Ok let me cut to the chase. Even if you think you know nothing about Ford’s baby-B-MAX I bet you have seen on the telly that guy dive through it from a great height into the swimming pool below? Yes, thought so.
Just like Eastender’s everyone is talking about this latest Fords doors, more specifically the 1.5 meter aperture achieved by binning the usual B-pillar. Ford claim that it makes the supermini-sized MPV unique offering unrivaled access to the rear seats.
Despite what people think it isn’t the first time it has been done. Back in 1983 Nissan had a bash with the Prairie and more recently Mazda with the RX-8. What makes the B-MAX so unique is that it has never been done on a car this small and crucially a car that has to meet such strict crash safety regulations. After all, who would want to put their sprogs into the back of a car that will collapse when impacted side-on? Not me.
I had one for a week to find out whether Ford really has struck gold and whether its rivals should be worried.
If you strip away all the fancy marketing spiel, really the B-MAX is simply a taller, slightly longer Fiesta. But not by much. It’s only 13cm longer and 12cm taller and is still a good 30 cm shorter than the bigger Focus-based C-MAX. It also shares the same platform – including wheelbase – and engines with the Fiesta.
You would think it would be a hideous looking creation but actually Ford has done a pretty good job. If you imagine an S-MAX that shrunk in the wash you wouldn’t be far off. All the familiar Ford styling cues are there; angular lights, prominent arches, a rising waistline and attractive 17 inch alloy wheels on the car I had. Panther Black paintwork is also highly recommended.
Inside again it’s typically Ford borrowing heavily from the Fiesta with a stylish, modern looking layout with sporty dials and plenty of gloss black and chrome effect trim. The material quality is generally OK but nothing more with lots of hard plastics dotted around. The Sony stereo is the only annoyance with its plethora of buttons scattered everywhere but once you familiarise yourself with the controls it gets easier. Usefully you sit a little higher than you would in a Fiesta which means you get a better view out.
Space inside is quite good considering the cars compact dimensions. Two stocky 6-footers will be perfectly happy in the back behind front passengers of the same size although there isn’t really room for a third across the bench. The boot is also a useful size and shape offering 318 litres – 42 litres up from the Fiesta and an adjustable boot floor makes for a flat load bay with the back seats folded. The passenger seat can also be folded enabling impulse buys of up to 2.34 meters in length to be transport back from your nearest IKEA.
Getting in and out of the rear or navigating a bulky car seat is as simple as Ford will tell you. Both rear doors slide right back out of the way and the front doors open wide giving unrivaled room to manoeuver thanks to that missing B-pillar. The seatbelts are also relocated to the outer edge of the front seats so won’t get in your way. Those sliding doors are a boon in tight parking spaces. Usually you would never had thought that B-pillars really get in the way but once you try a car without them you wonder why all manufacturers aren’t at it.
It isn’t without its drawbacks though. Ford had to build the strength provided by a traditional pillar into the leading edges of the front and rear doors. Ultra-high-strength Boron steel and complicated double latches have also been fitted so that the B-MAX could scoop the same 5 star EURO NCAP crash rating as its rivals which includes side impact collisions. It results in front doors that are pretty heavy and when shut the pillar they create is quite wide which limits over-shoulder visibility.
The car I sampled came fitted with a 1.6-litre diesel unit co-developed with PSA Peugeot Citroen. It churns out a modest 94 bhp and 215 Nm of torque through a 5-speed manual gearbox. When fitted to the B-MAX it can be a little clattery at times but feels much more sprightly than its 13.9 second sprint to 60 mph would suggest. Power delivery is smooth enough but you do find yourself stirring the gearbox frequently to keep it on the boil – you won’t mind though as the 5-speeder has a crisp action making it a joy to use.
With underpinnings lifted straight from the Fiesta the B-MAX handles much better than it needs to. Admittedly there is a touch more bodyroll but most probably won’t notice. The chassis is beautifully balanced and agile making it easy to tackle corners with real verve. The steering too is as near to perfect as you will find weighting up nicely with crystal clear communication as to what the front wheels are doing. Grip levels are also high thanks in part to Ford’s Torque Vectoring Control making the whole driving experience a real hoot.
Ford’s magic blend of handling hasn’t come at the expense of passenger comfort either with a ride that is firm but soaks up bumps and potholes calmly even on the optional 17 inch wheels of the example I tested. For such a small car refinement is also first class with unwanted noises being outside right up to motorway speeds at which point the diesel unit also tended to settle down.
£18,895 is quite a hefty sum to fork out for a car of this type but it is worth noting that the model you see here is an all-singing-all-dancing Titanium edition. Oddly it isn’t very well equipped. Standard features include cruise control, 16 inch alloy wheels, Sony DAB radio/CD with Ford SYNC, heated front windscreen and automatic lights and wipers.
My test car had upgraded 17 inch alloy wheels, part leather and heated seats, front and rear parking sensors with rearview camera, a panoramic roof, and metallic paint which adds up to an additional £2,445. Ford also charge £200 for Active City Stop which automatically brakes the car if an obstacle is detected at lower urban speeds – surely it should be standard?
Running a 1.6-litre TDCi B-MAX is unlikely to break the bank as it’s good for 78.5 mile per gallon combined and is free to tax but isn’t exempt from Congestion Charges. It is worth noting that Ford’s excellent 1.0-litre EcoBoost engine is also available in the B-MAX.
Price as tested: £21,540 (£18,895 excl options)
Engine: 1.6 8v 94 bhp – 0-62 mph: 13.9 secs – Maximum Speed: 108 mph –
Economy: 60.1 mpg (urban) 78.5 mpg (extra-urban), 70.6 mpg (combined) – Emissions: 104 g/km (Band B) – VED (12 months): £0
Dimensions: Length: 4077 mm – Width: 1751 mm – Height: 1604 mm – Wheelbase: 2489 mm
*data from Ford UK
After spending a week with the B-MAX it’s easy to conclude that Ford’s hard work engineering the B-pillar into the doors has paid off. In conjunction with sliding rear doors access to the rear is nothing short of brilliant especially when fitting car seats of which I do frequently. The doors are a little heavy and create a noticeable blind spot but this fails to detract from their ingeniousness. Beyond this the B-MAX is smartly designed inside and out, great fun to drive, comfortable, refined and cheap to run when fitted with Ford’s 1.6-litre diesel engine. It’s only let down by a little diesel clatter a lower speeds, some fussy ergonomics and a lack of standard equipment. Still the B-MAX is the most convincing micro-MPV out there especially if you enjoy driving.