The 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.
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 the 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, there are two EcoBoost turbo petrol units of 1. 5 and 2. 0-litres in size, but most users will want one of the 2. 0-litre TDCi diesels. The 120, 150 and 180PS variants of this unit can record 56. 5mpg on the combined cycle and 129g/km of CO2, while at the top of the range, there’s a 210PS Bi-Turbo TDCi powerplant that’s nearly as clean and frugal.
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.
Time to take a seat behind the wheel, as before, the vast glass area and the slim windscreen pillars mean that all-round visibility is excellent, plus it’s easy to find the ideal driving position thanks to the considerable amount of seat and wheel adjustment provided and the way the headrests go forward and back as well as up and down.
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 the 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 SYNC2 colour touchscreen, there to play its part in reducing button clutter and giving the cabin a cleaner, smarter feel.
Time to start thinking about the 32 different seating and loadspace combinations this car can offer and we’ll start by checking out the middle row. Here, you’ll find that the three individual seats provided do most of what MPV buyers would expect them to do, sliding back and forth and reclining for greater comfort on longer journeys.
We like Ford’s preference for ‘stadium-style’ seat positioning that enables you to better see forward through into the front, though this approach could compromise ultimate headroom a little for really tall people, especially in a car fitted with the huge optional glass Panorama roof. The pay-off though, is the commanding, airy feel that this particular model provides, with everyday practicality aided in this case by the fitment of the extra-cost ‘Family Pack’ that most buyers will want. This includes side window blinds, seatback tables and a 230V power outlet.
Time to check out the third row, now a little more easily accessible thanks to the ‘Easy-Entry’ one-touch mechanism that flings the seat forward, up and out of your way. Whereas in a other makes, the third row chairs are really only for children, in an S-MAX, you can use them for adults too – provided the journey isn’t going to be excessively long. To be specific, you get 70mm more headroom in the back than you would do in a Grand C4 Picasso: there’s the difference – summed up in one stat.
On to bootspace, which can be accessed by one of those powered rear tailgates you can activate by waving your foot beneath the bumper, should you find yourself approaching the car laden down with shopping.
In an S-MAX, the extra rearmost seats fold neatly into the floor and can do so with electrical assistance if you’ve avoided entry-level trim and opted for the extra-cost ‘Family Pack’ I mentioned earlier. Once the two chairs are retracted, a 965-litre space is freed up and can be covered by the useful reversible/foldable loading mat which comes included in that optional ‘Family Pack’. For ultimate carriage capacity, you can of course fold the individual middle row chairs. Again, they push down flat into the floor, either manually or in this case electrically if you’ve got that ‘Power Easy Entry’ option fitted.
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. The second generation S-MAX, like its predecessor, meets these needs in a way that frankly, no other competitor can.
For us, it’s the best seven-seater Ford makes. And for you? Well try one: you might find it quite a revelation.