Steve Cropley
14 August 2012

What is it?

Ford has had such success with its larger people-carriers, and the demand for flexible models from buyers downsizing into supermini-class models has been so great, that it was only a matter of time before it offered a Fiesta-based baby MPV. And all the more so given that one of its better European rivals, Vauxhall, was doing it already with the Meriva. The challenge was doing something innovative with the accommodation to beat the impressive Meriva, which already offers rear-hinged rear doors and a sliding rear seat arrangement that turns it into a mini-limo when needed. 

Ford decided to counter this with three things. First, a pillarless body design allowing unrivalled cabin access. Second, a diesel and a petrol engine (the 1.0 Ecoboost stop-start petrol and the 1.6 TDCi diesel) which would lead the class for economy, and third, a debut for Ford's new SYNC voice-activated connectivity system, which integrates with phones and music players on a new level and even reads out text messages when requested. The headline items are supported by an extensive collection of options, including Active City Stop (which helps avoid low-speed collisions), keyless entry, a rear view camera and an eight-speaker Sony DAB audio system. 

There are three trim levels: entry-level Studio from £12,995, mid-range Zetec (likely to attract 60 per cent of buyers) from £15,600, and luxurious Titanium, from £17,595, which comes with SYNC plus rain-sensing wipers, 16-inch alloys, auto-dip headlights and the premium hi-if as standard.

What is it like?

It's a good-looking car, reminiscent of a foreshortened Ford S-Max, with the obvious height of an MPV but the cheekiness of a supermini built-in. Some will thistle the B-Max simply because it offers a better view from the driver's seat and looks so good. Ford designers say it features a redesign of the trapezoidal grille, which works especially well. The only sign that it has a sliding rear door is a rail along the rear of the car, beneath the rear pillar, but it is quite well disguised. When all doors are closed, the 'removable' centre pillar is in place so the car looks conventional, but modern.

Access is easy, in front because the B-Max is considerably higher than a conventional supermini and because in the rear it's possible to lead with your backside, just like in a modern Rolls-Royce. The rear seat doesn't move backward or forward, but you can fold the rear seats and the passenger's front seat flat to provide a 2.3-metre long flat surface for items collected from IKEA.

Our test car was Titanium spec with the 118bhp petrol Ecoboost engine (its power is reduced a little by the installation in the B-Max, which slightly restricts the exhaust compared with the Focus), but Ford also offers three other petrol engines (a 99bhp Ecoboost turbo triple, 89bhp 1.4-litre, and a 104bhp 1.6-litre  equipped with  Ford's six-speed, dual-clutch Powershift automatic gearbox. On the diesel side there's a 74bhp 1.5-litre and the super-frugal 94bhp 1.6 previously mentioned. Annoyingly, buyers can only get the two best engines — the 118bhp Ecoboost and the 1.6 diesel — by buying the most expensive Titanium trim.

To drive, the B-Max is an interesting combination of the familiar and the novel. The driver's seat cushion feels rather narrow (at least for the fuller figure) and the dashboard layout, with prominent upper centre console, seems rather to jut into your personal space. The switch layout looks impressive, but can be rather confusing to use. Visibility is good, though, and there is plenty of leg and footwell room. 

The three-cylinder engine starts with its now-familiar lack of drama, idling almost silently, but pulls with deceptive strength away from standstill. It is interesting to try it in a smaller package (the only previous application has been in the Focus, which is 100-150kilograms heavier), especially since the amazing low and mid-range torque is even more prominent. The engine sounds lovely, more sophisticated than is usually found in a car of this price and duty, and it pulls so well that most of the time 4500rpm is enough for brisk performance. The gearchange is reasonably slick, though not as good as the best of the Japanese. But whereas in the Focus the engine is mated with a six-speed gearbox, which makes high-geared cruising amazingly quiet, the B-Max comes only with a five-speed (are 'school mums' believed only to like five-speeders?), which means that the engine note is at least perceptible at motorway cruising speeds. On the other hand, top gear performance is extremely impressive.

