ALL the talk so far with Ford's clever little B-MAX supermini-MPV has been about the variants with clever three cylinder EcoBoost petrol power. But they're pricey. So might the entry-level model with its older but willing 90PS petrol 1.4 prove to be a better bet? Jonathan Crouch decides.
Admittedly the Fusion never left particularly big shoes to fill, but the B-MAX, Ford's successor in the supermini MPV sector, is a good deal more progressive. Highlights include sliding side doors with no central pillar to impede entry and a great deal of technology under the bonnet, little of which is found in the entry-level 1.4-litre petrol variant we're testing here. But it's the only version that's really affordable.
Just as Mercedes gets out of the short, high and clever compact MPV market with its A-Class, Ford has dived right in with this Romanian-built B-MAX. Perhaps it's a better fit with Ford's image than that of Mercedes, but do people want this sort of car? Let's take a closer look at it and figure that question out for ourselves at the wheel of the most affordable entry-level 1.4-litre petrol version.
Two conflicting thoughts niggle at you before you get into the B-MAX for the first time. The first is that it's a small Ford. How can it fail to be impressive to drive? The second is the nagging reminder that no car in history with sliding side doors has ever driven well. It's a perfect unbroken form line of dismal ineptitude. You'd like to think that someone got angry at Ford, broke a couple of pencils, took his glasses off and shouted THIS IS WHERE IT ENDS!
And you know what? It's really not bad. Visibility out of the front and sides is good but the front and rear dive out of sight quite quickly, so if unless you want to engage in Parisian parking tactics, you might well find it a good idea to invest in the camera pack which includes front and rear parking sensors. The driving position is halfway between what you'd expect in a typical supermini and that of a small SUV and the way the B-MAX tackles corners is similarly halfway between how typical superminis and little 4x4s handle. There's the grip of a supermini as you turn in, but then comes the body roll and there's quite a bit of it. It's not badly controlled by any means, and it lets you know precisely the point that you've tiptoed from 'making progress' to 'shortly about to have your other half use your full Christian name'.
I tried the base 90PS 1.4-litre petrol version, an older Ford unit I wasn't expecting much from. Actually though, it's a very willing powerplant, making sixty from rest in 13.8s on the way to a top speed of 106mph, more than adequate for most potential buyers.
And this car's shape? Well, there are aspects that undoubtedly work effectively. Remember the big metallic strips on the sides of many MPVs where the door runners went? Ugly weren't they? Now try spotting them on this B-MAX. You just get a tiny little indent at the back. That should tell you a great deal about how wide these doors open.
The Ford B-MAX isn't one of the headline grabbers in the Blue Oval's canon. It's a support player, but it's one that has probably taken the biggest step forward over its predecessor than any Ford since the original Focus launched. It's almost as it we've skipped two generations of vehicle from the dowdy Fusion and arrived in the future. A future where cars have sliding doors and brilliant engines the size of shoe boxes. The ingredients that go to make up the B-MAX seem weird and initially unpromising, but spend a few days with the thing and you begin to realise it all hangs together really, really well. Not what I expected at all.