Ford’s S-Max has been around for a good while now, offering a slightly smaller, less cumbersome looking seven-seat option for people who don’t want a Galaxy.
The second generation came out in 2015 but to keep up with the rest of the Ford range its trim levels have undergone a bit of a reshuffle recently. There are two “basic” trims – Zetec and Titanium – and then the option to go for luxury or sportiness with the Vignale and ST-Line specifications.
A sporty MPV might seem like an oxymoron but Ford has always insisted that the S-Max is a “sports activity vehicle” and it’s long been praised for being less van-like to drive than other people-carriers. Thus, I’ve been driving the S-Max ST-Line.
Ford S-Max ST-Line
Engine: 2.0-litre, four-cylinder, turbo, petrol
Transmission; Six-speed automatic
Top speed: 140mph
CO2 emissions: 180g/km
The S-Max is definitely a sleeker looking machine that most MPVs. It shares a platform with the Galaxy but is lower and less slab-sided and features a more dynamic swooping roofline than its stablemate.
To emphasise its sporting angle, the ST-Line adds a body kit, big wheels, sports seats, tinted windows, red stitching on the doors and seats plus a faintly half-hearted slice of carbon fibre-effect plastic on the dash. It’s all about looking young and sporty while being able to transport a five-a-side team plus subs.
The 19-inch alloys, low-profile tyres and sports suspension certainly help cement the ST-Line’s sporting style but they ruin the car’s ride. It’s abrupt, overly firm and downright uncomfortable on anything that isn’t snooker-table smooth. For a family car it’s just not good enough and I wouldn’t be surprised if it prompted some unpleasant reactions from any travel-sick passengers.
It’s a shame because Ford are usually so good at balancing a decent ride with engaging handling and the S-Max manages that last part better than any other MPV I can think of. There’s good weight and feel from the steering, quick turn in and good body control for such a big vehicle. It’s all relative to the rest of the class but the S-Max could be pretty enjoyable to drive if it wasn’t for the harsh ride.
Find a smooth stretch of road though (good luck with that) and you’ll actually find the S-Max can be pretty refined. There’s not much noise in the cabin and the part-leather sports seats are more comfortable than they first look.
It feels spacious in the front two rows, although the third row loses out in comparison to larger vehicles such as the Galaxy or Seat Alhambra. That feeling’s partly down to the front-to-back sunroof of the test car but it’s generally a roomy and comfortable means of moving a family around. In seven-seat mode there’s not much boot space but the good news is that there are three individually adjustable seats in the middle row and they’ll accommodate three child seats or fully-grown adults, meaning you can travel five-up with plenty of luggage.
If you do need to put up the rear seats or reconfigure the seating layout each middle-row seat can tilt, slide and tumble independently, offering a level of versatility that many families will welcome. There are also plenty of oddment storage points, rear window blinds, seat-back tables, ventilation in all three rows and a handy extra rear-view mirror for monitoring what the monsters in the back are up to.
Slightly surprisingly our test car came with an engine to back up its sporty looks – to some extend at least. A 2.0-litre petrol with 238bhp seems like a strange choice for a family load-lugger but it fits with the sporty pretensions of the car and with the current anti-diesel tide.
The four-cylinder turbo petrol comes as standard with the six-speed auto gearbox and makes for smooth, quiet acceleration but this is a big car so don’t expect to be burning off hot hatches at the lights. While it’s nice and smooth the economy is painful – officially it’s 35.8mpg but we saw an average of 26.4mpg over 500 miles of motoring.
Also painful was the test car’s £41,000 price tag. That included £7,000 worth of luxuries such as the panoramic roof, adaptive cruise control, hands-free tailgate and a rear-view camera but pushes it well above the list price for a top-of-the-range Galaxy, which comes with many of those as standard.
The S-Max makes a lot of sense as a versatile, practical family vehicle, just not in ST-Line form. The price is high, the ride is awful and you need deep pockets if you’re going to opt for the powerful petrol engine.