Ford’s S-Max is possibly the best seven-seat people carrier you can buy, with a great blend of space, comfort, practicality, plus one crucial ingredient so often lacking in people carriers: great handling for the driver.
As usual, the diesel engines on offer provide the cheapest running costs, with very economic fuel consumption and low CO2 outputs, but if you live in a city that penalises diesel drivers, or only ever do short runs from cold, you’ll find those savings all but wiped out. The diesels only needs servicing every two years, too, while the petrol engines will drink more fuel and require a service every 12 months. Ford as a brand tends to have average running costs.
Expert rating: 4/5
Reliability of a Ford S-Max
The S-Max has an excellent history of reliability: the engines and parts are all present in other Ford models so they have been properly tried and tested, and any problems fixed. There was one recall about headlights switching themselves off, which has been resolved.
Inside, the plastics and materials are designed to withstand the wear of children, dogs and multiple passengers traipsing in and out; we ran a previous-generation model for six months around 2012 and the surfaces and stitching wore the brunt of our heavy use well. Ford as a brand sank to the bottom third of reliabilty indexes in 2018 but has rallied slightly.
Expert rating: 5/5
Safety for a Ford S-Max
There are multiple airbags and very good visibility all round for such a large car, thanks to huge windows. The base model is equipped with traction and stability control, pre-collision assist and cruise control with a speed limiter, while moving up to ST-Line trim gives you a lane-keeping aid and front and rear parking sensors.
There’s also Ford’s Emergency Assistance system - if the airbag is deployed in a crash, the car automatically connects you with the emergency services via your phone’s Bluetooth connection. You can choose to stop the call, or speak to them. The car also transmits your GPS position, even if you are unconscious.
We’ve seen a more comprehensive list of standard safety features on cheaper cars, however.
Expert rating: 3/5
How comfortable is the Ford S-Max
The S-Max offers plenty of space for up to seven occupants. The second row has three individually folding and sliding seats, which means you can create a bespoke environment for the passengers on board - if the two in the third row are squashed, slide the seats forward in front of them which still leaves leg room for adults in the front and second rows. If there’s only five on board, fold the third row flat with the press of a button and you have a huge boot for leisure activities or the weekly shop. There are plenty of storage options, which is mandatory for an MPV, including a cubby hole in the dash and deep storage holes in the doors.
The S-Max has always felt like a really premium offering when you’re driving along - it’s quiet and smooth, no matter what engine you go for. The best bit about this car’s driving, however, is the way it steers and handles - it feels like a much smaller car thanks to clever engineering, so those nervous about driving long, wide cars, will feel confident behind the wheel of the S-Max.
Expert rating: 5/5
Features of the Ford S-Max
The four trim levels, starting from the cheapest, are Zetec, Titanium, ST-Line and Vignale at the top.
Zetec gives you daytime running lights, sports seats, leather-trimmed steering wheel, overhead storage with sunglasses pocket, electric handbrake and cruise control with speed limiter. Titanium gives you roof rails, rear privacy glass, front-seat-back table trays,lane-keeping aid and traffic-sign recognition. Move up to ST-Line and you get a sporty body styling kit, red stitching inside, and aluminium sports pedals and scuff plates. Vignale, at the top, gives you a rear-view camera, lots of leather, an audio subwoofer and more chrome outside.
You get Ford’s SYNC infotainment system which works well but the graphics haven’t aged well and the design seems slow to load sometimes.
Expert rating: 4/5
Power for a Ford S-Max
There used to be a choice of one petrol and two diesel engines, but the petrol is no longer available from new. That leaves the 2.0-litre EcoBlue engine, with an eight-speed automatic gearbox, as the best offering. There is a manual transmission but the rotary-knob auto works well and is smooth.
The 2.0-litre EcoBlue has 190 horsepower and CO2 of 151g/km. You’ll probably get about 40mpg, maybe a bit less, which isn’t bad for a seven-seater.