Ford offers a couple of turbocharged petrol engines – a 1.6 and a 2.0 – but most buyers will go for one of the TDCi diesels. The smallest of these produces just 114bhp and needs to be worked very hard even when the car is lightly loaded, but the others are all strong and flexible. Pick of the bunch is the 138bhp 2.0-litre.
MPVs don't get any more enjoyable to drive than the S-Max, which seems to shrink around you when you're behind the wheel. Sharp, well weighted steering, plenty of grip and good body control all contribute to the S-Max’s remarkable agility. The price you pay for this dynamic prowess is a slightly firm ride, which can lead to your passengers getting jostled around at low speeds.
Although the S-Max lets in more wind noise than many family saloons, it does a great job of shutting out road- and suspension noise, so it’s still an impressively refined cruiser. The 2.0-litre engines help because they’re quiet and silky-smooth.
The S-Max is a little pricey compared to rivals like the Peugeot 5008 and Citroen Grand C4 Picasso, but it's bigger and entry-level versions have more kit. Diesel versions are very economical, but resale values aren't particularly strong on any model, so it’s important that you get a decent discount up front. Fortunately, that’s not difficult.
The interior is more conventional than you'll find in rivals such as the Citroen Grand C4 Picasso, but it's stylish and solidly built, and there are appealing soft-touch materials on the top of the dash and doors. However, lower down and further back in the vehicle, the plastics aren't as plush. Owners have reported a few electrical problems, but the car is generally reliable.
Every S-Max comes stuffed with airbags: front and side airbags for the two front seats, with window airbags for the front two rows, as well as an airbag to protect the driver's knees. Anti-lock brakes and ESP are standard, while an alarm and deadlocks are fitted to all models.
The S-Max's driving position is lower than many MPVs’, but it's a matter of taste whether this suits you or not. Either way, the seats and steering wheel have plenty of adjustment, and the dash is clear. Visibility is good thanks to skinny windscreen pillars.
The S-Max's ample headroom, legroom and cabin width mean that five people can sit in comfort. That width also comes in handy if you're fitting child seats in the back. Access to the rearmost seats is good and kids will be happy there, but the low-slung seating position means adults won't relish long journeys. The five rear seats fold flat, and in five-seat mode, the S-Max has a huge, well shaped boot. Even with all seven seats in use, there's still space for a couple of bags.
Every S-Max has lots of kit, and even entry-level Zetec cars have dual-zone climate control, front and rear parking sensors, Bluetooth and four electric windows. Titanium trim adds cruise control, automatic lights and wipers, a USB input socket and a DAB radio, while extras on Titanium X Sport trim include a bodykit, sports suspension, a panorama roof and part-leather seats.
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Out of all the models on offer, the Ford S-Max 2.0 TDCi 140 Zetec is the best. The engine provides strong, smooth power and reasonable running costs, while Zetec trim gives you all the kit you need at a reasonable price.