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The Top Gear car review: Ford S-MAX

£23,075£34,745
8/10
Overall verdict

For: 

Strong evolution of a well-conceived Ford that won many new fans

Against: 

Avoid petrols, buy a Galaxy for ultimate capacity
More useful than the biggest estates, and good to drive. Avoid the SUV rat-race.

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What we say: 

The epitome of aspirational family motoring: still want that fancy-pants SUV?

What is it?

Ford’s Galaxy and S-Max MPV siblings are moving onto the platform, engines and drivetrains of the latest Mondeo. The S-Max comes first, the Galaxy a few months later. The S-Max forgoes boxy spaciousness for a sleeker style. In the process it loses third-row headroom, but who needs that apart from taxi fleets?

The S-Max doesn’t have any direct rivals really. It’s less cumbersome than a SUV and more versatile, with individually adjustable seats for everyone, and still has the high seating position. You can even have it with AWD, which would make a fantastic ski-holiday wagon.

Driving

It has a similar calm but responsive demeanour as the Mondeo. The handling is faithful and there’s an easygoing accuracy to the steering. Fittingly for a family hauler, the emphasis is on a terrific, smoothly damped and expensive-feeling ride, and isolation from small bumps and noise. Hardly anyone buys the petrol engines. As such, Form only offers two: an entry-level 1.5 turbo nicked from the Focus, and a quasi-ST 2.0 turbo. Both are better on paper than in practice.

You need torque for a vehicle like this - it’s fairly lardy - and you get that from the 2.0-litre diesel, especially the 150, 180 and 210bhp versions. You can also add a quick-acting paddleshift transmission. Tech includes a speed limiter that reads signs and slows you up when the limit drops then frees you up when the limit rises. You can add other cameras, radars and ultrasound detectors to help avoid a range of crashes and scrapes.

On the inside

Of course the dipping roof-line denies it the space for seven adults plus luggage but that’s seldom what people need. It can carry five plus two grandparents or kids’ friends on a short trip, and five (or even six) plus luggage with one or two seats folded. That versatility can be a huge plus. The individual second-row seats are very comfy and spacious places to be.

The cabin is well up to snuff in quality and materials, which it needs to be because the S-Max has always played as an alternative to more conventional but premium-brand machinery (Ford likes to boast of the former 3-Series drivers the S-Max has won). The instruments are a neat TFT setup configurable to your liking.

Owning

There’s a huge range, and Ford has been careful to pitch the specs to squeeze the predicted residuals upward, which in turn pushes monthly lease and PCP payments down. For instance, the standardisation on all models of a big colour mid-dash screen means navigation is a cheap option. Paying sticker price, a mid-spec 180bhp turbodiesel with some nice options is under £30k (compare it to what you can get in the SUV or premium saloon sector for similar money…). For a big company car, CO₂ of 129g/km is on the better side of the mid-pack, so fleet drivers will adore it.

Highlights from the range

Title 0–62 CO2 MPG BHP Price
The fastest
2.0 EcoBoost 240 Titanium X Sport 5dr Powershift
7.9s 194g/km 34.0 240 £30,945
The cheapest
1.6 EcoBoost Zetec 5dr [Start Stop]
9.9s 159g/km 41.5 160 £23,075
The greenest
2.0 TDCi 150 Titanium 5dr
10.8s 129g/km 56.5 150 £27,640

Wildcard

How about something completely different?

Wildcard

8/10

Land Rover Discovery Sport

£30,640£42,815
Land Rover Discovery Sport: the seven-seater of the moment. Pretty well-packaged but slower, thirstier