Ford's new baby people-carrier introduces novel pillarless door system, class leading space and economy into the supermini class

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's 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. 

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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

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Steve Cropley

Steve Cropley Autocar
Title: Editor-in-chief

Steve Cropley is the oldest of Autocar’s editorial team, or the most experienced if you want to be polite about it. He joined over 30 years ago, and has driven many cars and interviewed many people in half a century in the business. 

Cropley, who regards himself as the magazine’s “long stop”, has seen many changes since Autocar was a print-only affair, but claims that in such a fast moving environment he has little appetite for looking back. 

He has been surprised and delighted by the generous reception afforded the My Week In Cars podcast he makes with long suffering colleague Matt Prior, and calls it the most enjoyable part of his working week.

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kernow 22 November 2012

Ford B Max Titanium 1.0 Eco Boost

Ordered the car at Subject in Frozen White and it arrived with body panels that were not in colour sync, so the dealer rejected the vehicle.  It seems that a batch of vehicles in this colour were not sprayed with enough layers of paint over the entire vehicle.  As for the car in general: the spec is amazing; the ride is fantastic and the options I ordered, (rear parking sensors, panoramic sunroof and privacy glass) all add to what seems to be a very desirable car.  The car that arrived had heated front seats, something that I had not ordered, so the dealer ordered a replacement car with the same spec, so I will get the heated seats at no cost  to me.

bcr5784 18 August 2012

Overpriced and under speced?

It may well be the best mini MPV to drive and is arguably the best looking  - Ford do usually get those things right - but it's not as practical or cost effective as the alternatives.  It's more a Nissan Note competitor than a Meriva competitor (which is also rather expensive at list price, but at least more practical)  An equivalent Note is over £4000 cheaper, is available at large discounts (I got nearly £3000 off list on a DCi ntec+) AND is better equipped -  including sliding rear seat, privacy glass, parking sensors and a spare wheel which are extras (or not available) on a Titanium.  As someone else commented an MPV without a sliding seat is too lacking in the MP department.  Yes the sliding door and B-pillarless design are good for access, but the weight (which presumably is required to regain rigidity means that the quoted performance figures are very modest for the power available.

cambuster 17 August 2012

Ford B Max

Couldn't agree more with ianp55 - and the triple pot petrol is also made in Romania. Ford makes a mistake by pricing with the premiums and ignoring competitors who they consider have a weaker brand - starting with Skoda.