Ford S-Max

Getting on a bit now, but still one of the best MPVs to drive

£23,310 - £33,085 Price range

7 Seats

34 - 54 MPG

8.2
wowscore
This is the average score given by leading car publications from 17 reviews
  • Great to drive
  • Seven comfy seats
  • Loads of space inside
  • Rivals are cheaper
  • Standard kit isn't generous
  • Little else

The Ford S-Max is the MPV you’ll want if you don’t want to sacrifice a bit of driving fun now and then. It gets very good reviews and seems to be most experts’ choice of MPV – it’s so good it even made it into our list of Top Ten 7 Seater Cars.

It’s getting on a little now but really, its talents haven’t diminished. The only concerns are fairly high list prices, and the fact that several rivals now offer more fuel-efficient engine options, which means the S-Max won’t be quite as cheap to run either.

There’s little to complain about inside the S-Max. If MPVs need to do only one thing well, it has to be practicality, and according to reviews the S-Max scores well here. The dashboard design is no longer cutting-edge but everything is laid out where you’d expect, it feels well-built, and the driving position is comfortable even over longer trips.

Testers found that even the two rearmost seats are okay for adults on shorter journeys, and luggage space is good when they aren’t in use. For more regular use you’ll want the middle row though, which will comfortably accommodate adults. The seats are comfy, and quality is good. If there’s one criticism, it’s that posher trim levels, with leather and Alcantara, are almost too nice to specify – given the hard family use they’ll see. It looks great, of course, but a cheaper hard-wearing cloth might be better if you’ve young kids who have a habit of destroying things..

Thought you’d be relegated to a life of tedium by buying an MPV? Think again, if you’re looking at an S-Max. It’s one of very few multi-purpose vehicles on the market that does a good impression of a proper driver’s car, and while you’ll not be throwing it around with the family in the back, nor will you curse your ability to procreate for every moment you spend behind the wheel.

Reviewers say that the levels of steering feel mean you always have a good idea of what’s going on at the front wheels. Generally, what’s going on is the nose of the car happily attaching itself to your chosen line, since grip levels are good. It rides as well as you’d hope from a family vehicle, and doesn’t mind being driven near its limits. Most families will simply appreciate the excellent levels of comfort and impressive refinement.

There are three diesel engines on offer, and two turbocharged petrols thrown in for good measure. The range starts with a frugal 1.6 TDCi, rising to 2.0 and 2.2-litre diesels that combine strong performance with respectable economy. If performance, rather than economy is a priority (and we’re not really sure it will be in an MPV) then the 2.0 EcoBoost petrol will be right up your street – just under 240bhp is at your disposal, along with a 34 mpg combined figure. The former makes it sound a lot of fun, the latter makes it sound like a particularly expensive way of ferrying your kids about. There’s also a 1.6 EcoBoost available, its 41.5mpg economy sounding a little more sensible.

Testers find the diesel engines impressively refined. In terms of economy, they’re nothing to write home about though. 54mpg is about the best you’ll get while the 2.2 dips into the high 30s with the PowerShift twin-clutch auto transmission. The auto is a good gearbox (as are the slick manuals) but it does make running the S-Max a little more expensive. Some of Ford’s rivals offer more frugal choices.

The 1.6 TDCi marks the entry point into diesel S-Max ownership. It’s not necessarily the best place to start though, according to the single review we have so far. Refinement isn’t a problem - this engine in other Fords gets plenty of praise. Neither is fuel economy, since the bald figures of 54.3mpg and £115 a year in car tax aren’t too shabby.

Instead, it’s that age-old problem of a relatively small, low-powered engine being forced to tug along a large, heavy body. If you let the engine rev too low, you’ll find it a bit sluggish and the 1.6 TDCi needs to be worked hard to ensure decent pace.

This would be even worse with a full load of people on board, and that economy figure might be a struggle to hit as you’ll often be a gear lower than you’d want to ensure you’re not holding up the traffic behind. As a result, the reviewer - and we - recommend you pick the 2.0 TDCi 140 engine instead.

The real life mpg figures may be closer with the 2.0 TDCi as this 1.6 TDCi will need to be worked hard to get up to speed.

This isn't a bad engine, but it's worth looking at the other options first before buying this model of S-Max.