The other remarkable feature is the ride. The Fiesta is one of the best-driving superminis going, but its ride quality has always been on the firm side and its performance over cobblestones is perhaps not as cosseting as a Polo. The B-Max sweeps all that aside. It rides quietly at low speed, with a new suppleness that seems to come not just from softer springs but also more sophisticated bushing. Ford's engineers claim a new 'premium' quality for the model, and it is instantly obvious when you drive. It promises much for the revised Fiesta, which is not too far away.

Should I buy one?

As usual, it will be necessary to test the class contenders to decide exactly how Ford's new B-Max fares against its rivals, but the superb baby petrol engine (and its economy), the excellent rear seat access of the pillarless body, the suspension suppleness and the fantastic array of equipment make this a powerful contender among city cars. It seems more than likely that we have a new class leader.

Ford B-Max 1.0 Ecoboost Titanium

Price £18,195; 0-62mph 11.2sec; Top speed 117mph; Economy 57.7mpg combined; CO2 114g/km; Kerb weight 1279kg; Engine type, cc In line 3cyl petrol turbo, 999cc; Installation Transverse, front-wheel drive; Power 118bhp at 6000rpm; Torque 125lb ft (148lb ft with overboost) 1400-4000rpm; Gearbox Five-speed manual

Join the debate

Comments
30

Great little engine, any news

1 year 49 weeks ago

Great little engine, any news on if or when there will be a 4 cylinder 1.3 version from Ford ?

The whole thing reminds me so

1 year 49 weeks ago

The whole thing reminds me so much of the Peugeot 1007, which failed to sell hardly any. I know this has 4 doors, with proper doors up front, but it still only has 2 rows of seats. Weight was a big handicap to the 1007, those doors and electric motors were very heavy. Wont that hamper this too with tewice as many doors?

So, will having normal front doors up front be enough to get people to buy this?

 

The problem with the 1007

1 year 49 weeks ago

The problem with the 1007 wasn't just the weight. It was the styling, the annoyingly slow electric doors, the underpowered engines and the lack of room inside (it was a 4 seater). I still like it though, only for being different. 

-----

10 years of Smart ownership over, sensible car mode activated

Re Artill

1 year 49 weeks ago

I know what you mean about reminding you of the 1007, but to my mind it takes all the positives of that idea and then tries to do away with the downside.  The fact it is lighter than the Focus says to me that they have got round the weight issue, also much better engines etc.

Me, I like it, and hope it is a success.

Love this engine

1 year 49 weeks ago

I'm loving this little engine, all the benifits of petrol and diesel, just a shame no six speed box.

This forum is dead, don't bother...

No sliding seats?

1 year 49 weeks ago

Yet another Ford MPV without sliding rear seat. The 5 seat C-Max doesn't have them either and I don't really see much point in an MPV which isn't that practical. My wife regularly needs to slide the seats back and fore in her Meriva to accomodate an extra large shop or a large item that has been purchased in addition to having the kids in the back. She wouldn't even consider an MPV without sliding seats. No news on the B-Max's boot size either, which I guess means it's small.

Cropley says that access is easy because you can sit in bottom first, great for adults but what about putting kids in child seats? In the photos access doesn't look great.

I'm sure the B-Max will be a good drive but surely the core feature of an MPV is its practicality and from what I've seen a Meriva beats it hands down.

EDIT: Just read on What Car? that the boot is 316 litres, so yes small and the best part of 100 litres behind a Meriva.

18 big ones !!!

1 year 49 weeks ago

Ouch - seems like Ford continues to follow its premium pricing policy.

I can think of plenty of other 5-seater cars I'd plow 18k into before this one.

Ford B Max

1 year 49 weeks ago

The price is beyond a joke after all it's built in Romania a country not known for it's high labour costs. If the Dacia Duster can start for under £9k how can Ford justify the price of the entry level version at over £12000.

already discounting

1 year 49 weeks ago

At £18195 it's expensive.  But I can find this same spec on drivethedeal.co.uk already - discounted to £14420. And at that price it becomes very competitive.  Yes please.

Just no

1 year 49 weeks ago

I may be prejudiced or just conservative but those 1.0 three-pots are just ridiculous and i dont care that they deliver the proper performance and low fuel consumption...it is just wrong.

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Our Verdict

The Ford B-Max people-carrier introduces a novel pillarless door system, accessible space and a strong petrol engine into the supermini class

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