Ford S-MAX Review 2023

Ford S-MAX At A Glance

Honest John Overall Rating
It’s not the cheapest family car you can buy, and it looks a little too much like the Galaxy, but for a practical car with an enjoyable driving experience the Ford S-MAX is hard to beat.

+Well-equipped with impressive refinement, comfortable and satisfying to drive, spacious and versatile, no other MPV is as good to drive.

-Rearmost row a little tight for adults, expensive compared to some rivals, hybrid only as of 2021.

New prices start from £37,780
Insurance Groups are between 16–27
On average it achieves 75% of the official MPG figure

While many other carmakers have ditched MPVs entirely and focused on SUVs, even in 2022 Ford still offers two MPVs to suit different needs. 

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. 

Ask Honest John

Can I fit EV specific tyres on a Ford S-MAX?

"We have a 67 plate S-MAX and both the front and rear tyres (245/45 R19) will need replacing soon. I like the look of the Hankook iON evo with it's A ratings and 69dB noise, but I'm unsure whether their EV specific design would be suited. I'm thinking with the heavier weight of the S-Max and higher torque from the diesel engine on the fronts, they might last a bit longer as the compound is designed for heavier, higher torque EVs. Thoughts?"
Although the Hankook iON Evo is designed with EVs in mind, looking on it is marked as an XL tyre, so is designed for heavier vehicles and loads, so there should be no issues with fitting it to a combustion-engined vehicle.
Answered by David Ross

My son needs a car that can take three child seats, what are his options?

"My son has already has a daughter and is now expecting twins. What cars can fit three child seats side by side, and do these have to be Isofix fittings?"
There are quite a few options when it comes to cars that can comfortably take three child seats. We'd always strongly recommend Isofix for all child seats as it's far safer than purely a seatbelt mount. If your son is looking for an SUV, depending on budget we would recommend the current Audi Q7 or for something cheaper, the Peugeot 5008 which both have three Isofix mountings in the middle row. He could do down the less fashionable MPV route, but these do have lots of space. We'd recommend the Ford S-MAX but there's also the Ford Galaxy, SEAT Alhambra, Volkswagen Touran and the Citroen Grand C4 Picasso (later nenamed the Grand C4 Spacetourer) that are worth checking out. As these are all seven seaters, depending on how old your granddaughter is (and what car seat she has), she can either sit in the middle or alternatively the back row. The only difficulty is that with a Group 0+ child seat on both outer seats, access to the rear seats is pretty much impossible. If you're on more of a budget, the Vauxhall Insignia Sport can take three child seats on the back row although it's not as roomy as an SUV. If you want practicality, there are options like the Citroen Berlingo from 2018 onwards. The second row has three individual seats, each of which has Isofix, and there's also the option of the Berlingo XL which has seven seats.
Answered by David Ross

Can I get my Cat S car repaired?

"I recently had a minor collision with a wall in my Ford S-Max. I decided to claim via my insurance company. They sent my car for assessment and it's come back as a Cat S - so a structural write-off. If I wanted to cancel my claim and get the car fixed myself, is this possible? They have valued my car at £6,400 market value and have deemed if I want to retain as salvage a further £2,048 will be deducted (minus my £400 excess) so I could end up with £3,952 left to repair the car. If I have £3,952 to repair the car myself, what else needs to be done to get me back on the road? "
It is very difficult for us to say what is required to fix your car if it is a Cat S car. Often, insurers will consider a car a Cat S write-off if the estimated repair value is more than 50 to 60 per cent of the car's total value. However, it is entirely possible that if the structural damage is serious enough you could end up paying more than the amount you have left to repair the car. We'd recommend getting a bodyshop to inspect the car yourself and see if their findings match up with that of the insurers. You can also challenge the valuation given to your car for free by contacting the Financial Ombudsman service
Answered by Lawrence Allan

New car vs Used car

"We're a family of five and have been driving a 2009 Ford S-Max Titanium that we've had for six years. The car has been ideal as we often use the 7 seats to ferry the kids friends, grand parents etc. In that time it has been reliable and economical on the fuel, however at 125,000 miles there are a few issues starting to crop up which warrants looking at replacing it. I'm keen to hear your views on the pros and cons of buying new vs second hand. My wife, who uses the car, wants a 7 seater automatic but is keen to move to an SUV. Our budget is around £30-35,000 and our annual mileage is 10,000 miles. The options in my eyes are looking at a new SEAT Terraco FR or Peugeot 5008, or going for a used car and I've been looking at either a BMW X5 (2016) or Volvo XC90 (2016) with under 80,000 miles. It feels like you get a lot more car if you go for the X5 or XC90 but then you run the risk of it being an older car and things could go wrong, with higher maintenance costs. Alternatively, if you go down the new car path you might not get exactly the same space and power, but you benefit from warranty etc. "
Your thoughts are spot on. An older premium SUV like a BMW X5 or Volvo XC90 could be expensive to run when it's out of warranty, so we'd recommend a newer, more mainstream model. Bear in mind that, if you're buying soon, new cars are in short supply due to the chip shortage. This means you'll have to wait for a long time or pay over the odds for a used model. If your S-Max is still serviceable, it's probably worth waiting until next year to replace it.
Answered by Andrew Brady
More Questions

What does a Ford S-MAX cost?