Ford S-MAX review
The Ford S-MAX is the best-driving seven-seater on sale, and gets a slick shape and loads of standard kit
The Ford S-MAX is a people carrier for buyers who want to do more than carry passengers. It’s good looking, great fun to drive, yet comfortable and practical enough to transport an entire family – or move house with thanks to its enormous boot. There’s a wide line-up of engines, and although you’ll have to go for the larger Ford Galaxy if you want a spacious seven-seater, the S-MAX is so good it’s been tempting drivers out of their BMW 3 Series and Audi A4s. The S-MAX received a mild facelift in 2010 which added a range of new Ecoboost petrol engines and subtle updates to the styling. An all-new 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
Here's proof that an MPV can look good. The sleek Ford S-MAX isn’t a box-on-wheels like a VW Sharan or SEAT Alhambra; it’s sporty and stylish, yet that shape doesn’t come at the expense of practicality. Even standard Zetec-trimmed models get alloy wheels, while further up the range you can customise your car with extra trim and a new grille surround (not to mention a few other options) thanks to Ford’s Individual range of styling enhancements. The dashboard is well made with lots of soft-touch materials, and all the controls are logically placed. A full-length panoramic roof is optional but well worth the extra, as it lets so much light in.
Behind the wheel, you would be hard-pressed to spot you were in a tall people carrier, such is the way the S-MAX attacks corners and resists body roll. Yet its firm but compliant ride is also great at soaking up nasty bumps – your family will never suspect you’re having so much fun. Pick of the engine line-up is the gutsy 2.0 TDCi diesel engine in 138bhp Zetec form – the 113bhp version feels a bit underpowered while the 161bhp only comes in Titanium trim and costs nearly £2,500 more. If you’ve got the cash, the flagship 200bhp 2.0-litre EcoBoost petrol is a fast and surprisingly frugal replacement for the thirsty old 2.5-litre five-cylinder model. If you need an automatic, Ford's Powershift gearbox is quick and smooth, but adds more than £1,000 to the S-MAX's list price.
The S-MAX has loads of 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. Factor in standard traction and stability control and a five-star Euro NCAP crash test rating, and you’ve got a very safe MPV. What's more, the S-MAX finished an impressive 24th in our 2012 Driver Power survey, putting it streaks ahead of the smaller VW Touran. However, there have been a variety of recalls due to faulty heated screens and brakes, but these should have been solved by now.
There are only a couple of negatives to the practicality of the Ford S-MAX – the final two seats are only suitable for children or very small adults, and when they’re in place, the boot is tiny. But in five-seat mode the boot is huge, while the middle row has loads of space for tall passengers and slides back and forth. Those sixth and seventh seats fold flat easily and sit flush, operated by some easy-to-pull toggles. With all the seats folded, there’s a massive 2,000 litres of space. Up front, there are loads of cubbies and places to stash phones, maps etc. You sit high but still low enough to feel like you’re in something sporty, while the A-pillars are slim, so it’s easy to see out, and the driving position has loads of adjustment. The 2014 S-MAX could see a pillarless entry system, like that used in the recently released Ford B-MAX.
There’s no doubt about it – if you want to minimise your Ford S-MAX fuel and tax bills, go diesel, because while the EcoBoost petrols are smooth and quick, they just can’t compete. All of the 2.0 TDCi engines, regardless of power, have the same economy and emissions - 49.5mpg and 152g/km. As for running costs, the S-MAX is a large car, and owners have reported heavy tyre wear. Budget a reasonable amount for diesel servicing, too. Zetec cars have dual-zone climate control, parking sensors, Bluetooth and all-round electric windows. Titanium adds cruise control, automatic lights and wipers, a USB port for iPods and a DAB digital radio. The flagship Titanium X Sport gets a bodykit, sports suspension and part-leather seats.