Handles like a much smaller and nimbler car, and with plenty of oomph
Mostly smart cabin, with lower driving position than most MPVs'
Generally good provision, though there are no airbags in the very back and you have to pay extra to deactivate the front passenger airbag
Feels sturdy; decent reliability record
Spacious, versatile cabin though rearmost seats are awkward for adults
All models are well equipped
MPVs don't get any more enjoyable to drive than the Ford S-Max. All but the lowest-powered diesel engines have plenty of oomph (there are a couple of turbocharged petrol engines to choose from too), while the car's responsive steering and good body control (it stays reassuringly stable and upright on corners) mean it behaves like a much smaller car. The flipside is a slightly firm ride, which can jostle your passengers around at low speeds. The cabin is quiet, though, so the S-Max makes an impressively refined cruiser.
The S-Max is huge inside for five - there's tons of space in the front two rows of seats, and a vast boot when the rearmost pair of seat are folded down. Even when the extra seats are in use there's still a decent amount of space for a few bags.
Access to the very back is good, but the seats there are best suited to children, especially given their low-slung position. They're also a bit of a faff to put up and down as you have to attend separately to the seat backs and bases.
The middle-row has three large same-size seats that slide and recline individually so everyone can get comfortable. They each have Isofix lugs, too (although, unusually, without top-tether points) so you've a good chance of getting three child seats in a row here.
The dashboard is clearly laid out, stylish and well built, with plenty of appealing soft-touch materials (they get less plush in areas out of direct sight, however). The S-Max's driving position is lower than many MPVs' but it's a matter of taste whether this suits you or not. Visibility is good thanks to skinny front pillars.
Even entry-level Zetec cars have dual-zone climate control, front and rear parking sensors, Bluetooth and four electric windows. Titanium adds cruise control, automatic lights and wipers, and a DAB radio, while Titanium X Sport includes a panoramic roof and part-leather seats.
There have been a few reports of electrical problems with the S-Max but on the whole it's reliable. You might want to bear in mind, though, that owners rated Ford dealers 20th out of 27 in the 2012 JD Power customers satisfaction survey. Anti-lock brakes and an electronic stability programme will help keep you on the straight and narrow but there are plenty of airbags should the worst happen; unfortunately, though, that doesn't include airbags for the rearmost pair of seats, and you'll need to pay up to £300 to get your dealer to fit front passenger airbag deactivation if you ever want to fit a rear-facing child seat here.
The Ford S-Max has a lot to offer families who need lots of space, seven seats or the ability to seat three children across the middle row; it's also versatile, genuinely good to drive and, particularly with any of the diesel engines, affordable to run. The only concerns might be the slightly firm low-speed ride and lack of rearmost airbags. It's a little pricey compared to rivals such as the Peugeot 5008 and Citroen C4 Picasso but it's a bit bigger than they are and there are plenty of discounts on the S-Max to help get the price down. That's a good job because it doesn't hold its value that well - which also makes it a good used buy.