The long-awaited Ford B-Max is finally available to buy from dealerships from 12 September, starting from £12,995 for the B-Max Studio.
Based on the Fiesta, Ford is hoping to attract larger vehicle owners to their new, smaller offering and get a slice of the growing small MPV market.
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Ford has gone all out, with their design team going as far as filming drivers undercover at local DIY stores, garden centres and schools to cater the B-Max to consumers' needs. The B-Max has sliding rear doors, lacks a B-Pillar and has a host of other features.
MotorTorque sat with Andy Paton, Ford Britain's B-Max product manager, to learn more about Ford's latest offering and how it will complement the brand's future strategy:
On rear-sliding doors
We asked Andy just how much of a gamble the B-Max's rear-sliding doors were for the company, and whether they thought the public would be receptive to such a striking feature:
"The Ford B-Max is an innovative small car MPV built on the chassis of the Ford Fiesta, the UK's top-selling car since its launch in 2008. Over the last four years Ford has been keen to develop a stylish and practical small MPV to join this growing segment.
"Ever since rear sliding doors were first researched at clinics with the public, we knew we were onto a winner from the feedback received. We have a proven track record in the C-Max Grand which went on sale two years ago and now contributes to a 20 per cent share of medium MPV sales for C-Max."
We wanted to know whether the sliding doors feature was there to just make the car stand out, and how practical they'll be for the modern-day driver:
"It's not only the sliding doors which will appeal. Allied to the middle pillar being integrated into the doors, instead of remaining as a fixed obstacle when front and rear doors are open, side access space into the B-Max measures 1.5 metres.
"This makes getting in and out for people easier, as well as putting in or taking out loads, babies, their car seats and so on. This wide aperture also helps to get out of the rear in style. It will become the new small limo for chauffeurs to deliver VIPs to red carpet events!"
On the accuracy of virtual collisions
With the B-Max subject to a five-year testing programme, included 5,000 virtual collisions, we wanted to know just how accurate virtual collisions actually are and whether they're a substitute for real-life scenarios:
"In addition to being subjected to more than 5,000 computer simulated crash tests, the team conducted 40 complete crash tests and another 100 real-life tests where the car was mounted on a sled and fired into a barrier.
"Virtual testing has not replaced actual controlled crashes but with each physical test taking four days to set up, the simulated collisions were vital to prove that the new B-Max's Easy Access Door System is as safe as it is innovative."
On cultivating the small MPV market
With Ford estimating that 40 per cent of people owning a larger vehicle are likely to downsize in the future, we asked whether Ford had these buyers in mind when designing the car:
"Absolutely - B-Max is Ford's response to a growing "right-sizing" trend in Europe. The small MPV segment is forecast to grow by 17 per cent by 2018.
"Since the first compact multi-activity vehicle appeared in 2000, it has already seen rapid growth - with five competitors in the segment by 2003 rising to ten in 2008. By the end of this year twelve models are expected to be available and our aim is to make B-Max the leader."
On comparisons with the Fiesta
With the B-Max modelled on the hugely-successful Ford Fiesta, we wanted to know whether the B-Max would match the Fiesta's class-leading handling on the road:
"The media reports from our August first drives concur that Ford's reputed driving dynamics are also delivered by B-Max. With up to 120PS on tap and standard features such as Ford's Electronic Stability Programme and traction control to keep safety in check, B-Max proves that Multi Activity Vehicles can also be fun to drive."
On its unique features
We asked Andy how difficult is it to design an attractive small car without compromising interior space, and what methods were employed on the B-Max to maximise interior space:
"The B-Max is packed full of innovative thinking, from its unique door concept to fold flat seats (front passenger included) and 2.3 metres of load space. But B-Max, at just over 4 metres in length, is only 11cm longer than the Fiesta five-door and a full 32cm shorter than the medium-sized C-Max.
"Key to the interior space is the position of the driver, who sits higher in the vehicle, enjoys a 'command feel' in the driving position while also benefitting from greater knee room. We have been able to adapt the silhouette shape of our Max family including S-Max to deliver a full interior cabin space suitable for a wide range of driver shapes and sizes."
Written by John Meadowcroft