While the French car maker Renault can lay some claim to establishing the contemporary large MPV class with its original Espace, it is Ford that has gone on to define it with the Ford Galaxy.
Such is the Galaxy’s ubiquity that it has bridged the divide between commercial and domestic use better than any other seven-seat MPV, and is as likely to be seen unloading holidaymakers and suitcases at an airport terminal as it is disgorging children and lunchboxes at the school gates.
The current, third-generation Galaxy has been with us largely unchanged, save for evolving trim and engine options, since 2006. So there’s nothing particularly groundbreaking about this incarnation’s roomy cabin, but with seven seats that slide and fold individually (and without undue effort), the Galaxy’s airy interior is highly flexible. With all seats in the upright position boot space is limited to a not insignificant 308 litres, but this expands to a total of 2325 litres with all but the front two the seats folded, spread over what amounts to a 2.1-metre-long load area.
The driving position and cockpit ergonomics are hard to fault, with the driver getting an upright seating position that allows clear all-round visibility. Ford resculpted the centre console during the most recent facelift to incorporate an integrated armrest and even more storage space than most families could find use for.
Trim levels follow Ford’s current Zetec/Titanium/Titanium X convention, and while standard kit is exceptionally generous in Titanium X-spec, you won’t be left feeling shortchanged if all you can budget for is a Zetec model, where even alloys, Bluetooth, climate control and all-round electric windows come as standard.
Engine options amount to a total of six, including a 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol Ecoboost, a 2.0 petrol, a 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol Ecoboost, a 1.6-litre TDCi, a 2.0-litre TDCi and a 2.2-litre TDCi, with a mildly bewildering combination of power output and gearbox options to choose from depending on your preferred trim level.
Of note is the new 1.6-litre Ecoboost, which isn’t short of power or torque with 158bhp and 177lb ft on tap. If the Galaxy is to be used as Ford intended – as an efficient transporter of sprawling families and swallower of luggage – then wisdom suggests a smaller-capacity petrol unit isn’t best suited to the task, but for short-journey urban use it might make a convincing case for itself over a diesel that would otherwise need regular long runs to keep its particulate filter breathing freely.
The flagship 2.2-litre diesel offers good performance, but for most the economy penalty will prove unpopular. For regular large loads and longer journeys, however, a diesel is a more sensible option, with the 2.0-litre TDCi offering the best compromise of power and economy. Dynamically the Galaxy is terrific, with precise steering and body control that delivers a relatively involving drive that makes you forget you’re piloting a big, flat-sided box. It rides exceptionally well, too.
The Galaxy’s biggest mainstream rivals are the Volkswagen Sharan and Seat Alhambra, with which the first and second generation Galaxy shared much of its mechanical componentry. Both the Seat and VW offer great refinement and build quality, and much the same as the Galaxy in terms of seating and practicalities, but they lag behind the Ford in terms of dynamic appeal.
But in terms of driver engagement the Galaxy’s biggest rival is the almost as large, almost as practical and even better to drive S-Max. The S-Max shares not only the Galaxy’s great interior ergonomics, equipment levels and engine range, but it also benefits from better residual values.
However, if you can’t live without the extra seats-up luggage space and rear headroom, and you’re prepared to sacrifice a little in the way of dynamic involvement for a more relaxing ride and the ability to haul a greater all-up load, then only a Galaxy will do.