Latest Business Car Manager News: The new Ford B-Max is set to cause a stir amongst multi-purpose vehicle buyers.

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With it’s unrivalled interior access and based on the ford fiesta, the UK’s best-selling car, the B-max might be the most popular 'people carriers' yet.

New Ford B-Max: spacious but highly compact!

Ford B-Max 1.0T Titanium 120PS EcoBoost Start/Stop

A highly innovative and exceptionally versatile “B” sector multi-purpose vehicle (MPV), the full sales potential of which even Ford, its creator, is unsure about.

Ford claims “premium” sector style, build quality and driving dynamics as among the most alluring attributes of the B-Max, the smallest of Ford’s three ‘people carriers’ and based on the platform of the UK’s best-selling car, the Fiesta.

But claims of even such worthy characteristics are overshadowed by the B-Max’s unchallengeable ace in the hole: no vehicle on the road provides remotely similar ease of access.

The rear doors slide (along unobtrusive rails) like Citroen’s Multispace Berlingo. The front doors hinge conventionally. But they open to reveal, uniquely, no central ‘B’ pillar - just a 1.5metre long unobstructed opening which is twice the length of any perceived rival’s and longer, too, than on any luxury limousine.

Unrivalled interior space access

This has been achieved by making the leading and trailing edges of the doors themselves engineering structures which interlock , forming their own B-pillar, when they close. The result: virtually unrestricted loading from nearside, offside or rear. And the interior space icing on the cake: all seats except the driver’s fold flat, using a simple “one-hand, one-motion” mechanism, to form a van-like load platform capable of swallowing loads up to 2.34 metres long within the load area of the B-Max.
Debut for new connectivity system called SYNC

Not least, Ford has also chosen the B-Max for the European debut of “SYNC” – what it otherwise describes as its voice-activated device integration and connectivity system. Put more simply, it connects mobile phones and music players by Bluetooth or USB, makes and receives phone calls, reads out text messages and operates various other systems all by voice command, as well as sending an automatic distress call to emergency services if occupants are incapacitated by a collision with the scenery.

Business users – expected by Ford to account for around 35 per cent of sales – are likely to take particular interest in the engines on offer; notably the 1 litre, three-cylinder petrol “EcoBoost” units which, with 99bhp or 118bhp on tap, scoot the B-Max along with the vigour of a 1.6; earned the industry title of 2012 ‘engine of the year’ along withy BCM's company car of the year title, and which already account for 30 per cent of sales in the only other car in which so far it has been fitted, the “C” sector Focus.

B-Max company car tax from 13%

Allied to sub-120 grammes of CO2, zero first year VED and 13 per cent BIK company car tax, the engines are credited with 55.4mpg combined (99bhp) and 57.7 mpg (119bhp). With lower CO2 emissions and more frugal yet, a 1.6 TDCi diesel offers just 104 grammes of CO2, and combined consumption of 70.6mpg.

There is a snag, however.

The full engine range comprises older-technology Duratec 1.4 and 1.6 petrol units, the EcoBoosts, and 1.5 litre (75bhp) and 1.6 litre(95bhp) TDCi diesels.
Three B-Max trim levels

There are three trim levels: Studio, starting at £12,995 on the road; Zetec, from £15,600 and the flagship Titanium, from £17,595. But only Ford’s older 1.4 litre Duratec engine is available for the Studio and only the 99bhp EcoBoost and 1.5 diesel units are offered on the Zetec. Thus the two best engines in the range, the 119bhp Ecoboost and 1.6 diesel, are available only in the flagship Titanium models.

There are some obvious rivals. Ford itself cites Vauxhall’s Meriva, Nissan’s Note and the Honda Jazz. But at the lower end of the scale, popular high-cube holdalls like Citroen’s Berlingo Multispace and Fiat’s Doblo lie within the B-Max’s snapping range. And at the high end, Ford’s UK MD Mark Ovenden suggests that the B-Max’s stress on a ‘premium’ sector quality feel , the advanced engines, driving dynamics and space utilisation could well draw in a wider than usual audience.

