The S-MAX has four engines but the most affordable is the 2.0-litre petrol engine with 145bhp. Other petrol units include a 2.3-litre unit with 161bhp and an excellent 2.5-litre turbocharged engine (shared with the Focus ST) that delivers 220bhp. None of these are particularly efficient - the best averaging 35mpg, so we'd opt for one of the excellent diesels.
The 1.8TDCi with 125bhp is adequate but a better choice is the excellent 2.0-litre diesel which, with 140bhp and a fuel economy figure of 44mpg, provides a good blend of performance and efficiency. There's also a newer 2.2 TDCi engine with 175bhp - quick and refined this is the best engine in the range and only marginally slower than the 2.5T model.
It's also efficient and will average an impressive 43mpg. All models come with a positive six-speed manual gearbox apart from the 2.0-litre petrol that has a five-ratio gearbox. A smooth six-speed automatic is available on the 2.3-litre and 2.0 TDCi models. In 2010 Ford added a 2.0-litre petrol EcoBoost engine that provides a good spread of power and lively driving experience.
Combined with the automatic six-speed 'Powershift' transmission it makes the most of the power and suits a keen driving style.
The S-MAX is car-like to drive - it handles well and although there's some bodyroll (which is difficult to avoid with a tall body, as it has a higher centre of gravity) it doesn't feel unstable, helped by the precise steering and good levels of grip. An optional adaptive suspension system allows the driver to select from three settings (Sport, Normal and Comfort) and continuously adjusts to suit the road conditions.
However the standard set-up is so good there seems little point in choosing this. Ride quality is firmer than other people carriers to improve body control, but it's certainly not uncomfortable even with the larger 18-inch wheels fitted. The S-MAX is also easy to manoeuvre (although it is very big) and there are no significant blind spots.
The S-MAX has a well built and clearly laid out interior that's user-friendly. The controls are grouped together while steering wheel-mounted buttons make controlling functions such as the stereo easy. The rest of the layout is neat, if not particularly adventurous, while the silver centre console adds a touch of finesse. The main stereo and ventilation controls are all easy to use, although it's a little less intuitive on cars with the optional sat nav and touchscreen fitted.
There's plenty of adjustment in the steering wheel and seat plus the gear lever is positioned high up, giving an almost sporty feel. We're less convinced by the quirky handbrake handle that resembles the throttle in an aircraft. However, an electronic handbrake is available as an option.
Although there are seven seats, the rear two are really only suitable for kids or occasional use by adults. They're also very low to the ground, meaning you almost sit on the floor with your knees high up, plus you have to be fairly nimble to access them. There's less headroom than in the Galaxy due to the sloping roof and more streamlined rear. However, the middle row offers excellent comfort - each of the three seats slides individually and also reclines.
Surprisingly not all models get air conditioning as standard though - it's an optional extra on the entry-level LX (now Edge) trim. In 2010 the entry level Edge was replaced with the Zetec, which does have air con as standard. It also gets a thicker windscreen meaning wind and road noise is reduced further making the S-Max very quiet at high speeds.