Our 177bhp 2.0-litre diesel test car came in straightforward front-wheel drive, six-speed manual guise, and in full bells-and-whistles Titanium Sport trim with optional £2200 Titanium X Pack and £475 variable steering.
Unfortunately, it also came on adaptive dampers, which aren’t available in the UK. However, if - as Ford suggests - the default normal mode is representative of the passive set-up bound for our shores, UK drivers shouldn't feel short-changed.
Sling the S-Max into a corner and it sticks with light-footed precision, keeping you keyed into whether you’re bleeding into understeer while delivering that fluid response and well-controlled body movement that only Ford seems to be able to nail in your everyday family car.
There’s a bit of kick-back over awkward cambers and ruts, and the self-centering could be less aggressive (the electrically-assisted steering has lost a touch of the old model's organic feeling). Even so, the new S-Max still has a more incisive helm than you’ll find in any other MPV, and even in a fair array of standard hatches.
Don't bother adding the variable steering since Normal does the job in every situation, and makes the other settings seem unnecessary.
Does the ride suffer for the pointy handling? Not really. Glance off a pothole and you get little more than a remote thump as the body dips and the suspension soaks up any harshness. While slightly soggy damper rebound results in some body float, the compression is perfectly controlled. Overall, the new S-Max is spot-on for blending fun and comfort.
It’s just a shame this engine is laggy at low revs, with a fairly abrupt step-up in power delivery as the turbo kicks in. However, it has a torquey, flexible mid-range that makes for satisfyingly rapid progress, and it's fairly refined, too.
In fact, refinement is one of the biggest areas of improvement overall in the S-Max. It's only a bit of wind flutter you're really aware of on a steady cruise, as tyre and engine noise fade to a subdued background dirge.
It’s better than ever for all the practicalities, too. Even with our test car's full electric seat adjustment (part of the Titanium X pack) you can drop the driver's seat quite low for a more hatchback-like feel. Alternatively, there’s loads of adjustment and padded rests on the door and centre cubby that make it perfect for the casual, elbow-resting style that really suits the S-Max.
The standard 8.0in touchscreen and generally solid feeling cabin is a step forwards on the old car, too. All trims but base Zetec get sat-nav, on top of all the essentials including front and rear parking sensors. So, while there are masses of options – including a system that automatically adjusts the car's speed to match the speed limit – you don’t need to tick the boxes to get a well-specced car.
Seating flexibility is as good as ever. There's a lever on each of the outer two seats in the middle row which, when operated, flings the seat forward and up for better access to the third row.
Otherwise, there are still the three seats in the middle row that slide, recline and fold individually, and offer masses of space. The two boot-mounted seats can be lifted easily and will be fine for shorter adults, provided the journey's not overly long.
In terms of luggage space, only a compact buggy will fit behind the raised third row but drop the rearmost seats and you have a really wide, well-shaped 700-litre boot. Fortunately, because it's hidden snugly underneath the car, the space-saver tyre doesn’t intrude on luggage space.
Drop the middle row of seats and the uninterrupted boot floor and cavernous space could probably be partitioned and sold as a studio flat. Only truly van-like MPVs such as the VW Sharan and forthcoming new Ford Galaxy will edge the new S-Max for space and general utilitarian goodness.