The Ford S-MAX has been a highly popular 7-seater with families for a number of years – does the latest model push it any further ahead of its competitors?
Previous generations of the Ford S-MAX established themselves as the 7-seater people carriers of choice. Today, Ford seems to be on a high with its driving dynamics, but can you really make a 7-seater people carrier drive with any of the genes of a Focus ST? And can an MPV really be efficient in real-life driving?
We think the previous generations of S-MAX looked excellent – they had character and a sporty appearance. The latest S-MAX looks sleeker and more sophisticated, but we’re left feeling as though some of the personality has gone.
The interior of the latest version looks good, most things work well, and there’s lots of technology on offer. But of course you buy this car for one main reason – because it has seven seats. And in this department, the S-MAX really does do what it says on the tin – all seven seats are of a good size, and the middle row slides forwards easily to give access to the back row. The boot isn’t huge when the third row of seats are up, but there’s lots of space when these seats are down.
Our test car came with the 2.0-litre turbodiesel engine mated to a 6-speed manual transmission, and front-wheel drive.
Ford is currently on a roll with its driving dynamics. We recently spent a day driving a range of 20 different cars back-to-back on the same test route, and the Focus ST was the best car to drive – even in the face of more expensive and sporty machinery. The imminent Focus RS is promising to move the game on again. Many things that Ford is good at appear in the S-MAX. The steering is responsive and well-weighted. The manual gearbox and clutch are smooth. The ride is comfortable. And overall the S-MAX feels refined.
But even the chassis engineers at Ford can’t overcome the laws of physics. The 1838kg S-MAX is a large, heavy car, and there’s no escaping from this. So genuine agility isn’t a realistic expectation of such a car, and acceleration at motorway speeds doesn’t come easily.
Whilst the driving position is generally good, it’s a bit high for our personal taste. The interior feels like a quality place to be, but there are quite a few buttons. This is especially evident at night, when, with lots of lights, the dashboard can be a bit overwhelming.
While we’re on the subject of buttons, to set a destination on the satnav, a LOT of button pressing seems to be required. And we’ve now come to the conclusion that there really aren’t many bad cars these days, the differentiating factor between cars is how many annoying features they have. The S-MAX doesn’t fall into the category of having lots of annoying features, but it does share one issue with many other cars, and that is its touchscreen. Most new cars today have touchscreens, but the people who sell touchscreens to car designers don’t seem to drive cars with touchscreens themselves. If they did, they’d realise that touchscreens aren’t easy to touch whilst driving a moving car on a typical bumpy UK road, and in particular small buttons on a touchscreen can be a real pain. The S-MAX is guilty here, particularly with the small buttons that you need to press to zoom in and out of the satnav map.
Also, other navigation around the infomedia system isn’t as simple as some rivals.
The official NEDC combined fuel economy of the manual 180PS S-MAX 2.0 TDCI is 56.4mpg, equating to 129g/km CO2. Like many NEDC fuel economy figures, 56.4mpg is impressive for a large 7-seater people carrier. When Green Car Guide was launched ten years ago, 7-seater MPVs were struggling to return more than 40mpg, so this appears to be positive progress. However, you know what’s coming next: official and real-life mpg are different things, and two key factors in how close – or how far away – to the NEDC figure a car is in real life are its aerodynamics and weight. The S-MAX isn’t going to compete well with a family saloon in either of these areas. After a week of mixed driving, the S-MAX averaged 42.1mpg. This equates to around 75% of the official figure.
Our test car cost £28,445. The S-MAX was well equipped, and Fords now offer a wide range of safety technologies either as standard or as options. It also had a number of options such as Titanium X pack, adaptive cruise control and active city stop, and panorama roof. All the options in total took the price to £34,140.
The S-Max is available in Zetec, Titanium and Titanium Sport trims. The main engine in the S-MAX range is the 2-litre turbodiesel, in 120, 150, 180 or 210PS power outputs, but there’s also 1.5 or 2.0-litre EcoBoost petrol engines. There’s manual and automatic (Powershift) transmissions, and you can even get an S-MAX with all-wheel drive.
Remember that if the S-MAX isn’t big enough (for corporate private hire firms etc), then there’s the even larger Ford Galaxy.
The Ford S-MAX does what it says on the tin. It transports seven people in greater comfort and with more technology than any S-MAX before it. Officially, with 56.4mpg, it’s impressively economical. But figures gained on a rolling road in a laboratory don’t translate well with heavy cars with a large frontal area in real-life driving.
The vast majority of today’s Ford products are excellent to drive, and the S-MAX is no exception. But the laws of physics dictate that a large 7-seat people carrier will never be as agile in real-life as the advertising people tell you. If you want a large 7-seater MPV then the S-MAX is fit for purpose and is probably the one to go for. However if an occasional 7-seater is needed for the school run, and agility is more of a priority, then you should try the Ford Grand C-MAX.
The Ford S-MAX gains a Green Car Guide rating of 8 out of 10.