Ford S-MAX Review 2023
Ford S-MAX At A Glance
Insurance Groups are between 16–27
On average it achieves 75% of the official MPG figure
For maximum practicality and flexibility, there’s the Galaxy. For a little less practicality but more driving fun, there’s the Ford S-MAX. Although you’re unlikely to be driving like Lewis Hamilton with six passengers in your S-MAX, because it’s based on a Mondeo, it’s actually very good to drive.
As the Renault Grand Scenic and Volkswagen Sharan/SEAT Alhambra are now defunct, the S-MAX's only car-based rivals are the Volkswagen Touran and Citroen Grand C4 SpaceTourer. But there's a variety of van-based MPVs out there, plus seven-seat SUVs like the SEAT Tarraco and Peugeot 5008.
Launched in 2015, the current Ford S-MAX picked up where the old S-MAX left off by offering something different in the shrinking MPV segment. It's been mildly updated a couple of times since, and as of late 2021 the S-MAX has become hybrid-only.
It’s not the most practical car in its class – the Galaxy is the best choice if you’re after a genuine seven-seater – but few MPVs are as nice to drive as the S-MAX. In fact, the S-MAX is sweeter to drive than many SUVs and estate cars.
It’s not the best choice if you intend to make full use of the seven seats all of the time. Space in the third row is restricted, while the absence of sliding rear doors gives van-based MPVs such as the Citroen Berlingo and Volkswagen Multivan the practicality edge.
As a ‘5+2’ MPV, though, the Ford S-MAX is still very appealing, particularly as most seven-seat SUVs are similarly restrictive in the third row. There’s a cavernous boot in five-seat mode, but you can transform the S-MAX into something akin to a van by lowering all five rear seats. The driver and front seat passenger will revel in the amount of headroom on offer, while parents will appreciate the three Isofix points along the middle row.
The S-MAX is loaded with a generous level of standard equipment, though as it's hybrid-only now and Ford has ditched the base Zetec trim the base price has soared to over £37,000.
Still, now entry-level Titanium trim gets a touchscreen sat-nav with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, dual-zone climate control, front and rear parking sensors and keyless entry. ST-Line trim commands another £2,000, but is probably the pick of the range thanks to its sporty exterior add-ons making it look less like an airport taxi. It does have sports suspension, though (more on that in a bit...).
The S-MAX's cabin is starting to show its age, however, particularly compared to the more modern design of the latest Ford Kuga. The cheap looking (and feeling) plastic on the centre console lets down what is otherwise a generally well-made interior, but at least everything is pretty easy to operate because there's plenty of old-school buttons.
Ford ditched the petrol engines in the Galaxy and S-MAX in 2019, which seemed a good idea at the time because diesel was the overwhelming favourite for buyers in both. The 2.0-litre EcoBlue diesels (available in 150PS and 190PS forms) were refined, punchy and well-suited to both MPVs, but as diesels popularity sharply declined in the last few years Ford has ditched those too.
Now, the only choice is Ford's full hybrid system, which first debuted in the Mondeo. Mating a 2.5-litre non-turbo petrol engine to a small electric motor via a CVT transmission, it's been improved since its first outing in the Mondeo and is well-suited to the easy-going nature of a large MPV. It's not particularly quick, but you’ll enjoy the S-MAX's excellent cornering, minimal body-roll and sharp steering.
So what’s the catch? Well, it's an MPV, which means it went out of fashion when Gangnam Style was a thing, and because it's hybrid-only the VW Touran has a much lower starting price. Also, you’re not too fussed about styling or dynamics, the roomier Galaxy probably makes more sense.
Beyond that, we’re struggling to find reasons why you shouldn’t buy a Ford S-MAX. It’s as much an estate car as it is an MPV, which gives it a unique position in a dwindling market. For that reason, it deserves to be considered amongst today's sea of SUVs.