Ford S-MAX (2015 -) Driving & Performance

Review by Graeme Lambert on
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Since it was introduced in 2006, and after being named car of the year in 2007, the Ford S-Max has found over 400,000 homes – 82,000 of which were here in the UK. Of those original sales, over 65 percent of original owners returned to the brand and replaced it with a new one when it became time to change.

4.5 out of 5

Performance

The bulk of sales, and therefore the bulk of the S-Max model range, is made up of diesel-powered models – so there are four diesel options and two petrols to choose from – though it’s the petrol engines that offer the best Ford S-Max performance.

Diesel engines

All of the diesel engines are the same capacity – 2-litre four-cylinder units – though there’s a choice of power outputs. At the start of the range is the 118bhp model, with 310Nm of torque and a 13.4 second 0-62mph time. Expected to be the most popular, the 148bhp model makes the most sense thanks to its extra 40Nm of torque and 10.8 second 0-62mph acceleration.

That said there’s no penalty in terms of emissions or economy if you choose the most powerful 178bhp version, which has 400Nm of torque and a sub 10 second 0-62mph time. We’ve only driven this model, and it certainly feels brisk with a relatively even spread of power and decent refinement. Having tried the 148bhp unit in other Ford models we’d expect it to behave similarly, though.

A six-speed manual gearbox is available on all, though the six-speed automatic can only be specified on the 148- and 178bhp engines. Those who require four-wheel drive have the option of the manual 148bhp model or the 178bhp automatic, though it’s worth noting the system does slow the car’s acceleration slightly.

Crowning the diesel range is the bi-turbo 2-litre with 207bhp, and the most generous torque figure yet – 450Nm. Driven hard it’ll achieve a sub nine-second 0-62mph time all while promising over 50mpg.

Petrol engines

Using the brand’s EcoBoost range of engines the S-Max is available with a 1.5-litre four-cylinder producing a generous 158bhp and 240Nm of torque – the latter available between 1,500rpm and 4,500rpm. Only available with the manual ‘box this model of S-Max can accelerate from 0-62mph in 9.9 seconds, before topping out at 124mph.

If you want the car to change gear itself, and need a petrol engine, there’s just the one choice – the 2-litre EcoBoost with 237bhp and 345Nm of torque. You’ll need a few more revs to take advantage of this pulling power, as its peak number is delivered at 2,300rpm, though it’ll continue to pull the S-Max forward at full acceleration until 4,900rpm. It’s this model that is the fastest S-Max available, with an 8.4 second 0-62mph time and 140mph top speed.

5 out of 5

Handling

Something of a USP for the old car, the S-Max has always been renowned for its agility as much as its ability to carry seven people and a modicum of luggage. It’s the same with this latest model, which proves as fun to drive as many rivals’ hatchbacks carrying less weight and a lower centre of gravity.

At the centre of this experience is the car’s lack of body roll – something so often associated with people carriers – and taut damping. Ride comfort isn’t sacrificed, but along with the low-slung seat, the S-Max feels like a much lower car on the move, with quick responses to input and decent levels of feedback from the electrically-assisted steering.

You can choose to specify the optional Adaptive Steering system which makes the car feel even more wieldy. By varying the ratio – rather than just assistance weight – the S-Max can alter the correlation between input at the steering wheel and output at the road wheels so that at low speed it requires fewer turns of lock to park. At high speed it can reduce the sensitivity to make for a more relaxed drive on the motorway.

It’s a neat system, and we suspect some may find it useful, but we’re not convinced it offers enough of a benefit to justify the extra expenditure – though Ford expects it will be part of an option pack rather than an individual item – especially since the standard steering is so good.

Alongside the electric steering the S-Max features torque-vectoring control, which brakes the inside front wheel and apportions power to the outside one when cornering to trim your line and resist understeer.

An adaptive chassis is also available, at extra cost, with switchable damper settings.