Ford hopes a less-is-more approach will lure punters to its new B-max MPV, unique in the supermini segment for having a big hole in the central cockpit instead of a structural pillar. The result is a flexible people mover that's a doddle to load with kids or cargo, Ford claims, thanks to its pillarless opening and sliding rear door.
The novel doors landed the £12,500 people mover in the same must-see company as Bentley's grotesque SUV concept and Ferrari's beautiful F12. Engineers from Chevrolet, Nissan and Opel were all spotted sliding, sitting and climbing out of B-maxes. Not very genteely in the case of one Japanese engineer, who tripped over the car's side sill, one so vast as to make a Lotus Elise feel anorexic. Its girth hides the door rail and provides side impact protection, bolstered by boron steel incorporated in the doorframe.
The rear doors are heavy to slide, and there's an ugly plastic umbilical cord visible, which houses the wiring for the electric rear windows. CAR wag Anthony ffrench-Constant said it reminded him of the cable tied bundle behind his TV stand; B-max chief engineer Klaus-Peter Tamm described it as the 'Mazda' solution, which makes us wonder why his team couldn't find a neater 'Ford' solution.
Other B-Max tricks: Sync and auto-braking
That said, it's all a far cry from the days where Ford innovation began and ended with new tailgate hinges on the fifth-generation Escort. The B-max will be the first European Ford with the Microsoft Sync system, which wirelessly hooks up 'phones and MP3 players. They're voice-controlled, or from 2013, operated via a touch screen. Sync is capable of sending an emergency signal in the event of a crash, although optional active city safe – a radar-based system which hits the brakes if it anticipates a rear-end shunt – should eliminate the need for some of those automatic 999 calls.
The B-max, which is just 110mm longer than a Fiesta, also has another ace up its sleeve: it'll be available with the punchy, economical 1.0-litre Ecoboost, which has impressed CAR in the Focus. It’ll be available in 100PS and 120PS versions, the latter returning 57.6mpg.
Other engines include a new 75PS 1.5-litre diesel, capable of 68.9mpg and 109g/km. The 95PS 1.6 TDCI, and 1.4- and 1.6-litre petrols will also be offered.
Company executives are peeved that Ford's brand equity still lags Volkswagen's, and RVs on cars like the Mondeo are pegged to anvil-off-a-cliff depreciators like the Insignia, rather than the floatier Passat. The hope is that, long-term, innovative cars like the B-max will help lift Ford above the shark pool of Korean, French and other rivals.