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Ford S-Max vs Volkswagen Touran – mainstream MPVs compared

Though Volkswagen and Ford weren’t the first to the multi-purpose vehicle (MPV) party, their efforts have been amongst the best selling cars in the class in recent years.

The Touran and S-Max represent the brands’ mid-size car-based MPVs, underpinned by the Golf and Mondeo respectively. This means they sit in separate size classes – 4.4m for the Touran and 4.8m for the S-Max – and the Touran is slightly cheaper, though both still have seven seats.

So does the Touran suffer for the size, or is the price enough to convince you away from the Ford? We’re finding out.

Styling

It’s probably fair to say that neither car has quite so much freedom in the design department as less-constrained bodystyles. The selling point of any MPV is a large interior that necessitates pushing every piece of body as far away as possible from the occupants, and this almost always leads to a cuboid.

The Ford does at least manage some distinction in the overall body shape, with a feature line coming down from the roof to the nose of the car. The windscreen is long and lies at a pretty shallow angle, while the nose is pretty stubby, giving good forward visibility. The Touran, on the other hand, looks like a taller hatchback from the front.

At the back, the Touran is even less imaginative (if that’s even possible), with a vertical, rectangular window that fails to thrill even slightly. The S-Max at least has some shape to it, and by tying together the fairly angular tail lights with a chrome strip, there’s far less of a sense that it’s just a slab of metal.

Ford has gone a bit overboard on the details though. The shape of the side windows makes for a really thick D-pillar (that’s the bit that joins the roof to the car at the rear corner), so you won’t see any obstacles over your shoulder under about five-feet tall.

Interior

Both cars meet the ergonomic requirements, with everything laid out just as it should be. On the inside, the Touran is, like the outside, a little bit boring.

The S-Max is a little more theatrical when it comes to design; it adopts a more contemporary dash-mounted gearstick than the traditional floor-mounted one found in the Touran. Ford doesn’t have the lofty reputation when it comes to build quality that Volkswagen does – the Touran will be more likely to survive a few years of the kind of serious abuse only children can dish out.

Despite the larger exterior dimensions, the S-Max’s rearmost seats are only marginally more adult-friendly than the Touran’s. You’ll probably not want to spend much time in either if you’re older than twelve. The middle row is well-proportioned on both though, with the requisite adjustable seating to make the most of the interior space.

Practicality

While there’s no obvious payoff in the relative dimensions of the car when it comes to seating, the extra space really shows in the boot. The S-Max holds 356 litres more in five-seat configuration (695 vs 1,051), and still has a 285 litre space with all seats in place.

Both will convert to vans for a post-Christmas tip run though, taking on more or less the same 2,000 litres (1,989 for the VW) of stuff in two seat configuration. The Touran manages to nip up close to the Ford here by the fact that the seats are removable – though it’s something of a work out to do so.

Driving

Though imbued with essence of people carrier, these two car-based offerings give road manners befitting their origins, for better or for worse.

With the S-Max, this means you get a Mondeo-like drive, and the Mondeo has been at the top of its class for driver satisfaction, ride and handling since it launched. The S-Max is little different, giving your family and valuables a comfortable experience when they’re on board and giving you a lot of fun when they aren’t.

The Touran is more Golf-like – and we don’t mean Golf GTI. It’s a safe and predictable experience that, like the Ford, is comfortable enough for your family and yet has a nice enough feel to the handling to enjoy after you’ve dropped them off, but it’s all a little restrained and aloof.

Engines

The selection of engines for both cars is dizzying. Core buyers are likely to want to go for diesel models though, and it’s represented well by 1.6 and 2.0-litre units for both (and a 2.2 in the Ford).

S-Max puts more focus on style than the stoic Touran

If it’s outright economy you’re after, the Touran does best with a 61mpg option in the shape of a 103hp 1.6 TDI. It’s a little on the slow side, accomplishing a 0-60mph run in 12.8 seconds, but then Ford’s best effort at sipping fuel is a slower and thirstier (54mpg) 112hp model. For speed, lean towards the Ford, which has higher output engines (197hp vs 175hp).

Petrol is a little underrepresented in both cars, though VW and Ford put in their latest generation of small capacity TSI and Ecoboost power units. The latter is even available in a 237hp form that scorches 0-60mph in 7.9s, though at 34mpg it’ll cost you at the pumps.

The best blend of performance and economy comes from the 2.0 138hp diesels available in either car that offer more or less identical on-paper stats to within 1mpg and 0.2s, at pretty much the same price.

Individual seats in the Touran’s middle row make it easy to install wayward children

Value for Money

In a Ford vs Volkswagen value for money discussion, there’s usually only one result – the VW is more expensive and the Ford better equipped. With external size being a factor here, it’s not quite so clear cut.

Starting north of £23k, the S-MAX is an expensive car even considering the class it’s in and the £20k Touran undercuts it by quite some distance for only slightly less boot space. However, once you get to the most popular mid-range models with the 2.0-litre diesels, the difference in price is barely £500 and you’d struggle to choose between them on specification alone.

They have the same warranty, the same insurance group and roughly the same running costs. The Volkswagen is more likely to hold onto its value though, because Fords – and large Fords at that – are not known for gentle depreciation.

Verdict

It’s surprisingly difficult to pick between these two cars, despite occupying different classes. The Ford has the edge on looks and driving manners, with a slight space advantage too, but the Volkswagen is slightly more efficient, slightly cheaper and will hold onto its value better.

This boils down to one of those trite heart vs head decisions. You’re not going to love the Touran like you’ll love the S-Max but, unless you absolutely have to take seven people and their luggage to reasonably far-off places regularly, it makes more sense.

Don’t fancy an MPV?

If you’re not that keen on the MPV body style, but still need a large family car that’s spacious, comfortable and well equipped? Take a look at our comparison of the Volkswagen Passat estate and Ford Mondeo estate.

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