First Drive: Ford S-Max
This is the all-new Ford S-Max. Since the first model was launched in 2006, it has earned a reputation for being the most entertaining to drive MPV available, proving that there is in fact more to a people carrier than seven seats and plenty of boot space.
What is it?
Designed as a cleverly-packaged people mover for families looking for a practical car that's fun to live with, the S-Max remains one of the most appealing seven-seaters we've tested. It combines the functionality and versatility of a van with the driving characteristics of a car. The new model still offers the same levels of value for money, interior space and comfort as its predecessor, only now it features a more refined interior and is crammed with the latest tech.
What's under the bonnet?
In total, the S-Max is available with the choice of six engines. The 2.0-litre diesel models are expected to be the most popular choice, and are available with four power outputs ranging from 118bhp to a range-topping 207bhp. For the smaller percentage of owners looking to buy a petrol unit, the S-Max comes with the choice of either a 158bhp 1.5-litre or a 2.0-litre EcoBoost engine with 238bhp.
The entry-level Zetec model is available with the lower-powered petrol engine as well as the two smaller diesel units. Buyers of the mid-range Titanium model can choose between the 158bhp petrol or the 148bhp and 178bhp diesels as well as an all-wheel-drive variant of the lower-powered diesel, while the range-topping Titanium Sport gets the most powerful engines in the line-up, with the 178bhp diesel also offered with all-wheel-drive.
Mated to a manual six-speed gearbox, the 118bhp 2.0-litre diesel is the cleanest of the six, emitting just 129g/km of CO2, while being both smooth and punchy. The six-speed manual gearbox is available with all petrol and diesel engines, except for the highest-powered petrol and diesel variants. Ford's Powershift six-speed automatic is also available on selected engines including the 148bhp and 207bhp diesel units. The 238bhp petrol is only available in automatic guise.
What's the spec like?
Although the dimensions remain the same as the outgoing model, the new S-Max has benefited from a complete redesign. Not only does it boast Ford's new design language, which includes a hexagonal grille and sharper front-end, it also sits lower to the Tarmac, has a much higher window-line and on mid- to top-range models, gets full automatic dimming LED headlights. As you'd expect, the S-Max scores top points for its luggage space. With all seven seats in place, it boasts a 285-litre load space, but fold both rows of rear seats flat and this figure increases to a cavernous 2,000 litres.
There are three trims available: Zetec, Titanium and Titanium Sport. All models are equipped with a range of tech that you'd expect from a modern people mover, including climate control, parking sensors, a spare wheel and alloy wheels. Mid-range highlights from Titanium models include cruise control and LED daytime running headlights, while the range-topping Titanium Sport gets leather trim, a panoramic sunroof, bi-xenon headlights and a sporty body kit. Also available on the Titanium (£2,200) and Titanium Sport (a further £2,000 on top of that) models is the X Pack, which features heated seats, full leather trim and 10-way electrically operated front seats. The S-Max is also the first Ford to feature the brand's new Intelligent Speed Limiter, which scans traffic and adjusts the throttle to help keep drivers within the legal speed limit.
The S-MAX has some tough competition from the likes of Citroen, Volkswagen and Seat. Citroen's C4 Grand Picasso boasts more adventurous styling than the S-MAX and it's more than £2,000 cheaper; although it isn't quite as refined. Meanwhile, Volkswagen's Sharan boasts a comfortable ride and a range of strong engines, but the starting price is £775 more expensive than the entry-level S-Max. BMW's 2 Series Active Tourer is also new on the market, providing customers with a little more luxury and performance.
What's it like to drive?
While you won't forget you're at the wheel of a seven-seater people carrier, the S-Max is surprisingly easy to manouvre around town and, thanks to Active Park Assist, which is available as an optional extra across the range at £150, isn't a hassle to park. It suffers from a little body roll through the corners but this is expected from a tall seven-seater and it redeems itself with well-weighted steering wheel and suspension that irons out uneven road surfaces. The S-Max's refinement has been significantly improved, with very little wind or tyre noise entering the cabin.
Unfortunately, the optional adaptive dampers aren't available in the UK, but Ford's standard setup offers a comfortable ride. The 177bhp 2.0-litre diesel, mated to the six-speed manual gearbox feels strong and smooth through the gears but it is a little sluggish at low revs until the turbo kicks in. Once up to speed, however, the S-Max is an adept cruiser, with more than enough muscle for comfortable overtaking manouvres.
The AOL Cars Verdict
The S-Max is far from being the cheapest seven-seat people carrier, but it does represent good value for money. In comparison to its similarly roomy rivals, it has a much smaller price-tag (bar the Citroen) and is crammed with plenty of tech as standard. The third row of seats are really practical for children, but for short journeys, it is possible for adults to squeeze in the back. For value for money, fuel efficiency and the latest safety equipment, the S-Max ticks every box. A top job from the blue oval.
Model: Ford S-Max 2.0 TDCi Titanium Sport
Engine: 2.0-litre, four-cylinder, turbocharged, diesel
Power: 177bhp, 295 lb ft
Max speed: 131mph
0-62mph: 9.7 seconds
MPG: 50.4mpg (urban), 61.4mpg (extra urban), 56.5mpg (combined)
Emissions: 129g/km CO2
Author: Sophie Williamson Stothert