Ford S-MAX

Classy MPV can be had for under £20,000

F you think all people movers are boxy, think again. The Ford S-MAX resembles a cross between a conventional people carrier and a sporty coupé – and prices start from £19,190.

Coming in at £19,900, the 1.8-litre TDCi car isn’t either the most powerful or top-specced model in the range. But we think it’s the best seven-seater you can buy for less than £20,000. And whatever model you choose, you get sporty looks that set it apart from other multi-purpose vehicles.

The S-MAX’s well judged proportions, neat nose and sleek profile make rivals look unimaginative and dull. Cabin quality is also excellent and, as you’d expect for a model with this kind of price tag, it’s a cut above the Fiat and Peugeot in our line-up. Ford’s soft-touch plastics, smart instruments and attractive dashboard will be more familiar to car drivers than existing MPV owners.

At the back, its third row of seats are perfect examples of the extra effort that has been put in. Its sixth and seventh seats are more complicated than those of the less expensive models on test, and feature separate backrests and squabs. They rotate and swivel separately to fold away and leave a flat load area when not in use.

Even when they are occupied there’s a healthy 285 litres of load space, but stow the third row and there’s 755 litres of room in the back. This is possible as the S-MAX measures 4.7 metres long – over half-a-metre longer than the Doblo.

To further boost its flexibility, the S-MAX also features sliding middle seats, so you can balance legroom between the second and third rows. There’s more space in the very back than you get in the cheaper Peugeot, and the Ford’s rearmost chairs are more comfortable than the Doblo’s.

Taller passengers might struggle with headroom, thanks to the S-MAX’s sloping roofline, but our biggest complaint regards light, as the tinted side windows and small glass area result in a depressingly dark rear cabin. Our test car was fitted with the flagship 2.2-litre TDCi diesel engine, so performance was startling compared to the rest of the cars here.

At the track it scorched from 0-60mph in 9.2 seconds. With 173bhp that comes as no surprise, although the base 123bhp 1.8-litre oil-burner should be able to complete the same test in 11.1 seconds – still faster than the Fiat and Peugeot.

Most impressive were the Ford’s brakes. The S-MAX weighs 1,802kg before you fill it with passengers, but they stopped the fully laden MPV from 70mph in a superb 48.6 metres. On the move, the people carrier upholds Ford’s reputation.

Its steering is perfectly weighted and the handling is incredibly agile, with excellent grip from the car’s front tyres. With sharp body control it proves that you can have fun behind the wheel and transport a large family all at the same time. And that’s a trick few rivals can pull off.


WHY: Ford has put its prices up, but you can still get our favourite seven-seater MPV for under £20,000.

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