You could never accuse Ford of jumping on every passing bandwagon. MPVs were as established as McDonald’s in Manhattan by the time it launched the Galaxy in the mid-90s, and even then it was a conservative kind of people carrier, destined to become a best-selling stalwart of the DNA pool it shared with the Volkswagen Sharan and Seat Alhambra.

Trouble was, the Galaxy has remained part of the MPV furniture ever since: practical, comfortable, dull and largely unchanged. So when the tie-up with Volkswagen and Seat ended in 2006, Ford sniffed an opportunity to grab the initiative and try something different in an othwerwise dull segment.

So it was that Ford claimed to have produced the first truly sporty, stylish, desirable, driver-orientated, full-size, seven-seat MPV in the S-Max. The S-Max is a close relative of the more sober Galaxy and shares its underpinnings with the current Mondeo.

The S-Max instantly became our favourite MPV when it was launched, and it remained the best car in the segment up until its mid-life nip and tuck. One suspects Ford knew how good it was, too, because when the time came for its obligatory facelift, by the standards of age-defying tucks, the ones to which the S-Max have been treated are mild.

The real changes in the latest S-Max lie under the skin, with a whole host of new engines plus claimed improvements to the ride and handling. In a segment where, so often, extra space means a compromise on performance and driving enjoyment, Ford seems to have struck an ideal balance in making sure the S-Max fills two roles: one as a family load-lugger and the other as an engaging daily driver.

Question is, does the S-Max still deserve its place at the top of our MPV list?

Top 5 MPVs

First drives

Find an Autocar car review

Driven this week

  • Audi Q2 1.4 TFSI 150 S tronic
    First Drive
    29 May 2016
    We head to Havana to find out how the new Audi Q2 is shaping up ahead of its November launch
  • Seat Leon 1.4 EcoTSI FR Titanium
    First Drive
    27 May 2016
    High-spec new Titanium FR trim is temptingly good value, particularly on the semi-enthusiastic 1.4 EcoTSI petrol
  • Kia Niro
    First Drive
    27 May 2016
    The Kia Niro will be one of the greenest cars in the compact crossover class when it goes on sale later this year. We drive it to see what else it has to offer
  • Car review
    27 May 2016
    Can the turbocharged successor to the 458 raise the bar again?
  • Car review
    27 May 2016
    The big-in-every-way Bentley SUV lands. We assess the impact