SINCE the rise of the recent downsizing trend, adding value to small car platforms has become key to securing sales whether buyers are trading up or down. Ford hopes its new B-Max compact people carrier will tempt buyers from both sides of the financial fence, with its mix of practicality, kit, looks and clever sliding rear doors.
You read that right: rear sliding doors on a car based on a Fiesta platform. And yes, you can’t see the B-pillar with the doors open because there isn’t one. The preceding years have seen Ford become increasingly proactive in developing interesting technology. The B-Max certainly fulfills this notion by ditching the traditional B-pillars.
Granted, rear sliding doors are hardly a new concept, but they are on something this small. We’ve seen them on big MPVs for years and the main benefits are well known: ease of use and the ability to access and egress the car in tight spaces. Why shouldn’t small cars be any different?
Ford has taken the concept a step further, however, by ditching the conventional fixed B-pillar in favour of incorporating it in the doors themselves. When shut, the doors’ inbuilt strength and strategically placed locking points on the body deliver comparable rigidity and crash protection to a regular car. The result is more space when the doors are opened, which should make tending to children in the rear seats easier and boost loading flexibility.
The B-Max is more than just a pair of fancy sliding doors, though. The car has been engineered with fold flat rear seats and a fold forward front passenger seat to enable long or bulky items to be carried with little effort. That the respective folding mechanisms are of the one-hand variety adds to the car’s appeal. The flexible boot floor liberates even more space for valuables, which is further proof of the car’s family-friendly credentials.
Space inside the cabin is also generous, with ample head and legroom both fore and aft. Children might be more regular rear seat passengers than adults but you’re unlikely to hear complaints from the latter even on long journeys.
Up front the B-Max’s layout boasts numerous similarities with the Fiesta and Focus, which ensures that everything is close to hand and the various main controls and displays are intuitive and easy to operate respectively. This trickledown approach also extends to the availability of new kit such as keyless entry and ignition plus an auto stop city braking system designed to minimize low speed accidents.
Worth an extra mention is Ford’s SYNC technology, which combines Bluetooth, phone and music player connectivity along with voice control, phone message handling and an SOS function linked to a response service. Granted, this package isn’t new but Ford’s approach does make it more useable than most others.
Clearly the B-Max has a lot going for it. In the MPV market – large or small – focus is usually on a car’s versatility and practicality. Unfortunately it’s often at the expense of driving ability, which is why most tin boxes disappoint. Not so the B-Max, and it’s the final reason why Ford’s small people carrier deserves to be in the spotlight.
Maintaining the current downsizing trend and following the Focus, the B-Max gets Ford’s innovative three-cylinder, 1.0-litre petrol engine. Tested in 120 horsepower guise (there’s also a 100 horsepower option) it offers a good balance of performance, economy and modest CO2 output. In high power trim it easily copes with a fully loaded car and is capable of maintaining motorway speeds without complaint.
More familiar petrol and diesel motors complete the B-Max’s line-up in 1.4 guise and a 1.5 and 1.6 pairing respectively. That last unit is also an agreeable performer, and although it offers a torquey performance to aid progress up hills there’s no denying that Ford’s EcoBoost-branded three-pot petrol engine is a star performer.
The biggest surprise is the way the B-Max drives, however. For a tall-ish compact people carrier there’s very little pitch and roll when on the move, while the various controls – brakes, steering, gearshift – possess a weighty accuracy that’s missing from rivals. In short, the B-Max drives like a regular, well-sorted family hatchback.
Only this shouldn’t really be a surprise given Ford’s form since it introduced the very first Focus. A refined yet engaging driving experience has been a common trait of all cars since that landmark launch. And such attributes combined with the B-Max’s practical, spacious and high quality cabin plus those sliding doors to conspire to make the B-Max the stand-out choice in the market.
FACTS AT A GLANCE
Model: Ford B-Max 1.0 EcoBoost Titanium, from £18,195 on the road.
Engine: 1.0-litre petrol unit developing 120bhp.
Transmission: 5-speed manual transmission as standard, driving the front wheels.
Performance: Maximum speed 117mph, 0-62mph 11.2 seconds.
CO2 Rating: 1114g/km.
- Power4 (higher than average performance)
- 0-60 mph
- Economy3 (average fuel economy)
- Insurance groups3 (average costs)
Motors.co.uk value verdict: