From March 07

The World Health Organisation says the birth rate in the western world is dropping, but Ford must know something different. It’s targeting large families by doubling its range of big people carriers to two with the launch of the S-Max MPV.

Its close cousin, the new Galaxy, provides no-compromise seating for seven. However, the S-Max is more of a spacious five-seater, with occasional seating for two more. It offers a useful cost-saving over the Galaxy and promises saloon car refinement with MPV practicality.

With a kerbweight of 1733kg, the S-Max can comfortably tow heavier vans than most rival MPVs. A tourer of 1473 is an 85% match. Abide by the same rule for a Vauxhall Zafira and you’ll be limited to vans of 1334kg or less.

As with the Galaxy, which we tested in January (p106), the engine is excellent, offering maximum torque from a low 2000rpm. The downside of this is that it’s easy to spin the wheels while towing, as the tourer’s weight takes the load off of the driving wheels.

The Abbey Vogue we hitched to it presented few problems for the Ford, although the car came fitted with single-socket 21-pin electrics. This left a lot of spare cable to secure around the A-frame once we hooked up the adaptor harness.

Driving Solo
The first thing to strike us about the S-Max is the way it looks. With the dramatic vents behind the front wheels and a sloping rear,
it looks sharp for something so practical. All the major controls fall nicely to hand, with the gear lever’s short shift and the chunky steering wheel feeling sportier than you’d expect for a family car.

The manual model we tested has a six-speed box with well-chosen ratios. However, the clutch is sharp, which can lead to stalling until you’re used to it. The 2.0-litre diesel version is very lively, scooting from 0-60mph in less than ten seconds and topping out at 122mph. At motorway speeds, the S-Max inspires confidence and keeps noise intrusion minimal. Rear visibility is good, but the stout windscreen pillars can obstruct your view when you pull out from T-junctions or reach a roundabout.

In the Cabin
The cabin, with a largely black and silver décor, is typical of new Fords. Many of the controls are mounted on the steering wheel, so study the handbook and get the hang of these before you hit the road.

There are plenty of small storage areas, including a small recessed compartment in the top of the dashboard, good door bins and numerous nooks, not to mention a covered cup holder between the seats. The big news is a thermostat for heating or cooling the seats. This is a £375 option. Our test model was also fitted with the glass-panelled Panorama roof. This £600 option brightens the dark interior.

Because the S-Max is a family car, passengers are treated as well as the driver. The middle row offers almost as much legroom as in the front. The rear row is suitable for youngsters, but they are easy to stow when not needed. There is still usable boot space with the back seats in place, including a lidded compartment under the floor, offering security for small valuables.

Buying & Owning
Prices for the 2.0-litre diesel S-Max start at £18,495 in LX trim while the model tested here comes in at £19,995. At these prices, it represents excellent value when placed alongside the comparable Vauxhall Zafira 150bhp diesel, whose towing limit is 1500kg.

Our sister magazine, What Car?, says owners can expect to reclaim 45% of the S-Max’s original value after three years, which compares favourably to other cars in its class. Factor in that you should be able to get a four-figure reduction on the list price, and the S-Max becomes all the more tempting.

Verdict ****
The S-Max has plenty to offer families who occasionally need room for seven passengers, but want to seat five in genuine comfort. Even by saloon car standards, this is a pleasure to drive, thanks to plenty of power, light controls and predictable on-road behaviour. The fact that it’s one of the heaviest cars in its class helps make it a great compromise for caravanning families who want space and style as well as the muscle to tow a wide range of tourers.

Price £19,995
Engine capacity 1999cc
Max power 138bhp@4000rpm
Max torque 251lb/ft@2000rpm
Kerbweight 1733kg
Max tow weight 1750kg
Cost of towbar fitting £500
Official combined fuel economy 44.1mpg solo
0-62mph 9.7sec
Max speed 122mph
CO2 emissions 169g/km
Luggage capacity 335-2352 litres
Insurance group 11

Overall length 477cm
Width (incl mirrors) 215cm
Height 166cm

Max noseweight 75kg

Front seats: headroom 96cm, legroom 105cm
Middle row: headroom 93cm, legroom 63-80cm
Rear row: headroom 91cm, legroom 51-67cm