We enjoyed testing the S-Max two years ago, but it was held back by its high price and thirsty petrol engine. With a 2.2-litre diesel, the Ford is better value and more economical. In fact, it’s good enough to be a class winner in 2009.

The engine makes a huge difference. Official figures promise 42.8mpg on the combined cycle, and with 295lb ft of torque to call upon, performance is sparkling. The S-Max went from 30-60mph in just 14.2 seconds. There’s good response even from low revs, and a hushed engine note makes long journeys relaxing.

Stability is excellent, right up to the legal maximum and beyond. The van snapped straight back almost immediately after any sharp steering input, and through the lane-change test there were only a handful of cars to compare with the S-Max. Even at high speeds, the Ford always took charge of the van.

Firm control sometimes comes at the expense of comfort, but the S-Max’s ride was supple as well as controlled. The Interactive Vehicle Dynamics Control (a £600 option) gave drivers a choice of three suspension modes, and in ‘comfort’, the ride was especially plush.

Inside, the S-Max has room for seven. The rearmost seats are cramped but the front two rows have plenty of room. The seats can easily be folded flat to give van-like luggage space.

It’s a shame the towing info in the manual is inadequate, and there is no spare wheel. However, this Ford  is so good that we’d buy a full-size spare to carry in the boot. For space, performance and stability, the S-Max is worth this inconvenience.

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