Ford’s clever B-Max gets an A*
Ford's family-friendly B-Max has appeal as wide as its open doors, says motoring editor Andy Russell.
There's a lot of clever thinking in today's cars and when it comes to the new Ford B-Max you can see right through to the heart of its appeal and its big selling point.
You've probably seen the TV advert with the diver plunging straight through the car into the pool below and Ford's family-friendly compact multi-activity vehicle has caught the public's attention with 1,000 cars with customers already and 2,500 orders before it arrived in showrooms – the best for any new Ford model which being all-new had the longest lead-in and build-up with prices being revealed more than six months before its launch.
Ford is no newcomer to multi-activity and multi-purpose vehicles with the B-Max joining the C-Max, Grand C-Max, S-Max and Galaxy people-carrier but it is Ford's first offering in the increasingly competitive compact market where its clear rival is Vauxhall's Meriva along with the likes of the Honda Jazz, Nissan Note and Citroen C3 Picasso. Ford had bided its time going into this market and it has paid off for the B-Max certainly makes a big impact for a relatively small car.
With its sliding rear doors, the B-Max looks like a more compact version of the Grand C-Max but it has a very clever trick up its sleeve.
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The B-Max does not have a conventional B-pillar between the front and back doors. Instead the pillar has been split and part of it attached to the front of the back door and the back of the front door. Open both doors and you have a 1.5m wide access to the front and back seats – a typical B-segment car's door opening is 70 to 80cm. The result is it's very easy to get in and out, front and back, especially with the higher seating position and putting in car seats and young children into them is no longer a strain on the back. No wonder then that Ford sees young families upsizing to the B-Max, older people downsizing and it also being popular with middle-aged people who run around elderly parents who have trouble getting in and out of conventional cars.
When the front and back doors are closed the door-mounted sections of B-pillar link together and attach to catches in the roof frame and sill to give it strength in the event of a side impact – it makes sense because when was the last time you heard of a car being hit side-on when stationary with the doors open. The B-Max has earned a five-star N Cap crash safety rating with Ford having done 5,000 virtual computerised collisions and 50 physical tests.
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Four petrol engines – 100 and 120PS versions of the excellent 1.0-litre three-cylinder EcoBoost turbo, which won international engine of the year, 90PS 1.4-litre and 105PS 1.6-litre, the latter with six-speed automatic transmission – will account for 75pc of sales. On the diesel front there is a 75PS 1.5-litre and a 95PS 1.6-litre.
On paper, none look particularly quick but they impress on the road with class-leading economy and low emissions and I was particularly impressed with the lower-powered 1.0-litre EcoBoost unit which is flexible and pulls strongly from low revs. The bigger diesel makes effortless progress but would be more refined at motorway speeds with a sixth gear.
Ford builds cars with good driving dynamics and the B-Max is no exception, especially the lighter petrol models. The steering is well weighted and the suspension a happy balance between ride and roadholding – supple enough to make smooth progress on poor surfaces but firm enough to make it fun to drive on twisty roads without the tall car feeling roly-poly.
Given the B-Max is based on the Fiesta platform there is a huge amount of legroom and headroom in the back and that clever door system makes getting in and out a doddle.
The well-shaped 318-litre boot is surprisingly accommodating with a two-tier floor which can be positioned at sill level or dropped to make the boot deeper. Dropping the 60/40 rear seats backs frees up a capacious 1,386-litre loadbay. The front passenger seat also folds flat so the B-Max can take items up to 2.34 metres long.
The modern fascia shows Ford's fine attention to detail when it comes to layout, logic and a quality look and feel with piano black trim and shiny highlights. It's quite busy but not hard to find your way round.
Three trim levels are offered with entry-level Studio the price-sensitive model, attractively-equipped Zetec expected to be the big seller with 60pc of sales and Titanium the luxury model taking 35pc. Zetec and Titanium have equipment levels and features associated with bigger cars in keeping with Ford's forecast of the B-Max being popular with 'downsizers'.
The B-Max is the first European Ford with its new SYNC system – standard from Zetec – which allows mobile phones and music players to be connected by Bluetooth or USB and controlled using voice commands. It can also read text messages aloud from compatible phones connected using Bluetooth and has an emergency assistance feature designed to call the local emergency services operator in the event of an accident.
Ford is a late arrival to this increasingly popular niche market but the compact B-Max is already making a big impact – it's good to drive, easy to live with and opens up loads of new opportunities for Ford which is anticipating 60pc of owners to be conquest sales new to the brand. And with such a good start to sales the B-Max is clearly what customers want.