivals, too, and should be enough for a few small bags.
However, fold the rearmost seats flat and this expands to 965 litres, increasing to a van-like 2,020 litres with the middle row folded. That final figure means the sporty S-MAX is 169 litres bigger than the Citroen Grand C4 Picasso, despite the slightly sloped roofline.
The rearmost seats are only really suitable for children, but the middle row slides back and forth for more legroom. All the seats fold flat individually, while buyers can spec buttons in the boot to lower them electronically – but in our opinion, this is an unnecessary option.
The interior is packed with useful cubbies, including places to stash odds and ends and all the associated family clobber. The huge airline-style handbrake has been removed in favour of a simple electronic switch, freeing up space on the new minimalist dashboard. As you’d expect, the combination of a high seating position and slim A-pillars means you get a commanding view of the road, while the seats and steering wheel benefit from a wide range of adjustment, meaning its easy to get comfortable.
The Ford S-MAX has never been the most economical MPV, and that hasn’t changed with this latest iteration. While the diesels won’t break the bank – rivals like the Citroen Grand C4 Picasso cost significantly less to fuel and tax, so if running costs are of the utmost importance, you might want to look elsewhere.
The most frugal diesel is the 118bhp 2.0-litre TDCi diesel. It’ll do 56.5mpg and emit 129g/km of CO2, putting it in tax band D for annual VED of £110. Incidentally, those are identical figures to the more expensive 148bhp and 178bhp versions, but less than the more powerful 207bhp unit (52.3mpg and 139g/km). Adding four-wheel drive and an automatic gearbox does no favours for fuel consumption either – with the 178bhp 4x4 auto getting 48.7mpg on the combined cycle.
As for other running costs, the S-MAX is a large car and existing owners have reported heavy tyre wear, particularly on the front wheels. 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. Of course, as with any Ford model, pre paid servicing is available.