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Ford S-MAX Overall verdict
Really like driving? This is as convincing as MPVs get and with virtually no practicality penalty.
‘A family car called Smax? Isn’t that asking for trouble?’
What is it?
Part of a partnership with the Ford Galaxy that’s the Ant & Dec of MPVs – most people can’t tell them apart, but one’s definitely smaller than the other and they’re both quality family entertainment.
The S-Max is the smaller, sportier one, but it’s still got seven seats and more than enough space for most families. It also handles more like a regular hatchback than a people carrier has any right to. No MPV has been this cool since the Renault Avantime.
The overarching quality of the S-Max is its physics-defying handling. Genuinely, this MPV drives like a well-sorted-out hatchback, making a positive of traits like a high driving position and good visibility. Obviously, there’s more suspension movement around corners than something with a lower centre of gravity and less emphasis on comfort, but the S-Max is one of the only people carriers that makes a B-road a joy… in fact, it’s the only one. Thankfully, it doesn’t do that at the expense of comfort. Even with bigger wheels, the suspension is supple enough to keep the cabin still, while muting potholes with the effective discretion of the Ritz’s maître d’.
The broad spread of eight engines, split evenly petrol to diesel, hit a sweet spot around the middle – nobody needs 200bhp plus in a people carrier (even one this good) but nobody wants a 115bhp 1.6-litre TDCi diesel, either, no matter how green it is. The 2.0-litre TDCi diesels are the best balance of economy and poke.
On the inside
There’s the sense, as with most new Fords, that the cabin is trying just a bit too hard to be cool – though it’s nowhere near as over-designed as the new Focus, and the handbrake lever is particularly awesome.
Quality is easily in the VW league – soft touch but assuredly fixed plastic everywhere – although the buttons and the infotainment interface are more difficult to fathom than the German’s. Space abounds, and all five back seats fold flat nice and easily, though because the S-Max has a raked rear, the rearmost are for little ones only.
Ford won’t allow you to get into an S-Max cheaply by having one with plastic wheel trims and wind-down rear windows, though you should be able to charm a decent discount out of the dealer. Zetec spec gets aircon, alloys, parking sensors and Bluetooth, so if you’re content with a lower-powered engine it’s all you’ll need. As always with an MPVs, avoid petrol, even though the 237bhp EcoBoost is brilliant. Who needs a 34mpg MPV? Any diesel will do – go as punchy as you can justify. The 2.0 TDCi now dips below 145g/km and tops 52mpg.