March 3, 2011
To ‘B’ or not to ‘B’ may have been (at one time) the question, but no longer. In its debut this week at the Geneva Auto Show, Ford provided an irrevocable ‘yes’ with the announcement of its all-new, Fiesta-based B-Max people carrier. And with oil hovering at $100/barrel, its announcement couldn’t have been better timed.
Sharing a two-box architecture not unlike its bigger sibling, the Focus-based C-Max, the B-Max continues what Ford of Europe Chairman and CEO Stephen Odell described as a “proven history of bringing innovation and style to the multi-activity vehicle market.” The most notable example of this innovation is the integration of the B-pillar (the vertical structure typically found between the front and rear doors) into the doors, providing a wide – some 1.5 meters – entrance once the twin sliding doors are open. Not unlike Honda’s Element, the Ford solution is far more elegant – and fully appropriate to a 21st-Century urban environment.
Inside, versatile seating makes for flexible loading. Split rear seats and a folding front passenger seat combine to handle – within reason – even the bulkiest loads. And if you’re loading long rather than wide, that same folding front passenger seat makes it easy to facilitate weekend trips to Ikea.
As a family/passenger vehicle, attention to safety was paramount. In the absence of a traditional B-pillar, both front and rear doors were strengthened to allow those doors to act as a “virtual B-pillar” in the event of a side impact. And special safety interlocks and reinforced latch mechanisms work to keep the doors firmly attached to the roof and floor structure after the impact.
Outside, Ford’s design team utilized ‘kinetic’ design themes, which include Ford’s trapezoidal grille, what Ford describes as “strong” headlamp graphics, muscular shoulder line and prominent wheel lips. The show car, finished in metallic brown, sat on 18-inch, five-spoke rims. Under the abbreviated hood sits a 1.0 liter three with direct fuel injection, turbocharger and twin independent variable cam timing; all combine to achieve appreciable improvements in fuel economy when compared to more traditional four cylinder engines providing similar performance.
Underpinned by the global Fiesta platform, the B-Max looks to be a significant step in the execution of the small people-mover. While no plans exist to bring this fuller Fiesta to the States, keep an eye on gas prices – as well as the U.S. response to Ford’s intro of the C-Max. When better boxes are built, it looks as if Ford might be building them.
DAVID BOLDT began his automotive career in BMW and Saab showrooms in the 1980s, and he moved to automotive journalism in 1993. David has written for a variety of regional and national publications, and prior to joining AutoTrader, he managed media relations for a Japanese OEM.