Two different ways of carrying seven people, but which has the most real-world appeal?
14 June 2010

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.

See the exclusive test pictures

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.

See all the latest Ford S-Max reviews, news and videoSee all the latest Mercedes E-class reviews, news and video

Join the debate


14 June 2010

I would go for the Merc, no wait, the Ford, no WTH!!!! . I small doubt in the air. Why all these tests of cars from different classes? Would someone enlighten me? Is this somthing Autocar do to fill in spare time?

14 June 2010

So what if they are from different classes? It's still fun to read. :) If everybody chose the car in exactly the same way, then everybody would be driving exactly the same car in the end.

14 June 2010

In theory these tests are an interesting twist on the normal review format, but in reality they leave everyone feeling a bit stumped. Why not compare a new S-Max with a used (i.e. previous generation) E-Class of the same value?

14 June 2010

Completely flawed test. If the E220CDI was the right engine spec to compare with the S-Max, why didn't they actually use that one ?

And why don't these tests ever use "real world" prices ? The great thing about the S-Max for the last few years has been that you could easily get big discounts through brokers yet they hold their value used, so actually depreciate slower than a supposedly more premium Merc or Audi. As soon as the facelift S-Max has been around for a few months, discounts will increase again. Ford say they won't, but they always say that, and I've been buying S-Maxes/Galaxies at 20-30% discounts for at least 8 years......

All Ford needs to do now is quieten road noise a little more and to offer a revised 2.2 diesel with the Powershift box, with lots of lovely low down torque.

14 June 2010

Its lucky Autocar isn't HomeMaker Magazine. They'd be testing washing machine's against a nice bottle of wine.

14 June 2010

Are the prices given for the Merc the base price or equiped to the same level of the S-Max? With the German premium brands such as BMW and Mercedes the final price, once you have added essential options like automatic gearbox, leather, navigation, etc, can easily life the base price by 20% to 50% (if you really go mad with the option list) and that makes a huge difference when trying to make a like-for-like comparison.

14 June 2010

OK, here we go - rough comparison of real world new prices from drivethedeal:

1) S-Max 2.0tdci 163 Powershift auto, completely standard spec: £ 23,317

2) E220 CDI Bluefficiency SE 5dr Tip Auto, brought up to S-Max spec by adding 17" wheels, privacy glass, 2 extra seats, extra rear airbags: £33,190.

The Merc has adaptive suspension as standard, worth about £700 on the Ford if you could unbundle it from the adaptive cruise control (as you could on the old model).

So, the cost of the Merc badge and some nicer plastics ? About £9.5k, and that's before S-Max discounts start building up.

14 June 2010

Of course, if you want a Merc badge and 7 seats that actually face the right way (saves on valeting costs - vomit is a bugger to get out of seats and carpets), then you have to put up with the bloated, badly built dog's dinner that is the R class. Prices from £40k, comes with a free 5 year diary so you can plan parking and overtaking manoeuvres in advance.....

14 June 2010

[quote morellomax]

Of course, if you want a Merc badge and 7 seats that actually face the right way (saves on valeting costs - vomit is a bugger to get out of seats and carpets), then you have to put up with the bloated, badly built dog's dinner that is the R class. Prices from £40k, comes with a free 5 year diary so you can plan parking and overtaking manoeuvres in advance.....


'5 year diary', eh? So the 7-seat Land Rover Disco comes with a Mayan calendar?

Before all you transparent Merc-bashers get carried away with tortoise-like performance descriptions and value-for-money comparisons like an English 3-bed semi, cast an eye on a Land Rover Discovery:

0-60 mph 9 secs, max speed 112 mph, 30 mpg, 242 bhp, 444 lb.ft, 'HSE' £50k.

Now compare that to a long wheelbase, facelifted 350 CDI R-class:

0-60 mph 7.5 secs, max speed 145 mph, 33 mpg, 261 hp, 457 lb.ft, price £45k,

And before we get too carried away stamping on the build quality of anything that comes out of Mercedes-Benz Tuscaloosa, take a look at the build quality reputation of Land Rover Solihull.

Oh yeah, you forgot to add - for a full-house - Rooney is the world's best player - then we would have known you were really taking the p!ss.

14 June 2010

must admit i'm liking the current style of comparisons for group tests...i do admit that it was quite silly comparing the 350cdi and then say that they would recommend the 220cdi instead! but i don't think the price disparity really comes into it. they were simply testing the best people carrier against the best estate.

Funny thing is, i think the merc would have still won even if the prices were the other way around, after all a people carrier is and will always be a people carrier no matter how ford try and dress it up, it will never be as good to drive as the car, and the result is alwys the same when comparing estates to suvs.


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