“We’ve already had confirmation from thel forecaster CAP that the residual value at 3 years and 30,000 miles is 37 per cent, which is £1,250 better than Vauxhall’s Meriva. It’s going to have very broad church appeal. I think 60 per cent of sales will be conquest – from people trading up, from people having a lifestyle change where the family is growing and is moving lout of a conventional B supermini car - and from people trading down.

"So someone who may have been drive a C or C/D segment car (Focus and Mondeo class) now wants a very flexible, fuel efficient package and this vehicle gives them everything they’re used to in their C car plus the innovations such as the door system. We really are excited about this and we think it’s got a lot of potential. And people’s priorities are changing. I wouldn’t be totally surprised to see business users trading down out of their BMWs and Audis.”

The Studio base model is expected to account for only 5 per cent of sales, Zetec 60 per cent of and the Titanium 35 per cent Titanium .The EcoBoost take-up is predicted at around 36.5 per cent. “We want to keep the range as simple as possible,” says Ovenden. “We’re, looking at 1 per cent of market or 12,000-15,000 units a year. We want to limit the amount of different types that the dealer can order to ensure that the stocking is as lean and efficient as it can be. “

What's hot?

Unrivalled access via the pillarless body system
Those 1 litre EcoBoost engines. Up to 57.7mpg…..
…with the lusty torque of a 1.6
“SYNC” voice-activated connectivity
Surprisingly sporty to drive
Low BIK company car tax and VED rates
‘Premium’ aura claims not far-fetched
On sale now
Launch PCP (Personal Contract Purchase) rental for Zetec version at £209

What's not?

Best engines, 119bhp EcoBoost petrol and 1.6 TDCi diesel, only available on Titanium models
Less rear legroom and rear load space than some rivals
Rearward vision a challenge
Poor front seating support

Business Car Manager road test verdict

Time was when the realisation that a car had been built in Romania would send discriminating West European buyers running for cover. There are no such fears for the B-Max , due to emerge from Ford’s now state-of-the-art Craiova factory at a full production rate of 100,000 a year.

Ford’s claims to a ‘premium’ feel for the innovative little people-carrier stand fairly close scrutiny, despite the occasional hint of B-sector cost-saving in the feel of some of the interior trim.

There are a few other minor niggles – rearward vision is pretty terrible and the optional rear-view camera almost a ‘must’, for example. And the front seat squabs s are on the small side, giving a slight feeling of being perched on the B-Max’s high driving position rather than securely held. But the B-Max’s inspired multi-functionality, its capacious, high-roofed interior, unrivalled access and lusty EcoBoost engines – subjectively, far more impressive even than the ultra-frugal 1.6 TDCi diesel - stand to win it a wide circle of friends.

As will its unexpectedly supple ride, which is much more pliant than the Fiesta on which it is based, to crack on with your business mleage. Combine these attributes with precise steering and sporting cornering capability and the B-Max should appeal to business and private user alike.

Ford may well be under-estimating, or simply being excessively modest about, the size of the B-Max’s potential UK market. Had it also found a way of engineering in the Meriva’s principal party trick, that sliding row of rear seats, the B-Max would sweep all before it. It has probably done enough to do so, anyway.

Ford B-Max – the low down
P11D Value:    £18,140
Monthly business rental (ex VAT):    From £261 (3yrs/30,000 miles)
Tax Bands 2012/13 to 2014/15:    13%, 14%, 15%
Benefit in kind 2012/13 to 2014/15:     £2,358 £2,540 £2,721
Engine:    1.0 litre 3cyl turbo petrol
CO2 Emissions:    114g/km
Power/torque:    120PS (119bhp)/200Nm
0-62mph/top speed:     11.2secs/117mph
Economy:     57.7mpg

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Conrad Swailes
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