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Group test: Ford S-Max vs VW Sharan vs BMW 220d Gran Tourer vs Land Rover Discovery Sport

Published: 06 October 2016

► We test four compact seven-seaters
► Practical, fine-driving nature required
► Can the expensive Disco shine?

Seven people in one average-sized, non-bus-resembling car? A challenge to chassis engineers and designers alike. Who’s nailed it? 

Luxury coach is an oxymoron...

Ford S-Max

With us since 2006, first generation S-Max demonstrated admirably that a seven-seater need not look, ride or handle like a minibus, making it a somewhat hard act to follow. Over to you, Mondeo-platformed Mk2...

Volkswagen Sharan

Hatched when buses still had conductors, touchscreen was something you’d rather your sticky-fingered toddler didn’t do to the telly, and the Espace was king of the seven-passengers-without-their-luggage road. Ford has moved on from the Galaxy, VW has not.

BMW 220d Gran Tourer

Morphed from Active Tourer to Gran Tourer by the addition of two extra seats. Third tier bit of a tall order on this platform, though? M Sport here merely means 20in wheels and a tougher ride.

Land Rover Disco Sport 

With the Evoque denied five-seat Freelander status, it’s hardly surprising that this was similarly denied seven-seat Freelander dubbing. Designed to boast three rows from the outset, so hopefully makes a decent fist of it…

2016 Ford S-Max

Queen of the Slipstream or Routemaster?

Ford S-Max

Very much the former. However, having lost that roving voyeur-friendly depth of side glazing, the second generation car is now merely good, rather than great, looking. Wheels 3in smaller than Discovery Sport’s bode well for ride comfort.

Volkswagen Sharan

Still has a poster of an Intercity 125 on its bedroom wall, and proud of it. Power-operated sliding rear doors managed to close on CJ’s hand as he reached for his seatbelt. Not clever.

BMW 220d Gran Tourer

Good-looking hooter gives way to somewhat goofy rear modification aimed at awarding a modicum of headroom to third-row seating. Smacks of five-seater hastily tinkered with to accommodate seven. Which, of course, is exactly…

Land Rover Disco Sport

Neither. Just a tad odd-looking, with rakish, DS3-style C-pillar absent elsewhere in Land/Range Rover oeuvre. Undeniably sportier looking than standard Discovery, but then so is the average wardrobe.

Volkswagen Sharan

Magnificent Seven or Two Mules for Sister Sara?

Ford S-Max

Superior front seat comfort. Rows stadium tiered to maximise visibility. Middle row outers tilt and slide for access to terrorist class. All five independent rear seats dropped by one-touch boot-wall-mounted buttons. Virtuous versatility.

Volkswagen Sharan

Most spacious, well-considered seven-seat layout here, if not the most comfy. Properly tiered throughout, with stacks of second-row legroom, but no seat-back rake adjustment. Easy access to most capacious third row in group.

BMW 220d Gran Tourer

…what the interior confirms it to be. Second row is just 60:40 split bench, only affording decent legroom when slid fully astern. Third row cramped and hard to access, with minimal headroom. Granny would snap.

Land Rover Disco Sport

Front adequate. Sliding second row offers ample legroom, but third row simply inaccessible to humans. No headroom, foot space occupied by cup holders and luggage cover relegated to outside shed. Woefully ill-conceived.

BMW 220d Gran Tourer

As much use as mudguards on a tortoise…

Ford S-Max

Some 20 new toys available – including endless active safety paraphernalia – make for a technological kitchen sink and potential for substantial price hike. Sony multimedia upgrade, adaptive LED headlights, panorama roof and self-levelling suspension are must-haves.

Volkswagen Sharan

Standard high-spec VW fare with fast MirrorLink connectivity (or Apple CarPlay if you own an iPhone), and an amusing app which affords you a touchscreen view of errant offspring from a windscreen-suckered GoPro. Wide-angled mirror less bother to rig.

BMW 220d Gran Tourer

Manual front-seat adjustment the usual BMW nightmare, but otherwise well specified. Excellent connectivity, head-up display and pointlessly wide sat-nav screen showing nearby places you’re not going to. Learning to live with iDrive control.

Land Rover Disco Sport

Top-of-the-range model boasting all the toys. Elegantly robust dashboard design houses latest JLR touchscreen technology, which remains well behind the curve, especially given the astonishing price. Hats off, grudgingly, to the marketing department.

