A sporty MPV? Well almost

Small Mercedes saloon cars have always been popular with GPs. The C-Class too small? Try the new B-Class hatchback.

None of us truly lusts after an MPV if we're honest. A growing family, rather than burning desire tends to be the reason for buying one. Wouldn't it be nice, then, if you could cram all that practicality into a car that also looked good and drove well?

That's the thinking behind Ford's S-Max. Developed alongside the Galaxy with the same basic mechanicals, it looks much sleeker, with curvier sides and roof and an unusually sporty character.

It is lower than the Galaxy, but the same width and similar length. So there's plenty of space inside, with good leg and headroom, especially for the second row of three, where the chairs slide and recline. The rear two seats, which flip up from the boot floor, are more cramped. It is an awkward task but there is plenty of boot space once folded away.

From the driver's seat, the switches and dials are positioned intuitively, with tactile controls and a precise feel to them. Reversing into parking spaces is tricky because you have to look over a sea of head restraints and through small rear windows.

Those moving from a hatchback to an MPV for the first time will cope with the transition in the S-Max. It's much longer than a compact family car, but you'd never guess it once on the move, thanks to its nimble handling, excellent body control and sharp steering.

It's easy to be seduced by the precision of the slick gearbox and the vibrancy of its engine. It pulls strongly from low revs, with a pronounced surge of power beyond 3,000rpm, so it feels surprisingly rapid. Road, wind and engine noise are extremely well suppressed.

The 2.0-litre diesel has a reassuringly progressive power delivery. The S-Max is a heavy car so you might need to downchange if you encounter a steep incline.

Zetec trim supplies all the basics of the LX, but adds desirables such as electric rear windows and alloy wheels. All models provide front, side, curtain and driver knee airbags, but none to protect third-row occupants.

The S-Max is a hugely competent car, big on fun and extremely spacious.

For sheer driving pleasure, no MPV comes close to it.

- S-Max road test published in What Car? April 2007
Ford S-Max 2.0TDCI Zetec
Price: £19,995
Acceleration: 0-60mph 9.7 seconds
Top speed: 121mph
Insurance group: 11
MPG: urban 34.8/ex-urban 52.4/combined 44.1
Real cost: (three years/36,000 ownership cost based on fuel,
depreciation, insurance, services): £15,742
What Car? rating: 4 out of 5
What Car? verdict: Sharp handling, comfortable ride. Rear seats best for
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