Ford's clever little B-MAX gives families a compact car with almost unheard of versatility. June Neary tries it
Will It Suit Me?
To be honest, I've always struggled to see the point of what the motor industry calls ' supermini-MPVs'. I wouldn't blame you for not knowing what one of those is. Essentially, we're talking about a little Fiesta-sized supermini that looks like it's been bloated by an air pump, so that you've slightly more luggage space and enough headroom to wear all kind of elaborate headgear. Big deal, I've always thought, even allowing for the fact that cars of this kind include strong sellers like the Nissan Note, the Vauxhall Meriva and the Citroen C3 Picasso. Ford has always been pretty much absent from this particular market niche, unless you count the 'Fiesta-on-stilts' that was the Blue Oval brand's late, unlamented Fusion model. Which I don't. So when news of its B-MAX filtered through, I wondered what to expect. I thought I'd try one to see if there really is any point in this class of car.
There is. I've tried a B-MAX now and I get it. Not because this Ford can seat any more passengers than an equivalently-sized supermini would be able to manage - though it does so with greater comfort. No, what sets this 'B' apart is that it's so much more versatile than any other small car I've tried. And that's down to its doors. The front ones open normally but the back ones slide aside on cleverly concealed runners. Which meant that when I parked at Tesco with the kids in the back, I didn't have to worry about them re-sculpting the side of adjacent parked cars. With those side doors open, you're ready to admire this car's party piece: the absence of the kind of centre B-pillar that almost every other car in the world has to have for structural rigidity. Here, that same stiffness is provided by the edges of the doors themselves when they shut tightly together, clamping themselves against the body. What this ingenuity creates is a car that's incredibly easy for anyone of any age to get in and out of. And get things in and out of. With both side doors open, there's a 1.5m-wide aperture, into which you can slide items of up to 2.34m in length if you've taken up the option of folding flat the front passenger seat. Of course, most of the time, you'll still be loading stuff like that in through the 318-litre boot, extendable to 1386-litres if you flatten the rear bench.
Behind the Wheel
I suppose it's easy to be impressed when you start with fairly low expectations but this thing really does confound all your preconceptions. It's a people carrier for a start and worse, one with sliding doors, previously a sure-fire recipe for dynamic dullness in any car you care to name. Yet as soon as you get going, this Ford feels frisky, even fun: certainly feelsome in the way it responds to the way you want to drive. Of course it helps here that the basics are right. You sit quite high up, positioned far more commandingly than you would be in a Fiesta with everything you need perfectly placed around you. And at speed, all-round visibility's great. Better still is the ride quality, one of the very best things about this car, which is all the more remarkable given that the engineers didn't have anything too exotic to work with. There's a suppleness to the suspension which strikes a better balance here than in anything else Ford makes, soaking up terrible town tarmac, yet firm enough to keep body roll well controlled through twisty roads you'll enjoy yourself on thanks to the And under the bonnet? Well, if you can get beyond the 90PS 1.4 and auto-only 105PS 1.6-litre petrol units at the foot of the range, there's plenty to admire, most notably with the innovative three cylinder 1.0-litre EcoBoost petrol powerplants, offered in either 100 or 120PS guises. If you want a diesel, there's a choice of a rather slow 75PS 1.5 TDCi or a 95PS 1.6-litre TDCi engine.
Value For Money
Pricing for this B-MAX is supposed to start at around £13,000, but most customers will need to budget in a narrow £16,000 to £17,500 bracket amongst the mid-spec Zetec-trimmed 1.0-litre EcoBoost 100PS petrol or 1.5-litre TDCi diesel models I'd recommend you look at, cars that all come reasonably equipped. At this level, you can expect to find things like 15-inch alloy wheels, front fog lights, a heated windscreen, air conditioning, a height adjustable front seat, leather trim for the steering wheel and gear lever, a six-speaker stereo with DAB digital radio, a trip computer and a Hill Start Assist system to stop you from drifting backwards on uphill junctions. As for options, well I'd suggest that there are a few that you really should consider budgeting for to complete the ownership experience and, in all probability, protect the resale value of your car. See what your dealer can do in helping you out with this little list, most of which is available only from Zetec-level upwards and which, as features ordered individually, would cost around £900. These include a Thatcham Category 1 alarm, a full-sized spare wheel (rather than an inflator kit), the 'City Pack' with its reverse parking cameras and power folding mirrors, the 'Tidy Pack' which gives you seatback storage nets, a luggage bay organiser plus a reversible loadbay mat you can turn over to disguise muddy boot marks and, perhaps most importantly, 'Ford SYNC', the company's voice-activated in-car connectivity system. The SYNC package alone is priced at around £250 and I'd suggest it'll be money well spent. Via this, you'll be able to Bluetooth connect-in your mobile 'phone - but that's just the start. With this set-up, the 6-speaker stereo has USB, iPod and AUX-in connectivity and will respond to voice commands. It'll read text messages aloud to you. And in an accident, it'll even automatically call the emergency services giving them your exact location (using the language of whatever country you're in). It's very clever indeed and something I can't imagine buying this car without.
Could I Live With One?
As you'll have gathered if you've read this far, the B-MAX has changed the way I feel about the idea of MPV-ising a small supermini. Thanks to Ford's cleverness, the concept works here - to the point where I'd suggest this to be an ideal second car for the average family. Try one and prepare to be surprised. I was.