What is it?
Sometimes engine choice can have quite a noticeable effect on a car’s behaviour, and in more than the obvious areas of performance and economy. Choosing the B-Max’s entry-level 89bhp four-cylinder 1.4-litre petrol engine instead of the 99bhp three-cylinder Ecoboost motor does more than just more than simply lose you 0.6sec in the sprint to 62mph, raise the fuel economy by 8.3mpg combined and add 20g/km of CO2 emissions. The ageing four-cylinder adds weight and noise to the mix, too.
The appeal of this engine lies in its price. The £12,995 Ford asks for a basic B-Max 1.4 Studio is a fat £2605 less than you’ll pay for the same engine in the much better-kitted Zetec trim. Another £595 on top of that buys you the Zetec-kitted Ecoboost version, whose smoothly effortless, syrupy power delivery adds a layer of deeply pleasing sophistication to this ingenious car.
What is it like?
Though it pulls with moderate and decently muted enthusiasm to 4500rpm it sounds increasingly strained and thrashy beyond, but the lack of a sixth speed is a pity. The extra heft in the B-Max's nose takes the edge off its poise, too, while a torque peak surfacing at 4000rpm isn’t ideal for a load-lugger, although it’s not noticeably short of low-end tug with two aboard.
The three-cylinder engine is noticeably more deft through corners than the four, flaunting a poise and balance that seem rather unlikely in a vehicle with the silhouette and high-rise seating of a van. That said, the 1.4 handles more than adequately and for the most part rides well, too, although sharp bumps catch it out. Its non-Ford opposition includes the ageing but able Nissan Note, the Honda Jazz and the Vauxhall Meriva, which has no (undiscounted) answer to this low entry price. Curiously, almost no-one is ordering basic B-Maxes at the moment (that may change post-launch), and while the pricier versions look competitive against the Vauxhall, the Jazz and Note are usefully cheaper.
But you certainly get a superior interior with the B-Max, which is entirely the point of MPVs such as these. Its bold, B-pillarless architecture dramatically eases access to the cabin, particularly for the loading of baby-chairs, while the high-mounted seats ease the passage of older, stiff-limbed adults and provide a better view out for all. The cabin is well finished, too, although the front seats feel slightly narrow and the busy centre console needs familiarisation if you’re to stab its buttons right first time. These flaws are small, however.
Should I buy one?
If you need your people-carrier compact, practical and painless to own the B-Max certainly delivers, and assuming you can live with it in lightly-equipped guise, it’s fair value, too. If not, it’s the glitzier Zetec that you need – which includes air conditioning, though little else that’s vital – but you’d be mad not to spend an extra £595 to enjoy the Ecoboost and its many benefits.
Ford B-Max 1.4 Duratec Zetec
Price: £15,600; 0-62mph: 13.8sec; Top speed: 106mph; Economy: 47.1mpg; Co2: 139g/km; Kerbweight: 1275kg; Engine: 4 cyls in-line, 1388cc, petrol; Power: 89bhp at 5750rpm; Torque: 92lb ft at 4000rpm; Gearbox: 5-spd manual