The Ford S-Max is a seven-seater people carrier that slots underneath the sensible Ford Galaxy in the American company’s range, as a practical but fun-to-drive family machine.

Rivals for this stylish MPV include mid-size people carriers with seats for seven, such as the Citroen Grand C4 Picasso, Renault Grand Scenic, Volkswagen Touran and Peugeot 5008.

The S-Max has been on UK streets since 2006 – a long time in car terms – though a new model is soon to arrive in showrooms.

What is it?

The Ford S-Max is one of a number of seven-seat Ford people carriers, sitting between the compact Grand C-Max and the larger Galaxy. While the other two models focus on practicality and passenger comfort, the S-Max puts the focus back on the driver, with sharp handling around bends.

Several turbocharged petrol and diesel engines are available, varying from a 113bhp 1.6-litre diesel motor to a 237bhp turbocharged 2.0-litre petrol and a 197bhp diesel. Unlike many other Fords, most of the models available are higher specification models, starting with Zetec and rising through Titanium to range-topping Titanium X Sport.

Prices start at around £23,000 and rise to £33,000, making this one of the pricier MPVs.

What is it like to drive?

The Ford S-Max is marketed as being one of the sportiest handling MPVs and that’s exactly the impression that takes hold behind the wheel. The car has relatively heavy steering and controls, making it more engaging to drive than you might expect, and the body doesn’t bounce around in the way that most people carriers do around corners.

In the Titanium X Sport trim of our test model, the S-Max has big 18-inch alloy wheels and sports suspension, meaning a firm ride, especially for an MPV. Despite being several rungs firmer than your average people carrier, the S-Max should prove comfortable enough for most passengers.

The 2.0-litre diesel, however, feels a little less refined than more modern rivals. Noise levels are higher than they could be and some vibrations make their way into the cabin. The automatic gearbox fitted to our car did exacerbate this slightly, by holding onto gears slightly longer than necessary. It’s also not the slickest gearbox, often taking a second to decide which gear to use.

What is it like inside?

The S-Max has been on sale since 2006 and that is evident in the interior. The layout of dashboard controls isn’t the most intuitive and though Ford has added soft-touch materials to make the car feel more upmarket, some materials are hard and scratchy to the touch.

Our car had analogue dials for the speedometer and rev counter and though these were easy enough to read on the move, we didn’t find the digital display between them the clearest to read. The media system screen, though large, was also slightly tricky to read while driving, with a small font and the many buttons strewn around the screen weren’t the easiest to locate by feel.

However, the S-Max offers a good view of the road ahead, with narrow front pillars and a low bonnet. Rear visibility isn’t bad either, with large wing mirrors helping gauge the size of the car. We did find the front and rear parking sensors very useful though, especially at the front where the sloping bonnet can be hard to judge.

Is it practical?

Though the S-Max is outsized by the Galaxy, it excels in the space stakes. Room in the first two rows of seats is very generous, with near-limousine levels of space for middle passengers with the seats slid back.

Even the third row of seats is quite usable if you slide the middle seats forward a little, with plenty of headroom and reasonable enough legroom. The boot is also usable with seven seats in use and cavernous if you fold the rear two seats down. Down all five rearmost seats and there is a huge amount of space on offer.

The individual chairs are also easy to slide, recline and fold, making the S-Max a capable family car.

Should I buy one?

The S-Max ticks a large number of boxes as a family car, with a spacious, practical interior, appealing styling and taut handling around bends.

However, our top-of-the-range model was slightly underwhelming, with its dimwitted automatic gearbox, dated sat nav system and firm ride. The engine could also be more refined – especially considering our test car’s price of £36,420, when options are taken into account.

But the good news is that going for a cheaper model will solve most of these issues. A manual model with the same engine, but without sports suspension or sat nav for £26,645 is likely to be a much better value option for many families.

Don't want to buy new? You can browse for a used Ford S-Max in our classifieds here.

The facts

Ford S-Max 2.0 TDCi PowerShift Auto Titanium X Sport

List price: £31,925
Engine: 2.0-litre, four cylinder diesel
Power: 161bhp
Top speed: 125mph
0-62mph: 10.2 seconds
Fuel economy: 41.5mpg (urban), 56.5mpg (extra-urban) 49.6mpg (combined)
Emissions: 149g/km CO2
Euro NCAP rating: Five-star