Ford's second generation S-MAX remains a large 7-seater MPV for people who, well, don't like MPVs. Ford calls this a 'Sports Activity Vehicle' - a People Carrier certainly, but one that's more involving to drive and nicer to look at. This sharper-looking MK2 model re-interprets this apparently contradictory concept with greater efficiency and technology, remaining a breath of fresh air in what can otherwise be a pretty dull sector of the market. Let's check out the volume 2.0 TDCi 180PS diesel version.
Owning an MPV, particularly a large one, isn't supposed to be one of life's memorable experiences. A People Carrier is normally a grudge purchase, a vehicle you need rather than one you might want. Or at least it usually is. Ford thinks differently. That's why they brought us the S-MAX, here rejuvenated in second generation guise. It's stuffed with segment-leading technology and also includes an AWD option to keep those SUVs in their place. Plus it claims to be just as stylish and rewarding as its revolutionary predecessor. Can it continue to offer an appealing option if you need a large MPV but just don't want one? We elected to check out this car with the 2.0-litre EcoBlue diesel engine most will want, in this case specified in pokey 190PS guise.
The fact that Ford has its marginally more practical Galaxy model for those only concerned with practical 7-seat A to B family transport leaves this S-MAX free to provide something pretty unique in the segment for bigger MPVs: namely, a good looking car dynamically capable enough to reward the enthusiastic driver. Other big 7-seaters feel vaguely pointless if you're alone in them on the move: this one just shrinks around you and encourages you to take the back road home, where you'll find bodyroll kept impressively well in check for a car of this size. There's plenty of traction too, even if you don't go for the optional Intelligent All-Wheel Drive system. Clever Integral-Link rear suspension borrowed from the fourth generation Ford Mondeo this car's based upon is fundamental to this impressive showing. And though the freshly added electric power steering system isn't quite as feelsome as the previous hydraulic set-up, standard Torque vectoring system that lightly brakes the inside front wheel through tight bends and sharpens turn-in still makes this S-MAX feel rewarding through the twisties. Engine-wise, the range now hinges around a much improved family of EcoBlue 2.0-litre turbodiesel engines, offered in 120, 150, 190 and bi-turbo 240PS outputs. Here, we're looking at the 190PS version which with 2WD manages 62mph from rest in 9.7s en route to 131mph. Improved low-end torque is a particular characteristic of these latest-generation powerplants. The range also now benefits from a more refined, smoother-sifting 8-speed auto gearbox which alters its shift pattern to suit your driving style. It also enables the fitment of Adaptive Cruise Control and includes an engine Stop & Go system.
Photos of this second generation S-MAX suggest styling only lightly evolved from that of the MK1 model but in the metal, that lower roofline, the slimline lights and the muscular rear haunches ensure that this improved version appears sharper and more distinctive than before. Helping in this is the way that the front A-pillars have been moved further back to create a longer, more sculpted bonnet that flows into the raised, chromed trapezoidal Ford front grille that's now familiar from other cars in the company's range. And behind the wheel? Well, as before, the vast glass area and the slim windscreen pillars mean that all-round visibility is excellent. Ahead of you through the leather-trimmed three-spoke multi-function steering wheel, there's a clear, classy instrument cluster that in mid and upper-range models gives you a sophisticated 10.2-inch TFT set-up made up of various inset multi-function displays. Anything this set-up can't tell you will probably be covered by the feature that on all models dominates the centre of the dash, the 8-inch SYNC3 colour touchscreen, there to play its part in reducing button clutter and giving the cabin a cleaner, smarter feel. The S-MAX now features Easy-Entry second row seats that provide one touch access to third row seating with a new design that tips and slides the seat forward in one action. Storage also includes new covered stowage in the instrument panel top, a media storage area incorporated into the centre stack, and concealed under-floor stowage behind the third row. Out back, there's plenty of room in both second and third seating rows and a luggage capacity that varies between 285 and 2,020-litres, depending on the seat configuration.
List pricing suggests that you'll be paying somewhere in the £29,000 to £40,000 bracket for your S-MAX, depending upon the variant you choose. Above base 'Zetec'-spec, there are three further trim levels; 'Titanium', 'ST-Line' and plush 'Vignale'. Even base 'Zetec'-spec gets you plenty of kit though, including 17-inch alloys, the SYNC3 infotainment system, parking sensors, keyless start, a DAB radio, sports seats, power fold mirrors, a tonneau cover, an electric handbrake and ISOFIX attachments for child seats in the second row. All models sold in this country come in 7-seat configuration and if you avoid the entry-level petrol and diesel variants, there's the £1,500 option of the Powershift 8-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission many buyers want. Looking at the various EcoBlue options available, we'd want to find the £350 premium to go from the rather feebly-performing entry-level 120PS unit to the mid-range 150PS version that, priced at around £30,000, probably represents the sweet spot in the line-up. For this test though, we elected to look at the slightly pokier 190PS variant but it's quite an expensive choice: since you can't have this engine in basic 'Zetec' trim, you're looking at needing nearly £32,500 for it - quite a jump. If you want to take up the opportunity that this second generation S-MAX offers of finding an extra £1,500 for Ford's Intelligent All-Wheel Drive system, you'll find it only in the diesel range where it's only offered as an option on the 150PS manual model or the 190PS Powershift automatic variant.
Assuming you're happy with a manual gearbox and front wheel drive, you'll get the same returns whether you order your S-MAX EcoBlue model with 120, 150 or, as in this case, 190PS. Specifically, we're talking 56.5mpg on the combined cycle and 132g/km of CO2. That's not quite as good a showing as you'd get from slightly smaller 7-seat MPVs like Renault's Grand Scenic or Citroen's Grand C4 Spacetourer, but it's on a par with the latest equivalent versions of large People Carrying rivals like SEAT's Alhambra and Volkswagen's Sharan. A Ford Mondeo Estate with the same engine we tried would be about 15% cheaper to run but, as you you'd expect, the S-MAX's showing does exactly match that of its sister model, the Galaxy, which shares exactly the same engine range. What else? Well, all S-MAX models come with an unremarkable 3 year/ 60,000 mile Ford warranty, with Ford Assistance at the roadside for the first year. If you plan on keeping your car for longer or are a high mileage driver, you can pay a small extra cost to extend that warranty to either 4 years and 80,000 miles or 5 years and 100,000 miles. There's also the option of a 'Ford Protect Premium Plan' that over two or three years, can cut the cost of scheduled servicing.
Most MPVs are enough to put you to sleep. With the S-MAX, Ford has always tried to develop one with a bit of personality, proving that such vehicles needn't be dull and putting a smile on the faces of enthusiastic drivers with family commitments to meet. These are people who want an element of flair, but aren't prepared to sacrifice basic People Carrying qualities like space, safety and practicality in order to get it. This second generation S-MAX, like its predecessor, meets family needs in a dynamic manner that frankly, no other competitor can quite match. For us, it's the best seven-seater Ford makes. And for you? Well try one: you might find it quite a revelation.