Oh Lordy; yet another clutch of 2.0-litre diesels…

Ford S-Max

Matches Land Rover power, but less torque, so slowest away from the lights here. Also only manual in the group, with slick gearchange marred by console lid/elbow clash. Smooth and quiet, but won’t pull away in second.

Volkswagen Sharan

Willing powerplant makes Sharan pretty lively off the mark for such a blatant bus, yet will cruise quietly with wind-noise predominating. Six-speed automatic smooth and well suited to the task. Doddle to drive.

BMW 220d Gran Tourer

At least 200 bags of sugar lighter than anything else here, and the most powerful; so, in this context, something of a stabbed rat. Exceptionally smooth eight-speed auto ’box. Tyre roar drowns engine entirely.

Land Rover Disco Sport

The only all-wheel-drive powertrain here mates the highest torque output to a nine-speed automatic gearbox. Hard to find gears 7, 8 or 9, but feels eager on the throttle, and economy and emissions better than large predecessor.

Land Rover Discovery Sport

Tub of Lard or Spiders on Vaseline

Ford S-Max

Very good indeed to drive. Suspension firm enough for fine body control and grip, yet always pliant with sophisticated bump absorption. Standard steering far better than active option. It all encourages the carrying of ample velocity.

Volkswagen Sharan

Rides comfortably enough, despite firm underpinnings which thump at bumps occasionally. Surprisingly good to steer, with higher levels of grip than expected, despite body roll. Over-upright driving position most bus-like attribute.

BMW 220d Gran Tourer

Predictably tough low-speed ride, but better the faster you travel. Extremely well planted at speed, and relishes changes of direction on sweeping A-roads. Clearly the best high-speed drive here, but tough on the family.

Land Rover Disco Sport

Plenty of road noise on 20in wheels, but does that gently imperious Evoque thing of riding and handling far better than it has a right to. Lacks the outright tenacity of the S-Max or BMW; still impressive, though.

And the winner is..... Ford's S-Max

Verdict

Ford S-Max (winner)

Least expensive offering here, yet clearly the most complete all-rounder by a considerable chalk.

Volkswagen Sharan

Fun Run; that’s an oxymoron too. Lacks the Ford’s dynamic charms, but is probably the best minibus you’ll ever drive.

BMW 220d Gran Tourer

Good to drive quickly, but too clearly a clumsy derivative of the Active Tourer, both visually and ergonomically.

Land Rover Disco Sport

Badge will sell it. But hard to fathom a car designed from scratch with third-row seats fit only for punishment.

The specs

Ford S-Max 2.0 TDCi Titanium - CAR winner

Price: £28,845
As tested: £36,270
Engine: 1997cc 16v 4-cyl turbodiesel, 178bhp @ 3500rpm, 295lb ft @ 2000-2500rpm
Transmission: Six-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Performance: 9.7sec 0-62mph, 131mph, 56.5mpg, 129g/km CO2
Weight: 1838kg  On sale Now
Rating: Four stars

Volkswagen Sharan SEL 2.0 SCR 184PS DSG

Price: £36,280
As tested: £39,890
Engine: 1968cc 16v 4-cyl turbodiesel, 181bhp @ 3500rpm, 280lb ft @ 1750-3000rpm
Transmission: Six-speed automatic, front-wheel drive
Performance: 8.9sec 0-62mph, 132mph, 53.3mpg, 139g/km CO2
Weight: 1800kg  On sale Now
Rating: Three stars

BMW 220d Gran Tourer M Sport

Price: £31,580
As tested: £37,455
Engine: 1995cc 16v 4-cyl turbodiesel, 187bhp @ 4000rpm, 295lb ft @ 1750rpm
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic, front-wheel drive
Performance: 8.1sec 0-62mph, 138mph, 60.1mpg, 124g/km CO2
Weight: 1600kg
On sale: Now
Rating: Three stars

Land Rover Discovery Sport HSE Luxury

Price: £43,000
As tested: £45,500
Engine: 1998cc 16v 4-cyl turbodiesel, 178bhp @ 4000rpm, 317lb ft @ 1750rpm
Transmission: Nine-speed automatic, all-wheel drive
Performance: 8.4sec 0-60mph, 117mph, 53.3mpg, 139g/km CO2
Weight: 1884kg
On sale: Now
Rating: Three stars

Read more CAR magazine comparison tests

By Anthony ffrench-Constant

Contributing editor, architect, sentence constructor, amuse bouche

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