Wednesday, February 6, 2013
The Ford B-MAX is more than just a fancy set of doors. Sure, the Easy Access system is far better than the Vauxhall Meriva and its front-opening rear doors, but it’s as much about how this car drives and its other practical features that enable it to top the small MPV class. By doing away with the B-pillar, getting adults or children into the back is as easy as it could possibly be. And by using the Ford Fiesta as a basis, this car drives with more verve and more comfort than a Meriva or Honda Jazz. The 1.0-litre EcoBoost engines are fun and frugal, while its price is on a par with rivals (even before you take into account the generous discounts available).
The B-MAX features another interpretation of Ford’s Kinetic Design, making the car more attractive than many of its high roof, short-wheelbase rivals. It’s not as dashing as a Fiesta, but it makes the Vauxhall Meriva look a bit dumpy. Swoopy front headlights, wraparound rear lights and zig-zag lines on the rear doors help to avoid a slab-sided look for such an upright little car. The inside is all Fiesta, with a stylish dashboard that puts fashion ahead of function – there are far too many buttons around the infotainment system to make it easy to use. But even the way the seatbelts have been incorporated into the front seats (they have to be as there’s no B pillar to hang them off) has been done with style.
This is no Ford Fiesta to drive - but it’s not far off. The ride is far more comfortable than in a Honda Jazz or Vauxhall Meriva, and it scores higher on the fun factor, too. The steering feels alive, with much better response than you’d expect from a small MPV, while grip levels are high, as is refinement, even when the tuneful 1.0-litre three cylinder engines are under the bonnet. The 118bhp EcoBoost 1.0 is our favourite for its blend of performance and economy, although the 1.6 diesel is the most fuel and tax efficient. That diesel has plenty of poke once you’re off the line, but is a bit growly when you accelerate. The 1.5 diesel may be cheaper to buy, but its stats show it’s sluggish and no more economical than the 1.6 diesel. The only way into an automatic B-MAX is with the old-school 1.6 petrol, which is not the best performing or most economical of engine, so it's best avoided in our opinion.
Ford doesn’t have the greatest scores in our Driver Power survey, but that’s more about service back-up than any specific reliability issues. We wouldn’t expect the B-MAX to leave you stranded. In spite of the missing B-pillar, safety is a strong point for the B-MAX with plenty of airbags, stability control and traction control fitted as standard. The doors do most of the work of the missing pillar, with extra strengthening in the frame, floor and roof of the car. That does mean the doors are a bit chunky, creating something of a blind spot over the shoulder, but they’re not too heavy. Otherwise, visibility at the front and back is good.
Practicality is where the B-MAX really scores. Despite its compact dimensions, it offers plenty of space inside, although in reality not that much more than in a Vauxhall Meriva. Instead it’s the way the space is accessed that’s so incredible – through Ford’s Easy Access system. By doing away with the B-pillar, the B-MAX is far easier to get in and out of than pretty much any other car. The sliding rear doors are a further bonus when it comes to tight parking spaces, too. The boot is a good, square shape and offers more than 300 litres of space, with a false floor to hide valuables underneath or drop down for maximum room. At its higher setting and with the rear seats folded (which is easy to do) there’s a long flat load space that can be extended by folding the front passenger seat flat.
Ford’s fantastic three-cylinder EcoBoost engine features strongly in the B-MAX. It’s not an especially cheap version to buy, but offers strong mpg (well above 50) for a petrol engine and is worth considering for that and the added pizzazz it brings to the car. We’d go for the more powerful 118bhp version, though. Of the diesels, the 1.6 TDCI offers a claimed average fuel consumption figure of 70.6mpg and the lowest emissions of any current B-MAX model – 104g/km. It’s more expensive to buy than the 1.5 diesel, but better on economy, emissions and performance. Only one automatic B-MAX is available, with a 1.6-litre petrol that claims average mpg of 44.1 with emissions of 149g/km.