Decent to drive, comfortable on the motorway, the S-MAX is best in class

From behind the wheel, you’d be forgiven for mistaking the S-MAX for something much smaller – such as a Ford Fiesta or Focus. The S-MAX feels relatively nimble, belying its bulk in a way few MPVs can, with the lower centre of gravity meaning it doesn’t roll as much as some of its rivals through the corners. The AWD version adds extra grip, but it won't make enough difference on UK roads for most buyers. 

However, the second-generation isn't as sharp to drive as the last one, and some of that handling prowess has come at the expense of comfort. The compliant suspension does a great job of keeping the car in check, yet soaks up the lumps and bumps on pitted country roads. It’s remarkably composed, and will transport big families long distances from A to B without breaking a sweat.

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S-MAX Vignale models manage to  turn refinement up a notch, with laminated side windows and better sound insulation. The ride is a little firm, however, thanks to the bigger wheels as standard.

Engines

Ford offers buyers a choice of one petrol and two diesel engines, with the 148bhp 2.0-litre TDCi being the most sensible. It offers a decent blend of performance (0-62mph in 10.8 seconds) versus running costs, and feels suitably nippy on the move.

The petrol, now discontinued, is quieter – but in exchange for some added refinement you’ll have to fork out at the pumps. The 163bhp 1.5-litre turbocharged EcoBoost has a 0-62mph figure of 9.9 seconds, but it doesn't feel as fast as you'd expect, as an inferior torque figure means the diesel engines feel more eager. We’d avoid it and go for one of the faster diesels instead.

A six-speed manual gearbox comes as standard but Ford does offer a Powershift automatic gearbox as an option. It’s smooth – although changes don’t feel as quick as those in the equivalent DSG gearbox you’ll find in the SEAT Alhambra. We’d stick with the six-speed manual unless you desperately need a self-shifter.

Four-wheel drive is offered as an option on higher-powered diesels, but front-wheel drive will suit the majority of buyers most of the time – all the while offering better fuel economy and CO2 emissions.