One-week test: Ford B-MAX
As a precursor to the new Ford B-MAX being launched in South Africa, we were provided with a test unit for a whole week. Its not often that I am given the chance to test a car for more than 12 hours, let alone seven days, so it was quite different really getting my teeth into a car.
Adding to the week’s motoring joy, I also had a Mercedes-AMG C63S at my disposal for a large part of the week, but ended up favouring the Ford … More on that next week, when I talk about Affalterbach’s vengeance incarnate.
So what is the B-Max? Plainly put, it’s a family car with rear sliding doors, built on the Fiesta platform. The result is a very compact but still hugely practical vehicle, thanks to the sliding rear doors, which create a 1,5m wide entrance aperture.
The Ford only one engine choice, but in two states of tune, and three specification levels. The one we were provided for testing was the top-of-the-line Titanium, which means that most of the optional extra boxes had already been ticked — and there seem to be a lot of them.
The spec level of the B-Max is similar to that of a Fiesta, which means you get to enjoy extras like heated seats, climate control, all-round park distance control with a reversing camera, leather interior, keyless entry, cruise control and Ford’s SYNC voice control and device integration system on the flagship version.
The Titanium also has a colossal glass panoramic roof that does not open, but is still beautiful.
It’s definitely beyond what you would call full house for a car of its size, but it still plays on the Fiesta interior which is looking dated when compared to some of the slicker options from the competition.
The inside of the B-Max is an explosion of buttons, because it doesn’t have a great visual infotainment and UI system. The dash-mounted screen is significantly smaller than my iPhone 6, which means that it cannot display more than three menu items at a time.
To resolve this, Ford basically installed a button for every menu option, and while that sounds more useable, it is very difficult to navigate. On top of that it dates the car, since we are now getting used to interiors with no buttons what so ever.
The sound unit is from Sony and is labelled accordingly, but the branding, the size of the unit and buttons makes it look as if a boom box was embedded into the dashboard.
Aesthetics aside, the interior is ultra-functional with the cruise control buttons being well placed and intuitive, and as soon as you know where the menu button is that is linked to what you want to do, it is easy to find your way around.
It also uses a rotary dial to control the climate control temperature and the blower speed, which is a huge bonus in my opinion. My aircon is either set to high or low, depending on if I’m driving into the office before dawn or if I’m on my way home.
Having to use a toggle switch or button to move from 30 to 16 degrees in increments of 0,5 is painful. A dial that you can spin around to the right temperature makes this much easier, and makes me smile
Something else that is worth smiling about is the 1,0-litre three-cylinder EcoBoost engine. It produces 92 kW in the range-topping Titanium and Trend models (74 kW in the Ambiente) and 170 Nm of torque on all three of them, which seems to be a just the right amount of power for a car of this size.
There is no hint of turbo lag with this engine so it ends up feeling like a very meaty naturally aspirated motor. The extra power on our Titanium model meant that you are encouraged to use the full extent of the engine’s 6 000 rpm to the point where it can feel quite sporty.
It’s no Opel Zafira OPC (the most nonsensical but sporty family wagon of all time), but the B-Max linked to this little engine feels very alive.
Dynamically the B-Max is generally surprising. It probably has to do with expectations management, but for a car that looks quite tall and doesn’t pretend to dwell on the wild side of driving, the little Ford is very capable. It is particularly stable at speed, which makes highway driving even more comfortable than expected.
But it is of course the rear sliding doors that personify the B-Max, and I can understand the appeal! For a start it means that you’ll never have to have that awkward conversation in the parking lot after your child has flung open their door, while you and the driver of the car next door watch helplessly and in slow motion, as it crashes into the car parked next to you.
It made me wish that the front doors were also sliding because it would make parking in tight spaces so much easier. But alas, until science catches up with that idea, I’ll have to settle for not having to worry about my passengers’ inability to open doors.
The doors might seem excessive for a car that was only made to take three passengers in the rear with its 60/40 split seats (and you’d better hope that they are small people, because this is still a Fiesta after all) but it is the access that it is important.
Getting the kids into the car is more than just piling them in and going – they need to be faffed over, and the seat belts need to be checked, and the thing put in its place. Normally you would have to do this from the angle created by the rear door, but in the B-Max you have a full 180 degrees of access to lean in and faff.
You’re also right by the driver’s seat, so once you get everything settled, there is no walking around doors, you just slide the door shut, get into the driver’s seat and you’re on your way.
Again these might sound like small and completely irrelevant aspects, but they add up and when they are compounded over ever single time you use a car, they can become some of the most important aspects of choosing a new car.
Generally the B-Max is a solid, cleverly designed vehicle with a level of quality that you would expect from Ford. The overall footprint might still be a little too small (and abroad, the C-Max takes care of that) but I would urge anyone concerned about that aspect to have a look at this small van before discounting it.
It might not have as much space as a larger MPV, but all of its space is fully and easily utilised.
Prices start from R221 900 for the Ambiente, but prices of the Titanium tested here start at R271 900.