Look, no pillar! Less is more for Ford's new people-carrier
Published 18/11/2012 | 06:00
The motor business is full of gadgets and gimmicks. We love some; others we quickly come to see for what they are. I've been duped often enough to have sufficient antibodies to help me make the distinction between gadgets and real innovation.
The danger is that for many people the two can get mixed up. And that can mean they end up with a once-off curiosity that could cost them heavily in terms of trade-in value when they come to change.
Even real innovation doesn't always breed success either, unfortunately – three-abreast seats in cabins being one example.
Thankfully Ford's B-MAX innovation is likely to be remembered for the right reasons.
It has, in one fell swoop, managed to remove that dastardly central pillar that has been an essential construction feature – and blockage – of so many cars for so long.
So now when you slide back the rear side door a virtual auditorium opens up. There is no pillar in your way. It is integrated into the sliding rear door.
Happy days for old fools like me with a bad back, but even happier for you if you have young children you want to tend to in the back, or an elderly passenger. I can see this being such a boon for families. But don't forget it is not a huge car. It is a small, tidy, well proportioned people carrier.
Now here's a thing. Everyone, and I mean everyone, asked the same question about it as I rather enthusiastically showed it off.
Can you guess what it was?
Well, to put it bluntly it was: "Is it safe?" What they meant was: would the whole thing crumble in a crash without the bolstering support of that middle pillar?
The simple answer is the B-MAX has the maximum five-star Euro NCAP safety rating. And those guys in NCAP go to the trouble of crashing cars to see how safe they are – not just for passengers but for pedestrians.
So the easy access does not come at a price and that unobstructed aperture (1.5 metres wide) is one of the big breakthroughs this year.
Another, at least as far as Ford is concerned, is that wonderful little Ecoboost petrol engine. Yes, it is a tiny petrol engine, but do not be put off by the size of it. This is a great little power plant and I think it could outsell the 1.5-litre diesel version.
The other big development that they offer with the B-MAX is what they call SYNC. I suppose the best way to describe it is an easy-to-use and practical phone-friendly infotainment system. It will even automatically dial emergency services if it detects you've had a crash.
Criticisms? I have a few. I suppose the main one is that I (shock, horror) thought the suspension was too stiff and too sporty. Ford do great suspensions but maybe for a family motor of this calibre, it might have eased back a little. I felt it was a tad too choppy.
But with this B-MAX there is no doubt in my mind that Ford have (forgive the pun) opened up a real future for this car because it is by far the most practical people carrier I've come across for a long time.
And for the price of a small family car, it will make a practical option for those with young families, who can afford to buy new.