Ford S-Max Review
The Ford S-Max is a practical seven-seater that comes with a decent amount of kit and is even pretty good fun to drive. It feels cheaper inside than some alternatives, however.
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The Ford S-Max is a bit like a rucksack designed for long-distance runners – it’s roomy and practical, yet much sportier than your typical hiking bag.
Part of this is down to the way it looks. It might not look quite as futuristic as the eye-catching Citroen Grand C4 Spacetourer, but it certainly turns more heads than the rather staid and sensible VW Sharan. This is partly thanks to an update in 2019 that gave the S-Max lower, sportier bumpers, a bigger grille and a range of new alloy wheels.
Unfortunately, while it might look a fair bit faster than most practical MPVs, the Ford S-Max’s styling loses some momentum when you climb inside. Its rather plain dashboard and drab black and grey colour scheme don’t look anywhere near as modern as the Citroen Grand C4 Spacetourer’s cabin and the various plastics dotted about the place aren’t as plush as those in a VW Sharan.
Pick a model with the latest SYNC 3 touchscreen system and you do at least get sat-nav and smartphone mirroring – although Ford’s own menus are pretty tricky to navigate compared with the intuitive system you get in a BMW 2 Series Gran Tourer.
Thankfully, the Ford S-Max gains some ground in terms of practicality. There’s ample space for tall adults to get comfy in the front (especially in models with 18-way electrically adjustable seats) and those in the middle row can slide and recline their seats to let them stretch out.
As in most MPVs, the rearmost seats are a little too cramped for adults but spacious enough for kids and there’s a decent amount of space left in the boot with all seven seats in place. Flip all of the Ford S-Max’s rear seats down – using handy buttons by the bootlid – and it turns into a seriously spacious van-like load-lugger.
The S-Max is the perfect car for the keen driver with a large family
If carrying plenty of luggage – or passengers – sounds like your kind of driving, the more powerful 190hp 2.0-litre diesel is the engine to go for. It’s fairly economical and will think nothing of hauling heavy loads to the tip.
The 150hp diesel is still well worth considering, however – especially if you tend to do shorter journeys. That said, both engines make good motorway cruisers – especially if you go for an S-Max with the optional eight-speed automatic gearbox instead of the standard six-speed manual unit.
Whichever gearbox you pick, you’ll find that the Ford S-Max’s light controls and large windows make it easy to drive in town, but it isn’t quite as comfortable over bumps as the likes of the VW Sharan thanks to its firmer suspension.
The upside to this, however, is that the Ford S-Max feels impressively nimble for such a large car on a twisty road. Sure, it’s no Ford Fiesta, but it’ll nip from corner to corner without a great deal of unpleasant body lean.
It’s pretty quiet too, so you won’t feel too tired after long motorway journeys, and you can get adaptive cruise control to further reduce the stress of long stints behind the wheel.
It might not come with quite as many high-tech driver assistance systems as some more expensive seven-seaters, but if you’re looking for a practical MPV that’s easy to live with and surprisingly fun to drive, the Ford S-Max is well worth a look.
You’ll have no trouble carrying four tall passengers in the S-Max and its boot is a doddle to load but the rearmost seats are only really suitable for kids
Forget the weekly shop, you can carry the entire stockroom of a large Asda in the back of the S-Max – if you fold all its seats down first, that is
The S-Max has seven individual seats arranged in three rows. The middle row can independently slide back and forth and recline at the pull of a lever. There’s enough space back there for two adults, but try to carry three and you’ll find there isn’t a great deal of elbow room.
The third row is best kept for kids because an adult will find their knees pressed to their chest – the Ford Galaxy is a better bet if you need more space.
If you regularly carry very young passengers, you’ll find it’s a doddle to lift in and secure a baby seat using any of the Isofix anchor points on the middle-row.
The Ford S-Max’s front seats are comfortable and supportive in all the right areas. There’s plenty of adjustment to help you get comfortable and the steering wheel can be repositioned for height and reach to give you an unobstructed view of the instruments.
If you do lots of long journeys, you’ll want to pay extra for the 18-way electrically adjustable seats with four-way lumbar support. Not only will this help prevent lower back pain during lengthy stints behind the wheel, but the seats themselves have been approved by the appropriately named German Campaign for Healthy Backs.
This being a family car, there are lots of small cubbies and storage areas dotted all around the cabin. There’s space for a 1.5-litre bottle in each of the front door bins and the glovebox is relatively roomy, too. There’s a pair of cupholders in the centre console and space beneath the front armrest and in a hidden cubby on top of the dashboard to tuck a few smaller items safely out of sight.
The Ford S-Max’s rear door bins aren’t quite as roomy as those in the front and the separate centre seat means you don’t get a folding armrest with any cupholders. You can, however, get some flip-up picnic trays attached to the back of the front seats, instead.
With all seven seats in place, the Ford S-Max has 285 litres of bootspace so you’ll have no trouble packing in a few suitcases or a fair-sized weekly shop. You can flip the rearmost seats down to carry longer items and fold all but the front seats away to safely store a few bikes or some giant-sized flat-pack furniture.
To help make this whole process as easy as possible, you can get the Ford S-Max with electrically folding rear seats that you operate using handy buttons by the boot opening. You can fold the S-Max’s seats down in as many as 32 different combinations, so loading some oddly shaped luggage and carrying a couple of passengers shouldn’t present any problems.
The Ford S-Max’s boot opening is wide, square and low, so it’s dead easy to slide in heavy boxes and the flat load bay means you can easily push them all the way up behind the front seats.
The S-Max is the best to drive among alternatives, proving that an MPV doesn’t have to be boring to drive
The Ford S-Max feels impressively light on its feet for a big MPV, so it gives you plenty of confidence on unfamiliar roads
Presently, you can get the Ford S-Max with just two diesel engines. Both are 2.0-litre units and can be had with either a six-speed manual or an eight-speed automatic gearbox.
The entry-level 150hp 2.0-litre diesel engine is your best bet if you do a mix of town and motorway driving. It’s pretty smooth for a diesel engine, perky enough to pull you and six passengers along and returns reasonably good fuel economy, too.
If you’re planning to carry heavier loads or tow a large trailer, the more powerful 190hp 2.0-litre diesel engine is worth checking out. It’s a little thirstier than the 150hp model but requires less effort to power past slow-moving lorries when fully loaded.
Both engines can be had with either a six-speed manual gearbox or an eight-speed automatic. The standard manual is smooth and precise, so you won’t have anything to worry about in heavy traffic.
If you spend lots of time behind the wheel, however, you’ll want to try the eight-speed automatic instead. It changes gear smoothly and doesn’t jerk forward or lurch at slow speeds.
You get a good view out of the Ford S-Max thanks to its large windows and raised driving position, so it’s really easy to drive in town.
The controls are nice and light too, so your arms won’t start to tire after a particularly tricky bit of parallel parking and the Ford S-Max manages to iron out most smaller bumps reasonably well. That said, the VW Sharan is more comfortable to drive over rough road surfaces.
Head out of town, and you’ll find the Ford S-Max’s stiffer suspension helps it cope with tight corners with less body lean than you get in many MPVs – handy if your passengers are prone to feeling a little car sick.
The Ford S-Max is also reasonably quiet at motorway speeds and you can get models with an automatic gearbox fitted with adaptive cruise control to help take the sting out of very long drives.
Automatic emergency braking is also standard, which applies the brakes automatically if the car senses an obstacle in the road ahead.
The Ford S-Max’s cabin feels fairly sturdy but you can’t ignore its drab design and slightly fiddly infotainment system forever…