Through a sliding door to safety
FORD’S B-MAX is a neat rework of the Fiesta hatchback. Its unique offering is the sliding rear door at either side, combined with a pillar-less side.
The conventional front doors and the sliding rear doors operate independently, with structural reinforcement to support the roof in lieu of the absent middle roof pillar.
Why the bother? Well, it gives much wider access to the rear seats, which makes it easier to position a toddler in a child seat, while adults with limited agility will also get into the rear more easily.
Lots of extra metal went into the cabin sides – paying off with the maximum 5 star crash safety rating from EuroNCAP. The body is not only heavier but taller than a Fiesta, which gives it a slightly elevated ride. While my mother found the rear seat access fine, she did comment on the slight “step up” necessary. Swings and roundabouts, as they say, and once in the back there is plenty of room for tall adults.
In 2002, Ford did a variation of an earlier Fiesta, called the Fusion, on a stretched chassis. Since then we have had more focused derivations of Ford chassis, notably the S-MAX and, with sliding rear doors, the mid-size C-MAX sevenseater.
Sliding doors have another advantage – they can be opened in tight spaces. They allow loading of bulky items through the side and in the B-MAX the front passenger seat can be folded away.
When I first met the B-MAX I wondered whether the mechanical latches which protrude from the bottom of the rear doors would snag on clothes. After a week of trial this has not been a problem. You do enter the rear seat at a different angle of swivel because the backrest is partially blinkered by the vertical edge of the door. Also, it takes more muscle to open and close these doors than needed for hinged doors. This is exacerbated when facing uphill, but is gravity assisted when pointing downhill. Again – swings and roundabouts, a plus here, a minus there. Unless the child locks are “on” they can be opened from the inside on the move. True, the same applies to a conventional rear door.
The biggest “minus” is the price. The B-MAX costs £3,000 more than a Fiesta, so you have to need that unique body configuration quite a lot. Prices start at around £13,000 for the 1.4 Studio model. It is well-equipped but if you want air conditioning that’s another
The body is taller, which gives an elevated ride. In the back there is plenty of room.
£700. The handling on swerves and bends does not match the Fiesta. However, keener drivers can specify Eibach springs which tune and lower the suspension.
My test model had arguably the pick of the petrol and diesel engines, the 99bhp version of Ford’s lovely one-litre three-cylinder petrol turbo with five manual gears which punches above its capacity in power and economy. The official figures are 55.4mpg, 119g/km CO2 and 0-62mph in 13.2 seconds. I was not able to check the real-life fuel consumption. The performance was smooth and quick enough, with a relaxed feel at motorway speeds.
The mid-range Zetec pack included 15 inch alloys, ambient mood lighting in the front of the cabin, a wide angle mirror for watching children in the rear seat, DAB audio, powered one-touch windows. Extras were a rear parking sensor and graphic, power folding mirrors and privacy glass (£400 in total). If you want a body colour other than race red or blazer blue, you pay extra.
Verdict: Useful family car with added loading flexibility through sliding side doors.