The range kicks off with a 1.5 turbocharged petrol, but this engine is difficult to recommend due to its comparatively high CO2 emissions and less-than-impressive real-world fuel economy.
We’d avoid the weakest diesel engine, too; the 118bhp 2.0-litre needs to be worked hard when the S-Max is loaded up with people and baggage. However, the 148bhp version of the same engine pulls strongly enough across a broad rev range, so can easily cope when the car is heavily loaded.
There are also 178bhp and 207bhp versions of the same 2.0-litre engine. The 178bhp version is worth considering if you want a bit more oomph, but the range-topping diesel – which is available only with a six-speed automatic gearbox – is difficult to recommend because of its high price.
The 148bhp and 178bhp engines are also available with four-wheel drive, making the S-Max a good choice if you live in a part of the country affected by harsh winters.
Ford S-Max ride comfort
The S-Max is quite sporty by MPV standards with fairly firm suspension, so it isn’t quite as supple as the best rivals around town, where its suspension picks up on small imperfections in the road. That said, it isn’t as harsh over potholes as some MPVs, such as the Citroen Grand C4 Picasso, and it never borders on being uncomfortable.
What’s more, the ride is extremely settled on motorways and A-roads (as long as you avoid range-topping Titanium Sport which comes with stiffer suspension) which makes the S-Max a good choice if you regularly cover long distances.
Self-levelling suspension is a relatively affordable option, although it isn’t available on four-wheel-drive versions.
Ford S-Max handling
MPVs don’t get any more enjoyable to drive than the S-Max; it combines lots of grip with minimal body lean. In fact, it handles like an altogether smaller, lighter car and feels impressively agile along twisting roads, while the precise steering helps you place the car exactly where you want it through bends.
Body movements are also comparatively well controlled, so the S-Max doesn’t suffer from the unsettling, wallowy road manners that afflict many rival MPVs.
The steering is easy enough to make town driving easy, but it’s noticeably heavier when manoeuvring; rivals with lighter steering require less effort to steer. This is especially noticeable when parking.
Ford S-Max refinement
All of the engines we’ve tried are relatively smooth and hushed. The 148bhp 2.0-litre diesel – which the majority of buyers choose – is certainly more refined than the equivalent engines in rivals, including the Citroen Grand C4 Picasso. It only becomes vocal at high revs and you don’t feel too many vibrations through the major controls.
There’s some noticeable road noise on the motorway – especially on versions with big alloys – but no more than in most key rivals, and the S-Max does a good job of keeping wind noise out of the cabin.
The six-speed manual gearbox has a slick action that makes it pleasing to use, while the Powershift automatic ’box (standard with some engines and optional on others) shifts smoothly, other than the occasional shunt at low speeds.
This is the cheapest engine and certainly isn’t short on performance. However, diesel versions of the S-Max use much less fuel and will lose you less money in depreciation. Available only with a six-speed manual gearbox.
2.0 240 Ecoboost
We’re yet to drive this version of the S-Max, but it doesn’t make much sense on paper because it too much to buy and is (officially) the least economical model in the range. Available only with a six-speed automatic gearbox.
2.0 TDCi 115
This is one of the most economical engines in the S-Max range. Even when it’s just you on board though, you frequently have to press the accelerator to the floor just to keep up with traffic. Available only with a six-speed manual gearbox.
Our pick 2.0 TDCi 150
The pick of the engine range because it combines adequate performance with impressive refinement and reasonable running costs. In fact, it’s no less efficient the 115 version. Available with either a manual or an automatic gearbox.
2.0 TDCi 183
A strong and fuel-efficient choice, but it’s still hard to recommend because the 150 version is cheaper and not a great deal slower. This engine is available with either a manual or an automatic gearbox.
2.2 TDCi 210
Don’t be tempted by the impressive numbers of this 2.2-litre engine. You’ll get just as much enjoyment out of the 148bhp diesel, and it’ll cost you much less to buy and run. Available only with a six-speed automatic gearbox.