"The Ford B-MAX is a brilliantly usable, great-to-drive small people carrier."
Before Ford released the B-MAX mini-MPV, most people probably hadn’t heard of a B-pillar, let alone knew that not having one was a big deal. If you still don’t know, the B-pillar sits between the front and back doors on most cars. By removing it on the B-MAX, Ford has given it a huge 150cm-wide side door opening, which is about double what you would get with a single door. Add sliding rear doors, and it becomes hugely flexible, extremely practical in tight parking spaces and easy for anyone to load almost anything on to the back seats. The B-MAX is actually based on the Ford Fiesta supermini – which still has a B-pillar, by the way – but has taller dimensions for extra space. Like the Fiesta, it's immense fun to drive, offering great fuel economy and very comfortable ride. It easily takes on rivals such as the Nissan Note, Honda Jazz and Vauxhall Meriva. The B-MAX comes in Ford's current basic specifications – entry-level Studio, mid-range Zetec and top-of-the-range Titanium, with the Studio model decidedly lacking in equipment, so the Zetec is the most realistic place to start. The B-MAX also has a good selection of engines, including the award-wining 118bhp 1.0-litre EcoBoost petrol model that returns 57.mpg in fuel economy and emits 114g/km.
MPG, running costs & CO2 emissions
Ford is rightly proud of its little-engine-that-could 1.0-litre three-cylinder EcoBoost petrol engines – and you can get two versions in the B-MAX. They both offer superior efficiency with pretty reasonable performance, and the more powerful of the pair is great fun to drive, with good acceleration and even a nice thrumming engine noise. The best diesel is the pricier 1.6-litre TDCi, which offers the lowest emissions and the best economy of more than 70mpg, plus it also outperforms the 1.5-litre diesel. Unfortunately, the automatic version only comes with the older, thirstier 1.6-litre petrol engine.
Interior & comfort
The B-MAX is easy to get into and to get comfortable inside, with plenty of headroom and legroom in the front and back. The seats are supportive with a good driving position thanks to the range of adjustment options for both the seats and steering wheel. The major controls are nicely positioned and easy to reach, too. Like the Fiesta, there are too many buttons on the dashboard, which can get confusing, but that's nitpicking- the B-MAX is great for comfort.
Practicality & boot space
Back to the B-pillar again, the B-MAX's party trick - the Easy Access Door System. Ford has made it incredibly easy for anyone of any age to get in and out of the B-MAX, simply by doing away with that B-pillar and fitting sliding rear doors. And once you’re inside, you find plenty of interior space. Tall adults can sit comfortably behind front passengers of similar stature, and three adults can easily sit in the back, too – with a bit of a squeeze, but certainly less than in many of its rivals. The boot is nicely square and offers lots of storage space, and a false floor that can be used to hide valuables or to create extra room. The rear seats fold down flat (as does the front passenger seat), which then expands the boot to 1,386 litres, which isn’t as good as many five-door hatchbacks and certainly less than the Kia Venga and the Citroen C3 Picasso. But the sliding doors add so much extra practicality than any other deficits seem somewhat trivial.
Reliability & safety
The B-MAX is still too new to feature in any major customer satisfaction survey, but hopefully it will fair better than Ford did in the 2013 Driver Power poll. Surprisingly for a popular manufacturer with such a good reputation, Ford came a lowly 23rd place in the company rankings, which is actually an improvement of two places on the 2012 survey. Even so, every Ford comes with RAC cover- but you probably won’t need it as the B-MAX does feel well put together. One area that does let Ford down is the customer service in some of its dealerships, which is nowhere near as good as the cars themselves. Inside, the B-MAX doesn’t match the high standards of the Volkswagen Polo, but it's still better than the ever-improving Kia Venga and Hyundai ix20. And don’t worry about that missing B-pillar affecting safety – Ford has designed it so that the doors have extra strengthening in the frame, floor and roof. Proof is in the pudding that it still scored the full five-star rating in the Euro NCAP crash safety tests.
Engines, drive & performance
Sharing the basic platform of the Fiesta immediately gives the B-MAX an advantage over other small MPVs on the road - it has a comfortable ride and is very easy and fun to drive. It's not quite as much brazen fun as the Fiesta, but its steering is reactive, feels well connected to the road and is generally responds better than you’d expect from an MPV. You get loads of grip at all speeds, but the extra height of the B-MAX does mean that it tends to lean through the bends and often feels a bit bouncy when driving over dips, crests and rough roads – but not enough for any kids in the back to feel sick. The manual gearbox is also smooth and easy to use. You can get an automatic gearbox, but only with a 1.6-litre petrol engine, which isn’t one of the newer, more frugal engines so we’d recommend giving it a miss. Ford may have deliberately paired the automatic with this engine because they tend to produce inferior economy and emissions figures. We’d also avoid the 1.5-litre diesel as it struggles in comparison with the 1.6-litre diesel and is no more economical.
Price, value for money & options
The whole range is well equipped with lots of accessories, with even the entry-level Studio model coming with a digital radio, lots of safety equipment, air-conditioning and the sliding doors all equipped as standard. The mid-range Zetec is likely to be the bestseller, adding alloy wheels and a sportier exterior trim – it costs around the same as a Vauxhall Meriva, but is much more desirable. The top-sec Titanium model is pricier but does comes with a Sony stereo, climate control, and automatic windscreen wipers and headlights. The extras list is pretty good, too, such as the Automatic City Stop system that prevents you from bumping into the back of the car in front if your attention wanders when driving in city traffic at low speeds. Plus, as this is a Ford, you should also be able to get a good deal and low-rate finance. You can also expect resale values to be decent on the used car market.