Ford B-MAX review
The Ford B-Max won the Best Five-Seat MPV of 2013 at the Auto Express awards - it's ultra practical, efficient and fun to drive
The Ford B-MAX is one of the greatest efforts by the manufacturer, securing its reputation for building great MPVs. It won the Auto Express Best Five-Seat MPV award at the New Car Awards in 2013, forcing the C-MAX - which won the award last year - down the pecking order. The B-MAX has an innovative door layout, ditching the central pillar to extend access to the side of the car - it leaves the rear-hinged back doors of the Vauxhall Meriva looking somewhat primitive. And yet, the B-MAX is more than just a set of fancy doors. It's also a great drive and comes with a cracking engine line-up. Our choice is the multi-award-winning 1.0T EcoBoost Zetec - the 123bhp 1.0-litre petrol engine is easily up to the job of hauling the B-MAX around. Plus, this engine has scooped the 2013 International Engine of the Year award for the second year in a row. Every model should be reasonably cheap to run, as each one gets stop-start as standard, as well as regenerative braking and a gear-shift indicator. Practicality is a focal point of the B-MAX; by doing away with the B-Pillar and creating a 1.5-metre opening, Ford has ensured that adults and children can enter the back of the car with no problem at all. Thanks to Ford Fiesta underpinnings, the B-MAX handles incredibly well and is a benchmark in the small MPV class as far as handling is concerned - easily surpassing the Nissan Note and the Honda Jazz. It's available in three specifications, the entry-level Studio, mid-range Zetec and top-spec Titanium. However, the Studio model lacks equipment, so we'd opt for the Zetec as being a realistic place to start. With a mix of clean engines, an upmarket cabin and smart looks the Ford B-MAX has certainly thrown the MPV class wide open.
Our choice: 1.0T Ecoboost 125 Zetec
Our choice: 1.0T Ecoboost 125 Zetec
While the production B-MAX has been toned down from the concept car shown at the 2011 Geneva Motor Show, it has retained the innovative pillar-less sliding rear doors. But, apart from door runners in the rear wing panels, styling hasn't been compromised by such a clever set-up. The design echoes that of the larger C-MAX, with swoopy headlights and wraparound rear lights, while the zig-zag lines on the rear doors help to avoid a slab-sided look for such an upright little car. The B-MAX draws on Ford's 'kinetic' design language, which includes a new chrome-edge interpretation of Ford's trapezoidal grille as well as prominent wheel arch blisters. At 110m longer the Ford B-MAX isn't as pretty as the Fiesta, but it still makes the Vauxhall Meriva and Nissan Note look a little dumpy. The interior also shares similarities with the Fiesta, such as the stylish dashboard - although, it's made up of a few too many buttons, which makes the infotainment system confusing to use. But even the way the seatbelts have been incorporated into the front seats (they have to be as there’s no B pillar to hang them off) has been done with style. There are three specs to choose from – Studio, Zetec and Titanium. Entry-level cars are a little spartan, but Zetec cars come loaded with kit, including Ford’s My Key system (which lets you limit the volume of the radio or the car’s top speed when the driver uses the spare key), 15-inch alloys, LED daytime running lights, front fog lights and air-con, while Titanium trim adds things like 16-inch alloys, automatic headlights and wipers, heated seats, a start button, climate control and cruise control. Options include a City Pack, which includes parking sensors and power-folding door mirrors, and a Titanium X Pack that adds part-leather seats, heated front seats and 17-inch alloy wheels.
As the B-MAX shares the same platform as the Fiesta, it immediately has an advantage over other small MPVs such as the Vauxhall Meriva or the Nissan Note. It's got a comfortable ride and, as with the Fiesta, it's great fun behind the wheel. There's lots of grip at all speeds, but the extra height of the B-MAX does mean that it tends to lean through bends sometimes. It comes with four different petrol engines - the award-winning three-cylinder 1.0 Ecoboost unit with 118bhp, a four-cylinder 1.4 and 1.6 as well as 1.5 and 1.6 diesel options. The 1.0 Ecoboost provides a perky performance, while the 1.6 diesel is a strong choice, too. It’s also refined, especially with the smooth and tuneful 1.0-litre three cylinder engines under the bonnet. The 123bhp 1.0 EcoBoost is our pick of the range, thanks to its blend of performance and economy. However, the 1.6 diesel is cleaner still and is better value overall. It has plenty of poke once you’re off the line, but is a bit growly when you accelerate. We wouldn’t recommend the 1.5-litre diesel – although it’s cheaper to buy, its stats show it’s sluggish and no more economical than the 1.6 diesel. The only way into an automatic B-MAX is with the old-school 1.6 petrol, which is not the best performing or most economical of engine. It's also best avoided, in our opinion.
Despite the missing B-pillar, the B-MAX is a very safe car. It was awarded a full five-star Euro NCAP crash test rating, with a score of 92 per cent for adult occupant protection and 71 per cent in the safety assist category. This is because every model comes with electronic stability control and traction control fitted as standard, as well as driver, passenger, curtain, side and driver’s knee airbags, while clever safety tech includes brake lights that flash under heavy braking. The doors do most of the work of the missing pillar, with extra strengthening in the frame, floor and roof of the car. That does mean the doors are a bit chunky, creating something of a blind spot over the shoulder, but they’re not too heavy. Otherwise, visibility at the front and back is good. On the inside, the B-MAX doesn't really match the high standards of the Volkswagen Polo, but it's still better than the Kia Venga and the Hyundai ix20. Ford finished 25th out of 30th in our 2012 Driver Power manufacturer ratings survey, with customers finding a huge problem with the reliability of 700-plus Ford dealers. Owners did, however, praise the handling and practicality of the car. New models such as the latest Focus and the S-MAX finished 19th and 24th place respectively in the Top 100, which bodes extremely well for the B-MAX. Plus, in the 2013 Driver Power customer satisfaction survey Ford managed to crawl two places to finish 23rd out of 31 - a positive sign, but room for improvement.
If you've seen the Ford B-MAX advert showing a man diving through the open doors of the car into a swimming pool, you'll know it pretty much sums up what the B-MAX is about. Practicality is where the B-MAX excels - with both the hinged front and sliding rear doors open, you're presented with a 1.5-metre opening. Tall adults can sit comfortably behind front passengers of a similar build, while fitting child seats is no problem at all. Plus, despite the compact dimensions, there’s plenty of space thanks to a tall body that ensures excellent headroom throughout. The sliding rear doors are a further bonus when it comes to tight parking spaces, too. Folding the rear seats is simple and increases the boot size from 318 litres to 1,386 litres, which far from class leading - it’s no better than most five-door hatchbacks and far behind rivals like the Kia Venga and Citroen C3 Picasso. The boot is flat and well shaped, though, with a false floor to hide valuables underneath or drop down for maximum room. Plus, the front passenger seat folds down to accommodate longer items.
Ford is extremely proud of its small but powerful 1.0 three-cylinder EcoBoost engine, which retained its crown at the 2013 International Engine of the Year awards. Currently fitted to the Focus, Fiesta, B-MAX, C-MAX and Grand C-MAX, the 123bhp version offers class-leading economy figures of 57.7mph with CO2 emissions of 114g/km. The 1.6 TDCi is more efficient yet, offering an average fuel consumption figure of 70.6mpg combined with the lowest emissions of any current B-MAX model - 104/gkm. Unfortunately, the B-MAX only comes with one automatic option, which is a thirsty 1.6-litre petrol that claims a disappointing mpg of 44.1, with CO2 emissions of 149g/km.