The Ford S-Max and Mercedes E-class estate are two different ways of carrying seven people, but which has the most real-world appeal?
Sure, they are a class - and £10,000 - apart, but if you are looking for full-sized, all-purpose, faithful retainers, at their respective price points it just doesn't get any better than these two.
Are the differences between them actually more perceived than real? Once you drill down beyond the Benz badge does the E-class still appeal?
The E350 CDI Sport we test here costs £40,400 - a considerable sum more than the £28,260 Ford S-Max 2.0 TDCi, which is groaning under the weight of equipment.
From a practical point of view the choice seems easy. The S-Max's third-row seats not only point the same way as the others but are also much more useful than those in the E-class and could even be occupied by adults for short journeys.
Ultimately, it is the Merc that offers greater legroom for middle-seat passengers, but the S-Max counters with greater flexibility, thanks to seats that slide and recline as well as folding flat into the floor.
Where the Ford ultimately wins is on load space - the Merc's 1950-litre capacity dwarfs that of conventional rivals, but the Ford opens out to swallow 2100 litres.
The S-Max has long been the MPV of choice for those who like to drive, but the surprise here is how close it runs a brand new estate already noted for the excellence of its handling.
The Mercedes has more grip and better dynamic balance, but it is the lighter, front-wheel-drive Ford that owns the more incisive, communicative steering. It feels at least as poised, too.
But in other areas the S-Max can't disguise its origins. The 67bhp deficit of its 161bhp motor is masked by a 235kg weight advantage, but its 251lb ft of torque at 2000rpm isn't so easily ignored against the Merc's 398lb ft down at 1600rpm.
Even when fully laden the Benz feels truly effortless, needing to use fewer revs and lower gears to do any job. The Ford is game, and its optional six-speed auto closer to the Merc's seven-speeder than you might think, but its engine is coarser and needs to be worked hard for pace.
The S-Max rides well on its Mondeo-derived chassis, but the E-class, with its standard self-levelling rear suspension, offers world-class comfort. Likewise, while you won't moan about noise levels in the Ford, you'll likely marvel at how well the Mercedes isolates you.
Based on these two cars, it's honours even.
Both are exceptional at what they do, the Ford punching well above its weight yet unable to make the Mercedes look less than good value.
If you want a result, then it must be the Mercedes - but not the one you see here. For £28,895 you can buy an E220 CDI SE wagon that will outperform the S-Max, use a little less rather than substantially more fuel, will cost below £2000 more than the Ford tested here, and still come with all that load-carrying ability as standard.
The full test review is available in Autocar magazine, on sale now.