The latest small-engined MPVs might have great economy figures, but do they have the muscle to cope with family life’s demands?

The contenders

SMALLER CARS, SMALLER bills: the logic of downsizing is hard to deny. The strategy isn’t so easy to apply to MPVs, however, because space is so crucial to their appeal.

That doesn’t mean there has to be a penalty in fuel economy and emissions, though. The latest version of Ford’s brilliant S-Max uses a 1.6-litre diesel engine, which helps it average almost 55mpg and puts it three company car tax bands below the 2.0-litre diesels.

Can such a dinky engine haul around such a big car? The acid test is set by Peugeot’s 5008 and Volkswagen’s Touran. Both are available with frugal 1.6-litre diesels, and both are smaller and lighter than the S-Max.

Ford S-Max vs. Peugeot 5008 vs. Volkswagen Touran

Ford S-Max vs. Peugeot 5008 vs. Volkswagen Touran

What are they like to drive?

IT’S VITAL THAT these cars can confidently haul around a family and their luggage. Unfortunately, the S-Max struggles. It has more power and torque than either rival, but this doesn’t give it the expected advantage, because it’s the heaviest of the three and is hampered by very long, economy-oriented gearing.

Even when it’s just you on board, you frequently have to press the accelerator to the floor just to keep up with traffic. When you come to an incline or attempt to overtake slower-moving cars, the S-Max needs at least one and more often two down changes.

The 5008 isn’t quick, either, but it’s that bit more flexible than the S-Max. As a result, the 5008 is a more relaxing car to drive, because you don’t have to focus so hard on keeping the engine in its ideal rev range to make decent progress.

The Touran makes life easier still. It’s the lightest of the three, and has the shortest gearing, so it rarely needs a downchange to maintain momentum and provides sprightly performance when reVved. It does feel quite flat when the revs fall below isoorpm, but this is rarely an issue.

The main drawback of the Touran’s shorter gearing is that it works the engine harder and more noisily at motorway speeds. That engine noise is coarser than its rivals’ under acceleration, and there’s plenty of vibration through the clutch pedal.

Road noise is more of an issue in the S-Max, while the 5008 lets in most wind noise. Overall, though, the Peugeot is the quietest cruiser.

If you think MPVs can’t be fun, these three will make you think again because they behave more like hatchbacks than minibuses. The S-Max impressively blends sharp steering, strong grip and minimal body lean with a ride that’s supple enough to soak up all but the worst bumps.

The 5008 is equally composed in bends, and it feels slightly more nimble around town thanks to its smaller dimensions and lighter steering. The ride is a bit unsettled over patchy surfaces, however, and can thump over potholes that you’ll barely feel in the S-Max.

In this company, the Touran is the car with the worst body control, but it’s still good, so you don’t have to worry about it making your little ones feel sick. The Touran is also pretty good at absorbing lumps and bumps, and while it has heavier steering than its rivals, its shorter body makes it easiest to park.

What are they like to drive

What are they like to drive

What are they like inside?

EACH OF THESE cars has a conventional MPV layout: two seats up front, three in the middle and two that stow in the boot floor.

The middle row is particularly important because that’s where kids, child seats and passengers will be swapped in and out on a daily basis. Here the S-Max has the edge; while all three cars provide plenty of headroom and have seats that independently slide back and forth, the S-Max has the widest cabin and the most kneeroom.

For added practicality, both the S-Max and 5008 have Isofix child seat-mounting points on all three middle-row seats. The Touran has them only on the outer two.

The Volkswagen counters by offering most third-row legroom. However, its rearmost seats are mounted very close to the floor, which forces occupants to sit with their legs pushed up at an awkward angle. It’s a similar story in the S-Max, while the 5008 has a better seating position, but least headroom. Six-footers won’t be particularly happy in the third row of any of these cars, then, but the 5008 is most comfortable for shorter adults and children.

The 5008 also provides the best access to the third row because it’s the only one with outer middle-row seats that fold and slide right out of the way.

