Generally speaking, there's never really much to get excited about when it comes to new MPVs. They are, after all, designed first and foremost for practicality; attributes such as aesthetic, feel and desirability – the lattermost a particularly alien concept to this type of car - take a back seat. Now I'm not going to pretend that Ford's new B-Max is as exciting as the recently released Aventador Roadster, or even the dihedral new Seat Leon. But it does exhibit unexpectedly striking looks, a fun yet clean drivetrain, and a quite brilliant piece of industrial design (configured with utility in mind, obviously). It is, in short, more exciting that it has any right to be.
This is the top, Titanium-spec model, starting at £18,655
For Ford, designing the B-Max represented an opportunity to prove that a B-segment MPV could could be both dynamic and stylish – easier said than done. The other aim was to make a small car feel premium beyond its bracket, and thus the B-Max borrows several styling cues, both inside and out, from the larger C-Max.
On first impressions the B-Max seems a little flat-footed and awkward, particularly when viewed in profile, but it wears the hallmarks of Ford's new global design language well – chiefly the Evos-derived trapezoidal grille and slim headlights. Moving towards the back, the flanks are heavily contoured, both down near the sills and more noticeably in the form of a deep, hard bone line that does an excellent job of disguising the rails along which the rear doors slide. Blacked-out B-pillars help keep the B-Max's visual height down and draw the eye to the design's strong horizontal lines (bone and belt, as well as the raked windscreen) and away from the car's near one-box dimensions. The B-Max's sporty stance is further aided by quite a steep rake from back to front.
Arguably the biggest surprise is found inside. Ford have made good their promise for a more premium experience for passengers. There are still large swathes of dark plastic, but in this Titanium model there's an abundance of cold-touch materials and a piano black centre console. Furthermore – and what truly separates it from its rivals – is the way it's all put together. The buttons feel firm, the stitching is arrow-straight, and ergonomically it's miles ahead of anything coming from France at the moment. As the B-Max's chief programme engineer, Klaus-Peter Tamm, puts it, 'this is a car where the customer has to feel proud...with chrome and parts that look expensive, but are also very well executed as well.'
Interior design is sophisticated and fit/finish is superb
The car's party piece, however, is undoubtedly its doors. Whilst the front doors open conventionally, the rear doors slide outward and backward along the outer body panel. The idea was previewed two years ago on the radical Iosis Max concept and it's executed to perfection on the production B-Max. When both doors are fully open, there's a gap of 1.5 metres, with the absence of B-pillars that are integrated into the doors. This is enough to entirely change the way you might load the car, or get in yourself, for the better. It also adds no small amount of intrigue to an otherwise run-of-the-mill car. It's hard to believe that it hasn't been done before, so effective it is, and gives the B-Max the look of those open plan renderings we so often see for concept cars.
To emphasize this 'open plan' effect, Ford's advertising campaign features a man supposedly diving through the car and into a swimming pool. Real? No, but certainly feasible, such is the width of the aperture. (Edit: Um, yes it is real.....vid here)
A 1.5 metre gap makes rear access incredibly easy
The B-Max also features Ford's three-cylinder EcoBoost engine, which is set to become the mainstay of the Mondeo range when the new car is released late in 2014. In terms of carbon, it's not quite as clean as the diesel variants, emitting 114g/km CO2 (with stop/start), but as far as down-sizing goes it's something of a masterpiece. With a buoyant engine note, the one litre EcoBoost generates a healthy 120PS (about 118bhp) and needs a few revs to come alive. It's a lot of fun (relatively speaking), though, and elicits a similar response to Fiat's two-cyclinder TwinAir engine from the driver. You have to make do without the abundance of torque found in the Fiat engine, however, but it's still an engine that likes the driver to get 'stuck in'. Ford claim a combined economy of 57.7mpg for the tiny engine but, as is often the case with small-capacity engines, it's reasonable to assume that that figure will be hard to match.
The EcoBoost-equipped B-Max is a quality product, both mechanically and in terms of finish. Key rivals such as the Honda Jazz and Nissan Note will have their work cut out, but the Ford might also steal sales off cars such as the prestigious Mercedes B-Class. Featuring a development of the 'Kinetic' design philosophy, a genuine 'premium' experience, and technological innovation, it's not hard to see why.
B-Max Titanium 1.0-litre EcoBoost 120PS
Engine: 999cc 3-cylinder turbo, petrol Power: 120PS @ 6000rpm Torque: 170Nm @ 1400rmp 0-62mph: 9.7s Top Speed: 117mph CO2 emissions: 114g/km Economy: 57.7mpg combined Price: From £18,655 OTR
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