FIRST DRIVE FORD B-MAX:I CANNOT HEAR the phrase “sliding doors” and not think of the eponymous movie of the late 1990s starring Gwyneth Paltrow. It’s about a woman whose future apparently takes two divergent courses, with the dividing line being whether or not the sliding doors close on her as she tries to catch a train. Not sure why such an otherwise forgettable romcom should stick with me, but it’s always at the back of my mind whenever I drive a car with, well, you know.With the Ford B-Max (and its sliding doors) Ford will be trying to both create a new future for itself and erase memories of an unhappy past. That’s because the company’s previous effort in the mini-MPV arena, the little Fusion, was largely critically panned, even if it did have its loyal customers. The new B-Max’s only similarity to the Fusion, thankfully, is that both cars shared their mechanicals with a sister Fiesta. The B-Max is more clearly a junior MPV, though, owing much to the sharp-looking C-Max for its styling. And wait until you see its trick doors . . .
Actually, the doors themselves are not the trick here; it’s the absence of pillars between them and the front doors. When both front and back doors are open, there is a gargantuan 1.5-metre opening in the side of the car. For parents loading kids and child car seats, this is a huge boon, and the B-Max backs up the loading aperture with proper space in the back – room enough even for tall adults to get perfectly comfortable. There’s a properly useful 318-litre boot out back, too.
Up front, and behind that beaky nose, is a range of three petrol and one diesel engines, with the highlights being the new 1.5-litre 75bhp TDCI diesel and the brilliant 1.0-litre three-cylinder EcoBoost turbo petrol, which Ford Ireland’s people reckon will prove to be the best seller. The base model comes with a 1.4-litre petrol engine, and you can have the old 105bhp 1.6-litre petrol if you fancy an automatic transmission.
With its sweet-revving nature and 119g/km CO22 emissions, the 1.0 EcoBoost is definitely the star of the range, especially as the new 1.5 TDCI engine is actually a bit of a disappointment. Thankfully, an early cold-start clatter dies away as the engine warms, to be replaced by generally very good refinement; but it’s very short on grunt, lacking the kind of low-down punch we’ve come to associate with diesel engines. It is capable of a claimed 68mpg compared to the 1.0 petrol’s 55mpg, though.
Ford has slipped up a touch with the driving experience too, for my money. In trying to keep Ford’s now-traditional sporty chassis dynamics, the B-Max has gone a bit too far down the stiff suspension route, and the upshot is a ride quality that never settles down and frequently jiggles. Fine in a sporty, spry hatchback but not what you want in a family-oriented people mover. Yes, the sharp steering and good body control are welcome, but I’d have happily traded both in for a comfier ride.
The B-Max does have one whizz-bang ace up its sleeve, though: SYNC, Ford’s new phone-friendly infotainment system, which is easy to use, useful and, Ford claims, potentially live-saving, automatically dialling the emergency services if it detects you’ve had a crash. It’ll even read your text messages to you.
SYNC on its own is almost impressive enough to warrant a recommendation for the B-Max, and the doors and space are truly family-optimised. Fix the ride and install a punchier diesel engine and you could happily see it in your future.
Engine Diesel:1.5-litre TDCI with 74bhp and 190Nm of torque. Max speed: 157km/h, 0-100km/h: 16.5secs. Fuel consumption (combined, claimed): 4.0 litres per 100km (68.9mpg). CO22 emissions: 119g/km (band A, motor tax €160).
Prices€21,840 (prices start at €19,170 for the 1.4 petrol, rising to €26,430 for the range-topping 1.6 automatic).
Clever doors, nice cabin and SYNC is great, but ride and performance let it down.