Diesel versions of the Ford S-Max have proved a popular choice for families looking for a practical but fun seven-seater, but the petrol variants have often been overlooked.
For the latest S-Max, Ford predicts only 3% of sales will be accounted for by the two petrol engines on offer in the range – this 158bhp 1.5-litre Ecoboost engine, and a 238bhp 2.0-litre Ecoboost engine - and that's largely down to the appeal of the frugal diesel engines to company car buyers.
We’ve already driven the 177bhp 2.0-litre diesel version of the S-Max, and, while it is a refined engine, its power delivery isn’t particularly smooth, and it’s pricey next to its rivals.
This petrol variant offers a more affordable route into the S-Max range than its diesel-powered models, but comes at the price of inferior fuel economy. That clearly pitches the car at private buyers. So is it a genuine alternative to the diesels?
What’s the 2015 Ford S-Max 1.5 Ecoboost 160 SCTi like to drive?
The 1.5-litre petrol is quicker off the line than the best-selling diesel alternatives – although not the range-topping 207bhp variant – but it still feels slightly underpowered considering the MPV’s size.
Its power delivery is better than its diesel rivals, though. While the diesel turbos kick in abruptly past 1500rpm, the petrol suffers no such problem and delivers its power smoothly. However, the torque tails off around 4500rpm, so it doesn't have a great deal of punch under hard acceleration towards the red line.
Like the diesels, this petrol is refined and delivers only subtle engine hum below 3000rpm, and the extra ratio in the precise six-speed manual gearbox means engine noise is kept to a minimum on the motorway. Wind noise and road noise are also minimal, even at high speeds, but we would advise steering clear of the optional £400 18in alloys, because the standard 17in wheels offer a better ride and generate less road noise.
Fuel economy is where the petrol is really outdone by the diesel. The petrol returns a claimed fuel economy of 43.4mpg and 149g/km of CO2 emissions, whereas even the more powerful 177bhp 2.0-litre diesel variant offer 52.3mpg and 139g/km of CO2 emissions. The 154bhp 1.6-litre petrol engine in the Citroen C4 Grand Picasso also boasts better fuel economy, with a claimed 47.1mpg and 139g/km of CO2 emissions.
However, the S-Max’s handling is well ahead of its rivals. It’s rare to find a practical seven-seater that is fun to drive, but the S-Max has always been the best of both worlds, and this latest generation continues in the same vein.
What’s the 2015 Ford S-Max 1.5 Ecoboost 160 SCTi like inside?
This S-Max is as practical as ever. There are lots of storage compartments throughout the cabin, and access to all seats is easy, with the middle row seats simply lifted up and forward to give access to the third row. There’s a generous amount of space for passengers in the middle row, where there is ample head- and leg room and plenty of movement forwards and backwards.
Third-row space is less generous, but can still accommodate children and smaller adults on longer journeys, especially if those in the middle row are willing to sacrifice some leg room.
Ford's Family Care pack was fitted to our test model and, at a cost of £400, it brings a very handy feature that enables passenger seats in the middle and third rows to be flattened via buttons in the boot. The seats collapse in a matter of seconds and increase the capacity to a very practical 2020 litres.
Titanium trim commands a £1700 premium over entry-level Zetec, but it is our favoured spec level. That's because it's well-equipped with cruise control, automatic lights and wipers, sat-nav and some new safety tech that includes lane-keep assist, and a traffic sign recognition safety feature that identifies speed limit changes and automatically alters the limiter. It also brings comfortable sports seats which are electrically adjustable for the driver and passenger, and offer plenty of lumbar support.
Should I buy one?
For big families doing the majority of their driving in town, the 1.5-litre petrol option could be a good fit. It’s cheaper than any of the diesels in the range, and offers an even more rewarding drive.
However, it only really makes sense as a private buy. Those after the S-Max as a company car, and who plan on covering a high mileage in it, will be better suited to one of the diesels. They are better value and have superior fuel economy.
What Car? says...
Ford S-Max 1.5 Ecoboost 160 SCTi Titanium
Engine size 1.5-litre turbo petrol
Price from £26,245
Torque 177lb ft
0-62mph 9.9 seconds
Top speed 124mph
Fuel economy 43.5mpg