Ford B-MAX review
by Tom Stewart (16 August 2012)
The newest model to join the S-MAX and C-MAX in Ford's range of so-called Multi Activity Vehicles is the B-MAX. It replaces the Fusion – the boxy, high-roofed Fiesta that was largely unloved by motoring journalists but which was decent enough transport for the aged or others who needed an affordable small car with easier ingress and egress.
Whatever, this time round Ford has put a lot more thought into the B-MAX than it did with the old Fusion and the net result is something of a ground-breaker, not just for Ford, but for the industry in general.
How so? Because the B-MAX sets the bar higher in at least three key areas.
Firstly and most obviously, the B-MAX has sliding rear doors and no fixed central pillars. This allows for unrivalled access for both rear passengers and luggage, but perhaps most importantly for parents wrestling with fractious toddlers in child seats.
Second, of the B-MAX's five engine options (four petrol and two diesel) two are versions of Ford's new one-litre, three-cylinder Ecoboost petrol engine, one of which is already available in the Focus. And before you exit this page because just three cylinders and a piffling one litre can't possibly be sufficiently powerful or speedy for your needs, I strongly suggest you continue reading . . .
Third, the B-MAX is the first Ford model in Europe to be available with SYNC, the voice-activated in-car connectivity system. Co-developed with Microsoft, SYNC can connect to phones or iPods via Bluetooth or USB, it can automatically transfer contact info via Bluetooth to the car, it can read text messages aloud and it has Emergency Assistance which helps occupants call the local emergency services in the event of an accident. I'd like to be able to tell you how well some of this works, but SYNC wasn't fitted to any of the many press launch B-MAXs.
So, let's return to those sliding rear doors. As mentioned, there are no conventional fixed central pillars on the B-MAX. Instead, and to keep the bodyshell rigid and impact resistant, the pillars are integral with the doors, specifically at the rear of the front doors and the front of the rear doors, if you get my drift.
There's no doubt that with an unobstructed 1.5-metre wide opening, access to the rear is markedly improved over a conventional, front-hinged rear-door set-up, but caution is advised because it would be possible when closing a rear door to trap a front seat occupant's extremity, and although unadvisable it's possible to drive off with one or both rear doors open and then have them slam shut with terrific force when you brake.
Also, the rear doors don't have built-in armrests – something we adults tend to take for granted. There is a fold-out centre armrest, but rear-seat comfort for grown-ups is also compromised by the flat-as-a-board rear bench seat which offers no lateral support whatsoever.
Fortunately there's ample leg and headroom in both front and rear, and for a car built on what's ostensibly a supermini (Fiesta) platform, there's voluminous and flexible luggage space - according to Ford, the B-MAX has "class-leading loadspace".
Although just two would suffice, for reasons best known to Ford buyers will be faced with the somewhat bewildering choice of either a 100PS or a 125PS 1.0 Ecoboost petrol, a 90PS 1.4 petrol, a 105PS 1.6 petrol, a 75PS 1.5 diesel or a 95PS 1.6 diesel.
To further complicate matters, which engine you may prefer will also depend on which of the three spec levels – Studio, Zetec and Titanium – you plump for, so to simplify things allow me to recommend just two: the 125PS Ecoboost or, if you cover a high annual mileage, the 1.6 TDCi (both Titanium spec only).
As previously suggested, the 125PS Ecoboost motor with stop/start is truly outstanding. Despite its humble 999cc, lowly 114g/km and lofty 57.7mpg combined figures, it pulls eagerly from very low revs all the way to the 6000rpm redline, while its three-cylinder engine note is muted but almost intoxicating.
Despite its claimed top speed of 117mph (0-62mph in 11.2 secs), my press car cruised comfortably on the unrestricted German autobahn in fifth gear at an indicated 112mph, with three well-fed motoring writers and their luggage aboard, and it didn’t slow at all on a long incline. Impressive or what?
The five-speed manual 95PS 1.6 TDCi is slightly torquier on paper, but, due in part to its extra 31kg kerb weight, it doesn't feel as willing and eager on the road (0-62mph in 13.9 seconds, 108mph max), it doesn't sound as crisp and it can be boomy when under load at low revs. But a thrifty 70.6mpg combined isn't to be sniffed at, and nor is its 104k/gm (£20 annual road tax) CO2 figure.
That contemporary Fords steer and handle well is pretty much a given, and the B-MAX is no exception. Again it's the little 1.0 Ecoboost which feels that bit more lithe and responsive, but both the 1.4 and 1.6 drive impeccably. As this launch was held on the snooker table-smooth roads of Bavaria I can only tell you that the B-MAX rides very comfortably over there. That assertion may change when it's tested back here in Potholesville, but I doubt it'll change by much.
The Romanian-built B-MAX will be available from autumn 2012 with prices starting at £12,995, rising to £18,195 and £18,895 respectively for my recommended 125PS 1.0 Ecoboost and 1.6 TDCi Titanium models.