What is it? All-new version of very successful people-carrier.
Key features: More upmarket look, improved chassis, extra flexibility.
Our view: First impressions suggest the new Ford S-Max will more than maintain its dominant position in the market.
The Ford S-Max has proven a major success over the last decade. It launched in 2006 as a seven-seat people-carrier which did not look like a box on wheels, won the European Car of the Year title that year and in the years since has sold a total of 82,000 in the UK, through three generations.
Now there is a fourth generation version, launching as part of a wholesale renewal by Ford of its people-carrier line-up – our first drive on a sunny morning in Spain came just 18 hours after trying the new version of its smaller sister, the C-Max.
Later this year, meanwhile, will see the arrival of the new Galaxy, a big sister to the S-Max and also effectively its major rival. Between the two models, Ford totally dominates the larger people carrier segment.
It is an all-new Ford S-Max, with the company telling us that the recipe was more flexibility, more technology, a more fun-to-drive package and what is described as “premium styling”.
It certainly looks the part. The exterior visuals of the S-Max have always been a major element of its appeal and the new car maintains the image under the application of the current ‘One Ford’ global family styling programme.
A large grille dominates the front end which also boasts the swept-forward ‘smiley’ look, chrome detailing predominates and a combination of moved-back A-pillars and muscular sides with distinct lines certainly provide the car with a suitably aerodynamic visual presence.
It’s also more slippery in the areas that are less visible – several flush panels improve underbody aerodynamics, along with such innovations as the Active Grille Shutter that smooths out the grille in suitable conditions to improve airflow.
The immediate impression on stepping inside is the quality of the fit and finish. Ford repeatedly uses the word premium in describing the S-Max and having only just exited the C-Max, the larger car’s interior is a definite step up, with lots of soft-touch surfaces and yet more chrome.
The driver’s environment has undergone major improvement, the instrument panel in particular, which is now a 10-inch digital display but with analogue-style insturments represented on it. All the essential switchgear falls much easier to hand, the whole cockpit feeling more focused around the driver. The centre console, meanwhile, is dominated by the tocuhscreen of Ford’s new infotainment system.
There are improvements further back too, in the five seats of the second and third rows. The middle-row seats tip and fold forward in one easy action to ease access to the rear, while all five can be folded flat in one move using buttons on a control panel. Other helpful touches include the availability of a hands-free tailgate, opened by waving one’s foot under it.
Ford offers six engine options for the S-Max, and two of them are petrol units despite the diesel taking 97 per cent of all sales. Both are Ecoboost units of 1.5-litre 157 or 2.0 236bhp, while the diesels are all 2.0-litre units with either 118, 148, 17 or 207bhp.
In terms of transmissions, a six-speed manual is standard on all bar the most powerful petrol and diesel units. The 136bhp petrol gets a six-speed auto, the 207bhp diesel Ford’s PowerShift auto-manual which is also an option on all the other diesels except the entry-level 118bhp unit. The 148 and 177bhp versions can also be specified with all-wheel-drive.
The 148 diesel is expected to account for 40 per cent of all S-Max sales, but not far behind on 37 per cent will be The Car Expert test car, powered by the 177bhp unit which we tried with manual transmission.
Most noticeable in the engine is its refinement, matching the step up in the rest of the car. It is very smooth and well behaved, though under acceleration you need to wait for the revs to build before serious pulling power kicks in, after which it proves quite punchy.
Ford has done a lot of work on the S-Max chassis, measures including a significant amount of lightweight component’s to reduce unsprung mass. And the S-Max road manners are very impressive, the quite large vehicle staying composed and upright when pushed into corners.
However a full appreciation of the car’s road manners should await a test of a UK-spec version on British roads, as our Euro test model included features reputedly not available to UK buyers such as the ‘Continuously Control Dampened Suspension’.
Ford S-Max prices in the UK will start from £24,545, buying the 1.5 petrol in Zetec trim – diesel prices range from £25,245. There is apparently no market for more entry-level trims in the range – Zetec buyers, around 30 per cent of customers, will find the specification now includes 17-inch instead of 16-inch alloys, Ford’s Sync 2 infotainment system with an eight-inch touchscreen, keyless start, power-folding mirrors and the MyKey younger driver monitoring system.
Around 40 per cent of buyers will opt for Titanium and its extras such as cruise control with an intelligent speed limiter and rain-sensing wipers and auto headlights. New to the trim is navigation with a DAB radio, traffic sign recognition and a lane-keeping aid.
Finally there is Titanium Sport, which enlarges the alloys by another inch, and adds a body styling kit and rear spoiler, sports suspension and heated front seats.
First impressions suggest the new S-Max will more than maintain its dominant position in the market – we look forward to trying a UK-spec version.
Ford S-Max – key specifications
Model Tested: Ford S-Max Titanium X 2.0 TDCi 180PS
On Sale: August 2015
Range price: £24,545-£32,260
Insurance group: TBA
Engines: Petrol 1.5, 2.0. Diesel 2.0 x 4.
Power (bhp): 157, 236. 118/148/177/207.
Torque (lb/ft): 177, 254. 229/258/295/332.
0-62mph (sec): 9.9, 8.4. 13.4/10.8/9.7/8.8.
Top speed (mph): 124, 140. 114/123/131/135.
Fuel economy (combined, mpg): 43.4, 35.7. 56.5/56.5/56.5/51.4.
CO2 emissions (g/km): 149, 180. 129/129/139/144.
Key rivals: Volkswagen Sharan, SEAT Alhambra.
Test Date: April 2015.
All figures best (manual, auto start-stop if fitted)