Innovative Ford leads the way with a family package
TEN SECOND REVIEW
Yes, the fact that the Ford B-MAX has no B-pillar at the side and a huge door aperture may have grabbed the headlines, but there's so much more to this car than the cleverness of the way you get into it. Sidestep that distraction and there's a three-cylinder 1.0- litre turbo engine and some very interesting cabin features to take in as well.
The Ford B-MAX isn't a replacement for the Ford Fusion. Oh no. Mention that to Ford personnel and you get the evil eye in return. The Fusion may have been pensioned off just as the B-MAX hovers into view, and they may both be targeting the same sort of family buyer who needs a little more space than a Fiesta will offer, but perhaps Ford is shy of association with the underperforming Fusion.
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The last time Ford introduced a vehicle that made its immediate predecessor look so instantly antediluvian was when the Sierra was unveiled, instantly rendering the old Cortina to an age of bakelite telephones and valve radios. Yet with Fiesta, Focus and C-MAX models all competing for the attention of the smaller family, is there enough breathing room in the Ford range for the B-MAX to make its presence felt?
The big talking point might well be the doors but under the bonnet, the key story really concerns a very intriguing petrol engine. Displacing just 1.0 litre and with three tiny pistons tasked with moving you and yours down the road at a respectable clip, the turbocharged Ecoboost engine punches above its weight, managing a respectable 100 or 120PS, depending on the variant you choose. The 120PS variant manages rest to sixty in 11.2s on the way to 117mph. Some of the other engine choices are more familiar Ford units: petrol-wise, a 90PS 1.4 and an auto-only 105PS 1.6. Or, for diesel buyers, a 75PS 1.5 TDCi unit or a 95PS 1.6 TDCi unit.
The B-MAX rides on the same chassis as the Fiesta and a good deal of work has gone into making sure that body rigidity is up to par and that side impact protection is also up to Ford's commendably high standards. Ultra-high-strength Boron steel is used in key load-bearing areas such that the door frames work together to absorb energy like a 'virtual B pillar'.
Parking shouldn't be a problem with an overall length of just 406cm which slots between the 395cm of a five-door Fiesta and the 436cm of a five-door Focus. With all that glass, visibility out of the vehicle is very good, Ford thankfully keeping the raked windscreen pillars to a manageable thickness.
DESIGN AND BUILD
With regard to practicality, the solution Ford's designers have up with combines conventional, hinged front doors and rear sliding doors. This approach integrates the traditional central pillar structure into the front and rear doors, rather than forming part of the bodyshell itself, and creates a huge, clear opening – more than 1.5 metres wide. This is around twice the width offered by competitors with alternative door concepts and makes it significantly easier to enter or exit the rear seats, attend to children in child seats, or load and unload shopping. B-MAX's twin sliding rear doors also make access easier in crowded streets or narrow parking bays. The front and rear doors can be opened completely independently, so the front or rear cabin can be accessed as required.
A flexible and easy-to-use seating system features 60/40 split rear seats which can be folded flat with a simple 'one-hand, one-motion' mechanism. The front passenger seat can also be folded, creating an extensive flat load floor capable of swallowing loads up to 2.34 metres long. The generous access makes it particularly convenient to load bulky items such as flat-pack furniture or even a bicycle through the side doors. An adjustable load floor in the boot creates a flat load space when the rear seats are lowered, with extra room underneath for valuable items.
With an overall vehicle height which is 12cm higher than the Fiesta, B-MAX offers drivers the benefits of a higher 'command' seating position, and provides significantly improved rear seat legroom and headroom.
MARKET AND MODEL
Prices sit in the £13,000 to £19,000 bracket and you'd think that this model would compete against supermini MPVs like Nissan's Note, Toyota's Verso-S, Kia's Venga and Hyundai's ix20. Ford sees things slightly differently, expecting this BMAX to appeal to the sort of customer who might well be interested in a larger C-MAX compact MPV but lives in an urban area where parking spaces are tight and emissions need to be kept tightly in check. Ford refers to its vehicles in this family as Sports Activity Vehicles and while the B-MAX doesn't seem immediately sporting, it'll doubtless appeal to those who may not have kids but need to cart a lot of kit around in order to support sports or gear-intensive hobbies but want the creature comforts of a car rather than the stigma of a light commercial vehicle with windows.
The B-MAX is the first European Ford to offer the company's acclaimed SYNC system. SYNC is an advanced voice control, device integration and connectivity interface. It enables users to connect mobile phones and music players by Bluetooth or USB, make hands-free telephone calls, and control music and other functions using voice commands. It can automatically transfer contact information from a connected Bluetooth device to the vehicle, allows calls to contacts to be activated using straight-forward voice commands and reads text messages aloud from compatible phones connected using Bluetooth.
SYNC also enables B-MAX to offer the innovative new Emergency Assistance feature which is designed to assist the occupants to call the local emergency services operator in the event of an accident.
COST OF OWNERSHIP
This B-MAX is impressively frugal if you opt for it with one of Ford's newer engines. Equipped with the 120PS version of the three cylinder 1.0-litre EcoBoost petrol unit, it can return diesel frugality, managing 57.7mpg on the combined cycle and 114g/km of CO2. The 1.5-litre diesel meanwhile, manages 68.9mpg on the combined cycle and 109g/km of CO2. The older entry-level petrol engine isn't quite as impressive, returning 47.1mpg and 139g/km.
Despite a sales record that's second to none, building innovation and desirability into small cars hasn't always been a Ford forte. The Blue Oval has always got the pounds and pence side of the equation squared away and that has driven fleet sales quite agreeably but family buyers looking for something distinctive have often found pickings a bit slim. The B-MAX could well change all of that, with Ford bringing the expertise that developed Galaxy, S-MAX and C-MAX models to bear in a miniaturised and even more intriguingly detailed format.
With its rear sliding doors that reveal no central B-pillars, the Ford B-MAX offers something unique that instantly makes its key rival, the Vauxhall Meriva, appear suddenly off the pace. Couple that with one of the newer engines – the 1.5-litre diesel or, even better, the eager 1.0-litre turbocharged three-cylinder petrol unit – and you have a package that's just too singular to overlook.