Ford S-Max Review | NationalWorld

The seven-seater hybrid proves there’s still no better choice than an MPV for large families

People carriers are not cool.

There’s no good way to put it but, other than that time Renault plugged an F1 engine into the Espace, no one looked at the MPV and thought “sweet trip”.

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But it doesn’t matter. Not every car needs to be a status symbol or a desperate expression of its owner’s self-image. Some just need to be able to do a good job, especially when it comes to family cars.

The Ford S-Max has been doing the job for 16 years now and, although the MPV segment is disappearing almost completely, it continues to do so – offering practicality and usability that’s hard to match.

Automakers will tell you that SUVs are a great alternative, but years of trying to get a family of five into the Kugas, Qashqais, and Grandlands parades have taught me they were wrong. Even seven-seater SUVs, such as the Seat Tarraco, Kia Sorento or Skoda Kodiaq, while spacious, lack the flexibility or family friendliness of the S-Max.

For starters, the S-Max has seven precise individual seats that can each maneuver independently. The rear two are smaller and more difficult to access than the others but still better in both respects than most seven-seat SUVs. Fold it flat against the floor, and you’ve got 700 liters of boot space to play with. Passengers in the middle row each enjoy sliding, reclining the seat and their own leg, shoulder and headroom which means even three grown adults can feel comfortable.

While the seating position isn’t as high as an SUV, the S-Max is taller than a traditional hatch or estate, making it easier to get in and out of, especially if you’re trying to get a small child to sit in a car seat. Helping it further is the back door which opens almost 90 degrees.

The S-Max also features other practical touches that show real thought meets family needs – from a folding picnic table in the back of the chair and three Isofix points in row two, to ample storage and three 230V pins. socket on the rear console.

It’s a shame that age is catching up to the interior, which looks and feels a little outdated compared to the newer models. Even the luxurious dashboard and leather seats of the Vignale model can’t disguise the aging design.

That Vignale trim is the top of the tree in Ford’s lineup and brings some blingy exterior trim, big alloys and upholstered leather. It also carries a ton of gear, from adaptive LED headlights and a powered tailgate to heated massage chairs and active noise cancellation. Of course, that means an asking price of over £41,000 and even then, the assistance package with adaptive cruise control, blind spot warning, front camera and active park assistance is still an additional £1,000.

In the S-Max’s defense, it’s pretty much the same as the Kuga Vignale with the same engine, and the S-Max is much more practical than its SUV stablemate.

On the road, the S-Max has always been a bit of an outlier in the MPV market because, despite its looks, it’s half worth driving. Ford’s chassis genius somehow makes this reasonable load-lugger quite responsive and agile. Compared to the tall and cumbersome seven-seater SUV that claims to be an alternative, the S-Max handles like a hatchback.

This is by no means a sporty car, an impression reinforced by its hybrid drivetrain and CVT gearbox. Ford has ditched diesel, so the only options for cars like the S-Max and Kuga are plug-in hybrids or full hybrids tested here. At 187bhp and 148lb ft it has enough oomph to carry a family and restore mid-40s economy – just the kind of efficiency you’d expect from a diesel version. However, it’s not a powerhouse, especially if you fill all seven seats regularly, so you’re better off accepting a slower pace of life. It will also offer the smoothest performance of a self-managing hybrid drivetrain.

But that spirit really fits the overall feel of the S-Max. It’s not a car you’d buy with heart, but it’s a very reasonable choice. Boring to look at, great to drive only in alternative contexts and hardly cheap. But for larger families there is still no match for the mix of practicality and usability.

Price: £41,790 (£42,940 when tested); Machine: 2.5 liter, four cylinder, gasoline with hybrid electric motor; Power: 187bhp; Torque: 148lb feet; Transmission: automatic CVT; Top speed: 115mph; 0-62mph: 9.9 seconds; Economy: 43.5mpg; CO2 Emissions: 148g/km

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