First Drive: Ford B-MAX
SECTOR Compact MPV PRICE £12,995 – £18,895 FUEL 44.1 – 70.6mpg CO2 104 – 149g/km
Filling the shoes of the Fusion, but with a lot more style on its side, Ford says the B-MAX offers an attractive mix of downsized C-MAX practicality with the appeal of Fiesta driving dynamics. That’s a tall order for a small car.
The small MPV sector is one defined by clever ways of loading passengers and possessions into a compact space, and doors have become a key battleground. Vauxhall’s Meriva set the stage with its reverse-hinged back doors, and now Ford has rallied by making sliding rear doors the defining feature of its new baby.
This is no gimmick. B-MAX’s clever doors make tight parking spaces less of a nightmare for parents, but they’ve also allowed Ford to engineer the structural rigidity of the conventional B-pillar into the doors themselves. So, open front and rear doors and there’s an access area stretching from the dashboard to back seats. Close them and it’s still as structurally sound as a conventional car.
It’s a clever setup, but has drawbacks. The rear quarter panel is short, so the door doesn’t slide all the way to the back of the rear bench and leaves a narrower opening than in a normal car. Its pillarless design means the front seats can tip forward for access, as in a three-door car, but it’s not quite as easy as it could be.
Once inside, though, it’s hard to fault the B-MAX for space. The boot is useably large even with the seats up, and expandable for extra depth using the compartment under the floor. For inanimate loads, all except the driver’s seat fold with a flick of a button, creating a 2.3-metre flat load area from tailgate to dashboard.
The B-MAX weighs in at between 100 and 130kg heavier than the Fiesta. It’s enough to soften its sibling’s brilliant handling a little, which is a shame, but it’s by no means ungainly. Excellent ride quality and surprisingly good high-speed refinement mean its more likely duties will be carried out in comfort.
Engine choices comprise 1.5 and 1.6-litre diesels, with the latter featuring Ford’s fuel-saving Econetic Technologies to bring CO2 emissions down to a best-in-class 104g/km. But 75% are expected to be fitted with petrol engines, and 36.5% of UK models will be powered by the excellent 1.0-litre EcoBoost three-cylinder introduced on the Focus earlier this year.
Ford only had the more powerful 118bhp version available at the launch, and it suits the B-MAX perfectly. It pulls from almost any engine speed and keeps going almost to the top of the rev counter, which bodes well for its future pairing with the Fiesta. It’s an endearing mix of fun and 57.7mpg frugality, but don’t expect to enjoy both at the same time.
The tiny petrol engine even outclasses the 1.6-litre diesel, which grumbles through the gears and never feels particularly urgent. But, even with only five gears, it quietens down at high speed and should offer the best real-world economy for long distance drivers.
Ford isn’t actively marketing the B-MAX as such, but the majority of its 35% fleet mix are expected to be sold to Motability customers, driving up popularity of the 1.6 petrol with the car’s only PowerShift automatic gearbox. Technically this is an engine superseded by the 1.0 EcoBoost, but the gearbox has yet to be adapted for the new unit.
B-MAX does a good job of putting big car usability into a small package, but its biggest problem is the sector itself. UK buyers have yet to latch onto the small MPV sector en masse, but drivers wanting one will find this does everything very well.
The small SUV segment is one driven by rational need rather than emotional want, so while the B-MAX is a prettier car than the Fusion and cleverly-designed too, it’s competing for a slow part of the market. Those needing the space will enjoy it for its intuitive doors and big-car comforts.