We bought this 12 month old 2006 7-seater S-Max Zetec 1.8 TDCi as a replacement for a 2004 5- seater Renault Scenic. The main reason for the change was to have a car with seven seats to enable the endless multiple pickups and dropoffs, which seem to come with having young children.
The main impressions, which reflect the contrast to the Scenic, after 1500 miles are as follows:
The S-Max is large! (For readers in the US, this means ‘smallish’!) This may seem obvious, but it’s a long and wide car, and you can’t reverse it onto our short driveway without good visibility, and the time and lack of pressure from passing traffic to do it carefully. Some driveway civil engineering will be required when the weather improves, to widen the gap. With the extra size comes the additional parking challenges at Tesco’s. The turning circle isn’t brilliant, and I have found myself taking longer than normal to perform tight manoeuvres. On the positive front, there is a great deal of room inside. I’m just a bit less than six foot tall, and I can comfortably sit in five of the seven seats, the back two would be tolerable for adults for shortish trips, but during longer runs the back two seats would be best occupied by smaller people.
Insurance was about 20% more expensive compared to the Scenic; I wonder if this is because of the fact that you’re potentially carrying up to seven souls at once.
We have the smallest diesel engine, and we live in a hilly area, we have never really had high performance cars. I wondered if this machine was going to be underpowered. However, the power (125 HP) and torque available from tickover is just extraordinary; once the engine is past idle revs, it seems to come on-cam immediately – if that’s what diesel engines do. In the low gears, wheelspin can be invoked with the slightest lack of care, and this particular model doesn’t have traction control. So acceleration is startling, certainly after an 80 HP Renault. All UK speed limits can be easily reached quickly. I noted with amusement that the speedo reads up to 160 mph, good for impressing 10 year olds, but which is probably a waste of time, and makes it harder, when your middle-aged eyesight is failing, to make out the points that really matter, 30, 40, 60 etc.
We had a 1999 Ford Focus 3 door, as our second car, which was traded in two years ago. The Focus is surely the best car of all time. It was a fantastic car to drive. I loved my Focus, but at the same time I truly hated its miserable 31 mpg fuel consumption, and 300 mile range. On the move, the S-Max feels just like the Focus. For something which seems apparently twice the size, the similarity to a Mk 1 Focus in steering wheel finish, and the seat position and seat shape are striking.
The S-Max also tram-lines just like the Focus, and it gleefully follows ruts and lorry-tracks without warning. You are never more than a casual blink or distraction away from some dented alloys and bodyshop estimates when you’re out in the countryside.
The feel through the steering is superb, and is in stark contrast to the numb (but very reassuring and balanced) feeling from the Scenic’s electrically assisted steering. In summary, the S-Max is excellent to drive.
Fuel economy is good, for comparison, in our mixed conditions, my Modus dCi does about 57 mpg, the Scenic dCi did about 55 mpg, and the S-Max is claiming about 47 mpg, though a proper urban run will bring it down towards 40...
After the nimble driving experience, perhaps the most impressive aspect of the S-Max is the build quality. For those old enough to remember rusty Cortinas, modern Fords represent an astonishing advance. All surfaces and controls inside the cabin are as solid as the dourest Audi or VW equivalent, without the glum, austere ambience the German cars seem to have. The S-Max’s doors don’t just shut with a thunk, you need to give the things a long hard pull, they seem so heavily built. They are thick too! Take a look.
Crash safety matters to me, the S-Max got a five star NCAP score, but most cars do these days. It’s a reassuring place to convey your and other peoples’ kids.
Everything is beautifully finished, and there are some very nice detailed touches. I am left with an impression that there will not be many rattles when we’ve finished with this S-Max in a few years time. You do notice your keys rattling on the steering column as you drive along.
It’s big, it’s stunning to drive, and it reminds me of my Focus. It’s built incredibly strongly. I am very impressed with it.