Ford’s B-Max is a small people-carrier that uses the same platform as the Fiesta - but it’s a great deal more than that.
First, it’s not just a replacement for an existing car but instead takes Ford into completely new market territory. Second, it contains several innovations that immediately give it an edge over rivals such as the Vauxhall Meriva, Citroën C3 Picasso, Honda Jazz and Toyota Verso S. The most obvious of these is a novel body structure that does without a fixed central side pillar (the B-pillar in motor industry jargon) but there’s also the option of Ford’s impressive new turbocharged three-cylinder 1.0-litre EcoBoost petrol engines, and the B-Max is also the first European Ford to offer the company’s voice-driven SYNC in-car connectivity technology that has already caused quite a stir in the US market. One other point of significance; the B-Max will be an important standard bearer for the emerging motor industry in Romania, the country where both the new car and its three-cylinder engines will be produced.
The absence of a fixed B-pillar means that the whole of the side of the car opens up to reveal an aperture 1.5 metres wide. The obvious benefit of this arrangement is that it is far easier for passengers to get in and out but there are less obvious advantages too; it’s also a lot easier to fit a child safety seat or load bulky items such as flat-pack furniture without a B-pillar in the way. The seats fold completely flat and there’s an adjustable load floor at the back as well. It’s not quite true, by the way, to say that the B-Max doesn’t have a B-pillar at all – rather it has an “integrated B-pillar” which is formed by the trailing edge of the front side doors and the leading edge of the (sliding) rear doors. So-called crash catchers lock the doors when closed to the roof and floor structures, reproducing the stiffness of a fixed B-pillar. Ford has carried out endless virtual crash simulations and is confident that the B-Max will get a five-star Euro-NCAP rating.
Ford is offering the B-Max with a wide range of petrol and diesel engines. The petrols include two versions of the 1.0-litre three-cylinder EcoBoost power unit, first seen in the larger Focus, offering 100 and 120 horsepower (PS). These are joined by 1.4-litre and 1.6-litre fours turning out 90 and 105 horsepower respectively. As well as being the most powerful of the petrol choices, the 120 PS 1.0-litre EcoBoost is also the most economical. Fuel-saving start-stop technology helps it to achieve 57.7 mpg (combined cycle) and CO2 emissions of 114g/km. Two diesels are available – a 90 horsepower 1.6 (70.6 mpg and 104g/km) and an engine with a new, unfamiliar size for Ford, a 1.5 providing 75 horsepower (68.9 mpg and 109g/km). The 1.5 diesel, which appears here for the first time, will apparently become an increasingly common option across the Ford range.
There will be three trim levels – the basic Studio package, expected to account for 5% of sales, the Zetec (60%) and the top-of-the-range Titanium (35%). Prices for Studio models start at a very keen £12,995, with Zetecs costing from £15,600 and Titaniums from £17,595. Just in case you’re tempted by the price of the Studio, though, it’s worth bearing in mind that this base car doesn’t have air conditioning or alloy wheels as standard, two features that were considered luxury options just a few years ago but which many car buyers now regard as essential.
I drove a car fitted with the 120 PS 1.0-litre EcoBoost engine and the Titanium trim, the most desirable combination but also one of the most expensive, coming in at £18,195 - almost half as much again as the lead-in price of the Studio version, but by most other measures, not particularly expensive for what you get. The first thing you notice about the B-Max doesn’t come as much of a surprise; like pretty much every other recent Ford, it has excellent ride and handling, although, with its tall body, it leans a little more than, say, the Fiesta on which it is based. That’s probably not going to bother the sorts of people who are going to buy it though. The 1.0-litre EcoBoost petrol engine, too, is just as good in the B-Max as it is in the Focus, providing the sort of shove you’d expect from a much larger power unit with an appealing three-cylinder engine note and an eagerness that makes thrashing it a pleasure. One oddity; in this car the 1.0 EcoBoost is paired with a five-speed manual gearbox, rather than the six-speeder it gets in the Focus, although there is little discernible disadavantage to the loss of the extra gear out on the road.
In the metal, the B-Max hides its practical bulk well behind its stylish curves and creases, and its makers have succeeded in their aim of giving it a certain degree of “premium” appeal. The interior is pretty tasteful – stylishly done, but without too much of what the B-Max’s chief programme engineer Klaus-Peter Tamm calls “blinky and clinky”.
It all adds up to an exceptionally appealing product. Ford is expecting 60% of B-Max sales to be conquest sales from other manufacturers, and thinks the new car will attract both up-sizers in the form of growing young families, and older down-sizers who should value the space and ease of access provided by the B-Max within a small footprint. There’s something for everyone here.
Ford B-Max Titanium 1.0 EcoBoost
Engine: 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo-charged petrol
Transmission: five-speed manual
Power: 120 PS
Torque: 200 Nm
Fuel consumption (combined cycle): 57.7 mpg
CO2 emissions: 114g/km
Top speed: 117mph
Acceleration (0-62 mph): 11.2 seconds
Price: £18,195 (B-Max prices from £12,995)