The Ford S-Max has everything you need from a multi-purpose vehicle because it’s spacious (with seven seats), comfortable and practical, but it also has something you, as an Autocar reader, probably want and seldom find in an MPV: driver’s car characteristics.
We say ‘MPV’ because that’s what it is. However, at the second-generation S-Max’s launch in 2015, it was instead labelled it as a ‘sports activity vehicle’, to differentiate it from the larger Ford Galaxy MPV. In line with that more sporting remit, the S-Max was fitted with Ford’s adaptive front steering system, optional all-wheel drive and some brand-new engines.
At launch, a 2.0-litre turbo diesel (TDCi) was available with four power outputs. The 118bhp version used a six-speed manual gearbox and was the most economical option (56.5mpg WLTP combined) but lacked punch (0-62mph in 13.4sec).
The next step up was a 147bhp diesel but a more tempting 177bhp version was capable of 0-62mph in 9.5sec yet returned a claimed 54.3mpg. These two were available with a six-speed automatic gearbox.
The diesel range was capped by a twin-turbo 2.0 with 207bhp and 298lb ft. This model cut the 0-62mph time to 8.8sec but still offered a claimed 55.4mpg.
The entry-level petrol S-Max had Ford’s excellent 1.5-litre Ecoboost, producing 157bhp and driving via a six-speed manual. A 2.0-litre petrol raised the stakes to 263bhp and 254lb ft. Using a six-speed automatic, it covered 0-62mph in 8.4sec and achieved a claimed 35.8mpg.
The S-Max had four trim levels at launch, but much of the equipment offered today remains the same. Entry-level Zetec originally came with Ford’s most up-to-date Sync 3 infotainment with an 8.0in screen, plus 17in wheels, a DAB radio, sports seats and parking sensors.
Mid-range Titanium offered sat-nav, automatic wipers and lights, cruise control and traffic sign recognition, while Titanium Sport added a slightly go-faster exterior design, with a bodykit and a rear spoiler. It also had sports suspension and heated front seats.
The top-rung Vignale model gained extra chrome detailing, 18in wheels and a selection of pearlescent paint options. There was also electric seat adjustment, a premium Sony audio system, leather upholstery and acoustic glass.
Keep an eye out for cars with optional extras, such as dynamic LED headlights, power folding rear seats and an intelligent speed limiter. The S-Max was the first car in its class to offer this as an option.
An update in 2018 added cleaner engines and an ST-Line trim with red brake calipers. With the exception of the entry-level engine, all models gained the option of an eight-speed automatic gearbox.
Cars built from 2019 gained trim-specific grille designs, new 19in wheels and enhanced technology such as 18-way-adjustable seats with four-way electric lumbar support. Ford Pass Connect, with wi-fi and other remote functions, was also added.
Need to know
Prices started at £24,545 back in 2015 but a new car today will cost from £32,700 (although sales are currently suspended due to supply chain disruption). An entry-level, nearly new car with a diesel engine and fewer than 40,000 miles can cost as low as £16,000.
The S-Max gained a hybrid powertrain early in 2021, which boosted economy to levels comparable to the diesel variants. It can achieve up to 43.5-44.1mpg, though prices haven’t fallen from the original £36,535 launch price.
There’s 258 litres of luggage space with all seven seats up, 965 litres in five-seat guise and 2020 litres configured as a two-seater.
Plate smashing: Some Fords equipped with a 1.0-litre, 1.5-litre or 1.6-litre Ecoboost with a six-speed manual can be affected by a clutch pressure plate fracture, which carries a risk of fire and is noticeable by a clutch smell and reduced performance. This affected 66,497 Ford vehicles in total, including the S-Max, Galaxy, Kuga and Mondeo. It’s a free repair so call a dealership if your car is one of them.
Open and shut case: How important to you is easy access to the rear seats in tight car parks and the like? The S-Max loses out in this respect to rivals like the Seat Alhambra and the larger Ford Galaxy as it does not have sliding rear doors.
2.0 TDCi 150: Prime levels of fuel economy and refined, torquey performance make the mid-ranged diesel model our choice.
Our top spec
Zetec: There’s little need to overspend because this entry-level trim is packed with the important equipment you need for daily use.
Vauxhall Zafari VXR: Want to ferry the kids to school as quickly as possible? The sporty Zafira VXR will have you covered, with 237bhp and 236lb ft. Pack the sick bags…
Ones we found
2016 Ford S-Max 2.0 TDCi 150 Zetec, 28,000 miles, £17,695
2017 Ford S-Max 2.0 TDCi 150 Titanium, 24,000 miles, £19,995
2019 Ford S-Max 1.5 Ecoboost Titanium, 13,500 miles, £23,950