With all the seats up, the 5008 and Touran have enough boot space for only a couple of soft bags, whereas the S-Max has a bigger space that can accommodate a folded pushchair as well.

The 5008 makes it easiest to fold the third-row seats away. You simply pull a strap and they cantilever down into the floor. In the S-Max you need to flip over the bases first, which means a long reach over the seatbacks or reaching through from the side doors. The Touran’s seats won’t lie flat unless you first remove the head restraints.

Once the rearmost seats are stowed, each car has a huge rectangular boot. Should you need even more space, it’s easy to fold the middle-row seats flat in the S-Max and 5008. The Touran is the odd one out; you need to lift its seats out altogether to get the maximum load space.

Driver comfort shouldn’t be an issue in any of these cars, thanks to steering wheels that adjust for reach and rake, and driver’s seats that can be cranked up and down.

The Touran’s dashboard is bland compared with its rivals’, but where their controls are a bit fussy, the Touran’s are simple.

What are they like inside

What are they like inside

Will they break the bank?

TAKE A LOOK at the list prices and it’s the 5008 that’s most tempting; it undercuts the Touran by about L1000 and the S-Max by L1800.

It remains the cheapest car after you factor in the dealer discounts available, too, despite the fact that the L1600 saving on offer is the least generous here. Our Target Price researchers reckon Ford dealers will budge by L1850, while your discount on the Volkswagen will be closer to L2200.

Discounts get bigger online, and Drivethedeal.com offered the best prices for all three cars. The S-Max remains most expensive with an advertised price of around L19,300, but that still saves you almost L4000. A discount of L3300 leaves you with around L19,000 to pay on the Touran. Discounts on the 5008 match those on the S-Max, so it can be yours for less than L17,400.

Each of the cars should be worth 41% of its original list price after three years. However, there are big differences on the other running costs you’ll face – and it’s the more efficient Touran that’ll prove cheapest to own over that period.

Will they break the bank

Will they break the bank

It’ll return an average of 6impg, compared with the 54mpg of the S-Max and the 53mpg of the 5008. The Touran’s lower emissions mean you’ll pay less road tax, and it’s considerably cheaper than the others on insurance and servicing.

Our Three-Year Cost figures, which take all running costs into account, show that you’ll pay just under L17,000 for the Touran, nearly L18,000 for the 5008 and L19,000 for the S-Max.

If you’re considering one of these as your next company car, the 5008 wins. It’ll cost your firm less than L300 per month in contract hire, while the other two will cost upwards of L320.

The 5008′s easy on your own pocket, too. As with the S-Max, you pay company car tax on 20% of its value. The Touran is even cleaner, qualifying for the 18% grouping. However, the 5008′s lower price means your tax bill will be just L4 more per month. S-Max drivers pay an extra L6 per month.

Will they break the bank

Will they break the bank

Our verdict

Peugeot wins with overall package

THESE CARS ALL have strengths, but the 5008 is the best all-rounder. It has a classy cabin with space for seven, and its seats are the easiest to fold away. What’s more, it’s cheaper than its two rivals, and running costs are affordable for both private and company buyers.

True, the news isn’t all good, because the ride is firmer than it should be, but the 5008 compensates with nimble and composed handling, and its smooth and frugal diesel engine is up to the job of hauling you and the family around.

Second place goes to the S-Max. It’s even roomier than the 5008 and strikes a brilliant balance between agility and comfort. Unfortunately, it’s the most expensive to run and the engine feels underpowered.

If you’ve got your heart set on an S-Max, go for the I38bhp 2.0-litre diesel version instead; it’s much stronger and costs just L250 more than the 1.6.

That leaves the Touran. On the plus side, it’s the liveliest performer of the three and will be cheapest to run over a typical three-year ownership period. However, it’s not as practical as rivals and the cabin is looking dated. Throw in disappointing engine refinement and it has to finish third.

Verdict

Verdict

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