You’ve probably already deduced that the “203” stands for the EcoBoost’s horsepower, and you’re right in thinking it makes for quite a rapid MPV. 0-60mph takes little over 8 seconds and if you ever find yourself on a de-restricted autobahn, 137mph is achievable. Reviewers are certainly keen on the engine. They say it’s happy to pull from low revs and under light throttle, yet it will also pull right around the rev-counter to the redline, sounding sporty in the process.

When you’re not thrashing your family-wagon, you’ll find it a pretty refined unit too, and progress with the twin-clutch Powershift auto is smooth enough, with manual control when you need it. Only economy is really lacking - 35mpg isn’t bad from a large, heavy petrol, but the fuel costs start to add up next to the more economical diesels, and £245 a year car tax is a fair chunk of cash too.

However, despite this S-Max 2.0 Ecoboost 203 getting great reviews, some of the diesel engines give even better efficiency and more power, so take a look at those too.

Ford puts the 140-horsepower TDCi diesel in most of its range, and just with any other car you’ll find it in, it’s rated very highly here. Most reviews describe it as having class-leading refinement, and there’s plenty of torque which has benefits across the board - happy low-rev cruising, good overtaking pace and relaxed progress. It’s also fitted with a snappy six-speed manual gearbox as standard, with well-chosen ratios.

There are no complaints about performance either. At just under 10 seconds to 60mph this 2.0 TDCi 140 is not as quick as the 2.0-litre EcoBoost petrols, but not slow either, and that small sacrifice is worth it for the 47.1mpg average fuel economy. As a result of its efficient engine tax bills will also be usefully small - band G means a bill of only £165 a year, not bad for such a large, practical vehicle.

Most reviews below are of the pre-facelift S-Max, though the engine is essentially the same, it's just slightly more economical and powerful now.

Reviews of the S-Max 2.0 TDCi 163 say that this is a great choice. The experts say this engine is the one to go for. It’s powerful, smooth, quiet and gets great fuel economy. Road tax costs won’t be too high either, thanks to low CO2 emissions. As well as reviews, there’s some useful reports from journalists who have lived with the car, which give a good indication of what it’s like to live with.
These are general, non-engine specific reviews. They give a nice overview of what the car is like, without focusing on just one engine/version.
This review of the S-Max 1.8 TDCi said that it was a slow engine that felt underpowered. This engine isn’t on sale anymore, so you can only buy a used S-Max with it. It has been replaced with the 1.6 TDCi engine, which gets better reviews, but is also a little slow for such a large car.
The S-Max 2.5i reviews all agreed that this engine made the car a lot of fun to drive. This engine isn’t on sale any more, so it’ll only be available on used cars. It’s a good choice though as it’s fast, sounds great under acceleration and quiet at motorway speeds.

When tested in 2006, the Ford S-Max achieved a full five-star safety rating with Euro NCAP, but the safety body changed its testing and scoring procedures in 2009 so until the model is tested again (or replaced with an all-new car), there’s no direct comparison here between the S-Max and its rivals.

At the time, it scored 5/5 for adult protection and 4 out of 5 for child occupant protection. There was no comment on safety features at the time, but Ford has more or less kept pace with the market here. ABS and stability control are standard, there’s a multitude of airbags (including standard knee airbags for front passengers) and Adaptive Cruise Control is optional on Titanium models and above.

You can knock a few points away from the otherwise excellent S-Max here, as they’re quite expensive to buy compared to several rivals. A £23,110 base price is significantly more than the Peugeot 5008s, Renault Scenics and Mazda 5s of this world, and though the S-Max is a little more spacious than those rivals you’d have to seriously want the extra utility of the slightly larger rear seats to justify the cost difference. Given that a few of those rivals also cost less to run and offer similarly comprehensive equipment lists, the Ford doesn’t exactly waltz away from them in terms of costs. Depreciation is also heavy, particularly on the slightly less desirable petrol models.

Conclusion

If budget, fuel economy or outright space is a concern, there are probably more suitable MPVs on the market.

However, few – if any – are as fun to drive, and the S-Max is rated very highly in most other areas too. It may be getting on a bit, but if you want to carry people around in comfort while not completely sacrificing driving pleasure, this is about the best way to do so.

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