Sandton, Johannesburg – A busy year of new model launches for Ford Motor Company of South Africa shows no sign of losing momentum as the manufacturer gears up for three significant introductions, namely the face-lifted Ranger, new Everest and, of course, Mustang, all before end of the year. Before the arrival of these all-important new models, however, the debut of the quirky B-Max mini-MPV looks set to challenge not only convention but also, potentially, otherwise impressive EcoSport monthly sales figures.
What is it?
Based of the same “B-car” platform as the EcoSport (and Fiesta), the B-Max’s party trick, apart from offering a sought-after taller driving position compared with that of the Fiesta hatch, comes in the form of its sliding rear passenger doors. And, while the well-documented advantages of gliding passenger doors, particularly convenient when negotiating tight parking spots, represents nothing especially new in an automotive world, it’s the absence of B-pillars within the shrunken B-Max package that adds unique appeal.
Opened independently, both the conventional front doors and rail-riding passenger doors feature specific reinforcement, as well as an innovative latch system, to adequately compensate for the absence of traditional B-pillars. With their absence, with both doors opened, users are afforded unrestricted access to the rear bench, ideal for securing baby seats or buckling-up toddlers.
What’s it like?
From the aforementioned tall driving position, the B-Max assumes its role as a member of the very accomplished larger Fiesta family with aplomb. While there’s a welcome familiarity to the instrumentation and switchgear expect the introduction of newer technologies, including a touchscreen infotainment system, will be optimised for this package in time for a mid-life facelift/update.
An easy-to-operate folding seat system (including a 60:40 split rear backrest and flat-folding front passenger backrest) offers convenience should larger-than-average parcels require transporting.
Sharing underpinnings with the Fiesta, the B-Max boasts a similarly accomplished ride and despite its taller (by 109 mm) stance, remains impressively composed on the open road. As with both the other members of the family, including the EcoSport, the steering is pleasantly light; that makes the B-Max easy to manoeuvre in an urban environment.
One drivetrain option … for now
At launch, the Ford B-Max is offered exclusively with the manufacturer’s proven (and award-winning) 1,0 EcoBoost engine, mated with a five-speed manual transmission. Kept “on the boil” via a lightweight, easy to modulate clutch, it’s a drivetrain combination more than capable of keeping up with traffic at highway speeds, while delivering punchy performance around town.
Available in entry-level Ambiente, Trend and top-of-the-range Titanium specification, all models are nevertheless fitted with ABS, ESP stability control, hill-hold assist, a tyre pressure monitoring system and a total of seven airbags.
Titanium models feature keyless access, a multifunction steering wheel, climate control, full leather trim and heated front seats. These models are distinguishable by the fitment of 15-inch alloy wheels (as on Trend spec), a panoramic sunroof, tinted rear windows and LED daytime running lights.
Back to those doors
While the B-Max’s unique door configuration (and absence of B-pillars) is undoubtedly likely to offer welcome convenience to long-suffering parents trying to gather the clan within the confines of modern shopping centre parking areas, there are downsides to this arrangement. For starters, with no way of locking the rear doors open, care needs to be taken (particularly when parked on a slope) that they aren’t inadvertently drawn shut onto small fingers. Also, given the average age and attention span of the little people most likely to be accessing the B-Max’s rear seats, instructions (via a small sticker on the lower slider mechanism) not to stand on the door hinge are as likely to fall on deaf ears as they are to shortening the optimal working lifespan of said door.
Based as it is on the highly accomplished Fiesta, the new B-Max offers a similarly feisty character and loads of charm, backed up with solid engineering and, of course, a drivetrain that continues to defy the odds in terms of performance (and relative efficiency).
While only the similarly quirky Opel Meriva offers the B-Max like-for-like competition within our market, based on the popularity of the most rugged member of Ford’s B-car family, the EcoSport, one wonders whether the sway of sliding doors and an invisible B-pillar is enough to tempt the majority of buyers away from the perceived pros of an SUV lifestyle.