Ford S-MAX 2010 review

Big MPV gets revolutionary new ecoboost turbo petrol engine as part of facelift

Overall Auto Express Rating

4.0 out of 5

Due to the minimal changes to the chassis, interior and exterior, the main focus of the latest S-MAX is firmly on the debut of Ford’s new EcoBoost petrol engine. It bridges the gap neatly between similarly powered but more thirsty naturally aspirated engines and torquey diesels, providing plenty of flexibility around town and smooth, rev-hungry responses when the pace quickens. Diesel engines suit the MPV better, but Ford’s achievement in simultaneously upping power and efficiency by such significant margins shouldn’t be overlooked.

The S-MAX is leading the way again! Notable for creating the sporty MPV segment when it was launched in 2006, the seven-seater has received a host of visual and mechanical upgrades for 2010 – and the headline is that it’s the first car to be fitted with Ford’s powerful but efficient EcoBoost engine.

We got behind the wheel to see whether it’s still good enough to compete for class honours.

Video: watch CarBuyer's video review of the Ford S-MAX

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The new engine is part of a family of turbocharged petrol powerplants designed to produce all the performance and driving pleasure of larger units, but with a boost in efficiency and bhp.

The 200bhp 2.0-litre which debuts in the S-MAX emits 19 per cent less CO2 than the naturally aspirated 2.3-litre it effectively replaces, but delivers 25 per cent more power.

So how are such huge gains possible? For starters, it features high-pressure direct fuel injection, while the unit’s smaller capacity means it weighs less, too. Plus, in a first for a large MPV, the engine is mated to a twin-clutch automatic gearbox, in the shape of Ford’s Powershift set-up.

The good news is the changes squeeze every last mile out of a tank of petrol, while retaining the fun factor of the previous S-MAX. From low revs, the EcoBoost picks up quickly, offering the flexibility of a diesel around town, but with the added refinement a petrol engine brings.

Keep your right foot to the floor, and it revs freely to the 7,000rpm red line, accompanied by a pleasing crescendo from the exhausts. While the car never feels genuinely fast, there’s more than enough performance available to keep family drivers happy.

The new transmission comes as standard with the EcoBoost unit, and distributes the power beautifully. Whether you leave it in normal mode or select the more urgent sport setting, it’s quick to shuffle into a higher ratio on light throttle loads.

Then, when you want to push on, it shifts down several gears instantly. Our only criticism is that Ford doesn’t offer steering wheel-mounted paddles as an option. These could seal the deal for driving enthusiasts in the market for a larger car.

In other respects, the S-MAX is as good on the road as ever, with a solid, positive feel to all the major controls. What’s more, the supple ride belies its talents through corners – which are considerable for a car this size.

Ford has kept the styling modifications to a minimum– presumably as the S-MAX still looks fresh even after four years on sale. At the front, modifications comprise a more strongly sculpted bonnet, bolder grille and revised front bumper, complete with LED daytime running lights on higher-spec models. A chrome strip now surrounds the side glass area, and at the rear are new LED lights and a fresh S-MAX bootlid badge.

It’s a similar story inside. There is now the option of an excellent premium stereo, as well as a one-piece panoramic sunroof, but the two rows of rear seats still fold flat as standard. It’s all very familiar then, but that’s no bad thing. The S-MAX retains the prestige feel of a more expensive car, especially in this high-spec Titanium trim.

Diesel fans still have a range of fantastic engines to choose from, with the improved 2.0-litre TDCi now available in 160bhp tune for the first time. And most examples of the S-MAX sold in the UK will continue to drink from the black pump, despite the strong pace and green credentials of this petrol car. But a 1.6-litre EcoBoost is due to debut later this year in the new Focus and C-MAX – and in these models, the breakthrough engine technology will be a big hit.

Rival: Peugeot 5008 It doesn’t have the sporty credentials of the S-MAX, but Peugeot’s recently launched 5008 is surprisingly fun to drive. While it’s late to the MPV party, it offers space for seven, restrained good looks and bags of practicality in an impressive all-round package.

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