There was a time when the compact multipurpose vehicle was fashionable. It might not have been awfully lucrative from a sales perspective, but a good number of manufacturers scurried to offer something in this segment.
The French automakers seemed to have had the most fun in conceiving innovative concepts around the genre, thinking back to quirky models such as the Renault Modus, Citroën C3 Picasso and Peugeot 1007. Even Audi joined the party with the A2 in 1999, although it was never sold in our market. With the burgeoning success of the SUV and the crossover, the appeal of a compact MPV has waned. And in South Africa your choices are rather limited.
You could have the often overlooked Opel Meriva or the Ford B-Max, launched in here last week. It was described as something of a filler between the Fiesta and popular EcoSport. Essentially, the B-Max is a roomier and more practical iteration of the Fiesta. The biggest selling point is its handy sliding doors — not unlike that of the discontinued oddball from Peugeot.
This offers a massive opening for entering and exiting, as well added convenience when loading stuff in a cramped parking bay. Ford has two audiences in mind: fledgling families and empty nesters seeking to downsize. After a good 10 minutes of playing with those trick doors, my colleague Lerato Matebese and I set off on our 100km test route, which consisted Mostly of highway driving and a brief spot of swanking through the trendy Melrose Arch retail village. Calling it a “mall” would just seem too plain.
And it seems that flowery descriptors were the order of the day after a presentation, courtesy of trend analyst Dion Chang. The Fiesta architecture on which the B-Max sits handles the added heft rather well. The new MPV is a pleasant drive. Fuss-free cruising is its forte; it is quiet and content maintaining the national limit. It has that elevated driving position we all enjoy so much, as well as superb visibility.
I would have been happy to trek across Johannesburg for much longer than our quick stint — it is an agreeable, soothing freeway companion. The lauded 1-litre EcoBoost engine does duty across the three derivatives in the range, although it serves in two different states of tune, with 74kW in the entry-level Ambiente and 92kW in the Trend and Titanium. The torque figure remains 170Nm for both. Strangely, the consumption and CO2 figures are marginally higher for the less powerful model.
These engines are paired with a five-speed manual transmission, although an automatic choice is being considered. Performance is adequate in this application. Ford has raised buyers’ expectations in terms of quality with its new product offensive in the past two years, and the B-Max maintains the standard for the most part. But the fascia looks like that of a pre-facelift Focus — with its fiddly, button-festooned layout. It falls behind the rest of the model line-up in this regard. Standard features are plentiful, however.
That clever Sync system, with voice control, is standard across the board. Even the starter Ambiente gets a tyre pressure monitor, steering wheel audio controls, electric windows, front and rear, as well as Bluetooth. The trend gains cruise control, alloy wheels, rear parking sensors and front fog lamps. Things really get turned up with the titanium, which features leather upholstery, keyless start, a large panoramic roof, automatic climate control and rain-sensing wipers. Pricing is rather keen, starting off at R221 900. The rival Opel Meriva ranges from between R261 500 and R288 500. The top-tier Titanium will set you back R271 900.
But for not much more you could hop into a basic Volkswagen Golf SV, Which might lack some of the kit but is more accomplished in ride and quality. But looking at the lower end of the range, this B-Max does seem like a more enticing alternative to the EcoSport (from R213 900) as a chariot for small families. This is thanks to its greater luggage capacity better overall finish and road manners.
Engine: 998cc, threecylinder, turbocharged
Power: 72kW (Ambiente); 92kW (Trend, Titanium)
Torque: 170 Nm (all models)
0-100km/h: 1 3.2 seconds (Ambiente); 11.2 (Trend; Titanium)
Top speed: 175 km/h (Ambiente); 189km/h (Trend; Titanium)
CO2: 1 19 g /k m (Ambiente); 114g/km (Trend; Titanium)
Fuel consumption: 6.6l/100km (Ambiente); 6l/100km (Trend; Titanium)
Prices: R221 900 (Ambiente); R246 900 (Trend); R271 900 (Titanium)