It’s a scenario familiar to anyone with a young family: you pull into the packed car park, eventually find your parking space, then try to extricate your screaming offspring from the bulky child seats you’ve plugged into the back row. At this moment the conventional car door becomes your nemesis: it’s hinged at the car’s central B-pillar, so the car you’ve parked next to – and are desperately trying not to ding – prevents your door from opening to its full width, and the way it’s hinged means you must access your kids from the side and from behind, forcing you into a kind of hunched zombie pose. This, quite understandably, makes the screaming worse.
What can be done to help?
Now, in an almighty doors-off, Ford and Vauxhall have been attempting to solve this problem for buyers of small MPVs. Vauxhall blinked first, unleashing the (larger) Meriva with its rear-hinged doors. It means that you access those kids front on, approaching them more like a goalie preparing for a penalty kick. No more zombie. Screaming lessens. Good idea. Ford, however, thought it could go one better, so it waited and watched, and now it says we should take a look at its Fiesta-based B-Max. ‘Anyone can build a car with a B-pillar,’ said a spokesman at the launch, giving the Vauxhall a sly kick in the shins.
What sets the Ford B-Max apart from its rivals?
Unlike the Meriva, the B-Max does away with that central B-pillar altogether, meaning there’s nowhere to hinge conventional rear doors. Instead it employs sliding rear doors, just like its Grand C-Max big brother, which interlock with the conventional front doors when both are closed. The Mazda RX-8 employed a similarly crafty concept – albeit with rear-hinged rear doors – with the caveat that the front doors had to be opened before the rears would follow suit; the Ford’s doors open independently of one another.
The sliding rear doors and absence of B-pillars is a godsend on many levels: just like the Meriva, you access the kids front-on, but the lack of a B-pillar frees up more space and opening the rear doors doesn’t increase the circumference of your faffing in tight parking spaces. Plus, strong gusts of wind can’t slam them shut and, when you’re loading kids into the B-Max on a busy road, passing cars can’t clobber the door and decapitate you. A five-star Euro NCAP score suggests the removal of the B-pillars doesn’t significantly compromise the B-Max’s structural integrity, either.
Under the bonnet
With the B-Max no doubt destined to be popular with Cameron’s squeezed middle and the OAP set, there’s another benefit too: the 1.0-litre Ecoboost engine produces as little as 114g/km and returns up to 57.7mpg. There’s a choice of 99bhp and 118bhp variants of this engine, with stop/start tech offered only on the 118bhp Titanium. We’ve got 118bhp to play with, and it makes confident progress with little of the harshness at higher revs that was once typical of three-pot engines. This is thanks, in part, to the turbo making a maximum of 147lb ft of torque available at very low revs.
The B-Max is a nimble little car, too, scooting happily through tight urban environments, and handling tidily on the faster stuff – impressive considering this car’s relatively high centre of gravity – while ride comfort is good for a small car and there’s an engaging feel to its light steering.
Any other family-friendly touches?
Really, though, the B-Max impresses most with its cunningly thought-out practicality and convenience features, and it’s not all down to those doors: the boot has two levels, and with the upper cover in place and the rear seats folded, that gives you a completely flat load area. The front passenger seat-back can also fold forward, allowing up to 2.3m of load length on one side.
The launch of the B-Max also coincides with the debut of Ford’s SYNC technology, a voice control, device integration and connectivity interface. SYNC enables users to connect mobile phones and music players by Bluetooth or USB cable, make hands-free phone calls, and control music and other functions purely by using voice commands.
Ford’s last foray into this segment sired the woeful Fusion. The B-Max is a large leap in the right direction.