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Here we have the second-generation Ford S-Max. Launched in Malaysia earlier this year, the seven-seat MPV is available in a single guise — a 2.0 litre EcoBoost Titanium, commanding a cool RM 234,988 (OTR without insurance). It’s a lot more expensive than the previous model (RM198,888), but the latest S-Max does promise a few new tricks up its sleeves.

The test unit we have here comes to us with just over 1,000 km on the odometer, hailing from Valencia, Spain, where it is assembled alongside our local-market Ford Kuga. In Malaysia, competition for the S-Max primarily comes from the likes of the Volkswagen Sharan (RM279k) and the Honda Odyssey (RM248k) — both seven-seaters, similarly-equipped and priced. A good start for the Blue Oval then, given its position as the cheapest of the lot.

Based on the latest-gen Ford Mondeo sedan, the S-Max is 4,796 mm long, 1,916 mm wide and 1,655 mm tall. Its wheelbase measures 2,849 mm-long. Underpinnings aside, the MPV also takes after its sedan sibling’s styling, inside and out. The Aston Martin-esque front grille, similar bumpers and fog lamps, swept-back headlamps (with anti-dazzle tech), it’s all there.

Additionally, the S-Max gets a set of air vents on its front fenders, stylish tail lights, a high-mounted stop lamp on the rear spoiler, 17-inch alloy wheels wrapped in 235/55 rubber and two exhaust tips. Noticeably, the overall silhouette of the car hasn’t changed too much from the previous-gen model, but has evolved nicely with the times, thanks to the new items. Exterior colour options include Frozen White, Moondust Silver (as pictured in this review) and Magnetic Grey.

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Inside, the S-Max is significantly different from before, but very much alike the new Mondeo. Customers familiar with the old model will instantly recognise that the cabin feels a lot more spacious than it used to be. While still heavy on the dashboard switchgear, everything seems laid out nicely. The three-spoke multifunction steering feels good to grip, but has a total of 22 buttons, not counting the paddle shifters, horn and levers on the steering column — too many, in my opinion.

The centre console features several storage compartments. There are two USB sockets, one SD card slot and a 12-volt power socket in the cubby hole just ahead of the gear lever — more 12-volt outlets can be found in the centre arm rest compartment, on the back of it and in the boot. A bonus for any people carrier, in this age.

Full leather seats of course, with both front units being eight-way power-adjustable items loaded with a massage function. More excitingly, the seats are also ventilated, blowing cool air at your back and bottoms — not a bad function to have in this climate, I assure you. Keyless entry and an engine push-start button also make life easier in the S-Max.

The voice command-friendly Sync 2 infotainment system features an eight-inch TFT touchscreen integrated into the dash. The new system is an improvement over the previous model with a larger screen as well as a more interactive and vibrant display with simpler functionality. There’s a nine-speaker Sony Premium Audio sound system with decent quality too, but no in-car navigation — not that we mind the latter, anyway.

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Middle-row passengers get air-conditioning vents on the centre console (no pillar or ceiling vents, though), a storage pocket and a 12-volt power outlet. The seats themselves have reclining backs and can also be slid forwards and backwards to alter leg room spaciousness between the middle and third row seats. In its most accommodating position, three passengers should sit very comfortably in the middle row’s three individual seats.

Try to fit an average mid-sized human to sit in the last row, though, and the middle row leg room suffers incredibly. This, then, is more of a 5+2 rather than a full seven seater like the Sharan and Odyssey. Also, there aren’t any air-conditioning vents for the rear-most passengers, just cupholders to make up for the discomfort.

Difficulties with the seating not only surround spatial volumes, but also operational ones. Having three individual seats in the middle row has its perks, but managing each one to accommodate any changes in your MPV’s people-carrying capacities will have you breaking a sweat. There is an electro mechanical remote release system to automatically lower the third row seats, but it isn’t very practical — a simple latch-release mechanism would have sufficed.

Folding the third row seats flat also come with a few conditions of its own. First, the headrests of the seats must be set to their lowest positions, and secondly, each individual middle-row seats must be pushed back into their original, leg-cramping positions. It’s a tiresome process, not made any easier by the electric release operation. A simple powered-tailgate would have been far more helpful, let alone the auto-opening foot-swipe system that gets into the Kuga, but not in the S-Max.

The Ford S-Max is undoubtedly equipped with a solid motor. Nothing new here, though, with the MPV carrying forward its trusty 2.0 litre EcoBoost turbo-four. The mill delivers a healthy claim of 240 PS at 5,500 rpm and 340 Nm of torque between 2,300 to 4,500 rpm. The Ford PowerShift dual-clutch unit has been replaced, for obvious reasons, with a conventional six-speed torque converter automatic.

There’s enough power here to make the S-Max one of the quickest MPVs in the segment, on paper and in reality. You do have paddle shifters at your disposal, but good low and mid range torque ensure that there’s no need to manually drop a gear for more speed. And given that the S-Max features the underpinnings of a Mondeo, yes, it does handle very well. Like most other Fords, its steering is precise and weighted nicely — making it easy to forget that it’s a large MPV when driving at speed.

For ride comfort, the S-Max isn’t best suited to handle our uneven Malaysian roads. The suspension is a tad hard and harsh over the bumps — worsening with more passengers on board. The chassis remains firmly sprung on smoother road surfaces, but is at least more tolerable then. Supple seats cushion a lot of the bumps.

Manoeuvring around tight spaces is probably one of the hardest things to get accustomed to in the S-Max. Being one of the widest vehicles in its class, you’ll occasionally have to bank on other drivers leaving enough room in their own parking spots for you to open your doors — comparatively, the Odyssey and the Sharan overcome this issue with practical sliding doors. It’s also unfortunate that the S-Max isn’t equipped with a reverse camera, not even optionally.

The Ford doesn’t fall short of safety features, thankfully. Seven airbags (front, driver’s knee, side and curtain), ESC, roll stability control, ABS, EBD, TCS, hill launch assist and lane departure warning and assist (notifications via vibrations) are all fitted as standard. The S-Max also comes equipped with Isofix mounting points across all three middle-row seats (but not the third row like the Sharan) and front/rear parking sensors.

In terms of build quality, there was a very obvious rattling and squeaking noise coming from somewhere within the rear door cards (as best as we could tell). Ford’s local rep warned us about this being a limited issue with a fix already in place — so no need to worry about this then, we hope.

Arguably, performance and handling manners are two of the Ford S-Max’s greatest strengths. However, we can’t imagine that these traits often top a buyer’s priorities when looking for an ideal people-carrier. The lack of a rear-view camera, powered tailgate and sliding doors are easily deal-breaking items. But on the other hand, the S-Max is a cool RM44k cheaper than the Volkswagen Sharan and RM13k cheaper than the Honda Odyssey.

Question is, then, how much do you really want the most affordable sports MPV in town over the practicality of the pricey Sharan and the simplicity of the reliable Odyssey? Or, is there better sense in a humble Nissan Serena S-Hybrid at just RM133k? The latter leaves a lot of unspent cash too, which could be used for a second, sportier car, say, a Suzuki Swift Sport. Ultimately, the decision is yours of course, though this writer has always been a fan of the Swift Sport.