FORD'S SUPERVAN: Ford has launched its practical little B-Max here in South Africa. Image: Ford ~
Ford's new B-Max has arrived in South Africa. Wheels24's Ferdi de Vos shares his thoughts on the automaker's new family MAV.
The Blue Max awaiting us in the high street of Melrose Arch, outside Johannesburg – polished and gleaming in a bright, beautiful blue – the signature colour for Ford’s latest local contender.
We were in Jozi to try this maxed out premium compact – underpinned by Ford’s global B-car platform shared with the highly successful Fiesta and Ecosport – for size.
The B-Max is a clever package with unique features, its unconventional door system being the most obvious.
EASY ACCESS DOOR SYSTEM
The hinged front and sliding rear doors integrates the function of the traditional B-pillar into the doors, rather than being part of the bodyshell.
Dubbed the Ford easy access door system it’s a smart piece of engineering, not only in the way the doors are strengthened to maintain vehicle rigidity, but also in its operation as it allows any of the doors, front or rear, to be closed first.
IMAGE GALLERY: 2015 Ford B-Max
Despite being strengthened considerably, the door system doesn’t add a lot of weight, and most importantly it creates a clear aperture of more than 1.5m – nearly double that of its competitors.
This makes ingress and egress, as well as loading and unloading, as easy as winking, and my driving partner – all six foot five of him – proved this by comfortably wiggling his way in and out of the back.
The flexible seating system features 60/40 split rear seats that can be folded flat, and with seven folding combinations and a 2.35m load length in a car less than 4.1m long the B-Max is probably the most versatile offering in its class.
So, it’s spacious. What else?
Well, our Blue Max in range-topping Titanium trim was loaded – featuring Ford’s SYNC in-car connectivity system with a 10cm colour screen, intelligent keyless access, auto climate control, multifunction steering wheel, as well as a conversation mirror, rear view camera, LED daytime running lights, auto headlamp activation and rain-sensing windscreen wipers.
Even my colleague found the standard leather seats comfortable, and he commented positively on the good craftsmanship and quality finishes, while the full-length panoramic roof added to the aura of spaciousness.
The design of the instrument panel and dash is overly busy, yet intuitive, but the exposed electric connections for the sliding doors could be a hazard for unruly kids when they jump aboard…
Also, it’s an open question whether those doors will withstand the rigours of our rough and pot-holed roads for a sustained period without sagging and developing rattles…
HOW DOES IT DRIVE?
All the available models are (for now) powered by Ford’s fantastic little 998cc EcoBoost turbocharged petrol engine – delivering a sprightly 92kW in Titanium and mid-range Trend derivatives.
The entry-level Ambiente gets the less powerful 74kW version, but with the same peak torque of 170Nm.
On our short test route, mostly on highways and in city traffic, the small engine was superb, always eager and willing, and it never felt overtaxed. However, the less powerful derivative may struggle against extended inclines.
With its light controls and smooth five-speed manual ’box the B-Max behaved decidedly like a Fiesta, albeit a slightly larger, heavier one.
This meant class-leading handling dynamics good turn-in behaviour and a comfortable ride on smooth surfaces, but it felt somewhat out of sorts on heavy, undulating surfaces – perhaps because of the added weight.
Still, the award-winning engine is very efficient, consuming as low as 4.9 litres/100km and only emitting 114g/km of CO2 in the combined cycle, according to Ford.
IS IT SAFE?
It’s safe as houses, even with sliding doors. Besides a full complement of safety systems, including Hill Launch Assist (HLA) and a Tyre Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS) it also comes with seven state-of-the art air bags. About 58% of its body and door structure is made up of high strength and ultra-high-strength steel to ensure strength and rigidity, while remaining weight-efficient. All this ensures outstanding levels of crash protection, and the B-Max was awarded a five star rating in the EuroNCAP safety tests.
Ford mentioned the Toyota Avanza as a competitor, but the B-Max’s natural rival is the Fiat 500L (which, incidentally, outsells it in Europe). At R271 900 the flagship B-Max goes head-to-head with the 500L 1.4 Lounge (R274 900), but the Fiat’s price does not include a sunroof (R15 000 extra) or metallic paint (R2 550 extra for the Fiat, R750 for the B-Max).
Other rivals worth considering include the lower specced Kia’s Soul 1.6 Start (R254 995) and perhaps also Honda’s Mobilio Comfort 1.5 (R207 900) or the Suzuki Ertiga 1.4 GLX (R196 400).
However, we think the biggest competition for the B-Max will come from its own stablemates – the Ecosport and the Fiesta.
Why? Well, the similarly specced Ecosport is available for virtually exactly the same money, and when the choice is either fancy doors for easier access or funky looks with comparable space, the choice is clear…
B-Max 1.0 EcoBoost Ambiente - R221 900
B-Max 1.0 EcoBoost Trend - R246 900
B-Max 1.0 EcoBoost Titanium - R271 900
The B-Max is sold with a four-year or 120 000km comprehensive warranty, four-year or 60 000km service plan, three-year or unlimited km roadside assistance and five-year or unlimited km corrosion warranty. Service intervals are every 20 000km. Image: Ford