Ford’s three-cylinder 1.0-litre EcoBoost engine has won the International Engine of the Year award for 2012 and 2013, which made me very eager to give it a try. It isn’t a powerhouse by any means, but it has made it to the list thanks to promises of great fuel efficiency. It powers several of Ford’s models, including the Fiesta, Focus, Tourneo Connect, C-Max, and B-Max – the latter of which will be the focus of this review.
The B-Max comes with a choice of three petrol engines (two of which are 1.0-litre EcoBoost options) and one diesel engine. The 1.0-litre EcoBoost engine found in this press car has 125hp and 170Nm of torque (200Nm of torque on overboost), and is connected to a five-speed manual transmission that sends power to the front wheels. Acceleration from 0-100km/h takes 11.2 seconds, while top speed is 189km/h. Ford claims it should use as little as 4.2l/100km on the highway, while putting out 114g/km of CO2. The claimed combined and urban fuel economy figures are 4.9l/100km and 6.0l/100km.
At first glance, the Ford B-Max seems to be a car that wants to combine the compactness of a small hatchback with the practicality of an MPV. It does work to a certain degree, when you’re driving around town it doesn’t feel that different to a standard Fiesta, only the sliding rear doors and higher roofline remind you that you’re in something different. If you’ve been in a current Fiesta, a few components will look familiar too, such as the steering wheel, the gear lever, the side mirrors, and a few switches.
The driving experience isn’t that different to a standard Fiesta either. It has some ‘small car traits’ that I like, such as a very quick engine start-up and a transmission whine when in first gear. When you get it moving, you’ll be surprised to find that the 1.0 EcoBoost doesn’t make that much noise when doing average city and highway speeds. It doesn't sound that great at low revs, but when you ask for high revs it sounds a lot like a miniature V6. With most of its torque being available very low down the rev range, pick up is not that bad either – allowing for some decent progress around town. Turbo lag is minimal, but if you do catch it off boost, it does feel underpowered.
The ride quality is perfectly fine for the most part, only the 17-inch rims with low-profile tyres making some rough surfaces more noticeable. The electric power steering is very light and makes driving the B-Max effortless. Those who like a bit of a sporty character might want the steering to have a bit more weight and a bit more accuracy with the driver’s inputs, but for its targeted audience – a new family looking for a small, fuel-efficient practical car – this won’t matter. The gear-change itself is light, but engaging reverse can prove a bit notchy at times.
The sliding rear doors really do make getting in and out of the car a lot easier for rear passengers, especially at parking lots. There’s plenty of headroom even for tall passengers, but legroom will depend on the size of the occupants. If you and your passengers are of average size, then there is some decent legroom to be had. If you’re carrying children then there’s a lot of room for them and their booster seats, and the sliding doors make it that bit easier to place them on the back seats. There’s also another mirror above the rear-view mirror which gives a sort of 360 degree view of the interior, making it a lot easier to keep an eye on your kids.
The cheapest B-Max with this 125hp engine costs CHF 25,900 and has the Trend package. This press car has the Titanium X package, which has a base price of CHF 29,600 and comes standard with equipment like: Ebony leather upholstery, heated front seats, automatic climate control, rear tinted windows, 16-inch wheels, Premium carpets and gear lever. Extra equipment includes: Easy Driver Pack III (front and rear parking sensors, electrically folding side mirrors, and a reverse camera), metallic paint, Sony navigation system, rear spoiler, a stop-start function, panoramic roof, keyless entry and start, and 17-inch wheels. The extra equipment brings the total cost to CHF 35,700.
Using the navigation system and user interface is easy enough, it’s not complicated if you regularly use a smartphone or computer. The Bluetooth system memorizes your phone settings and automatically connects whenever you enter the car. The sound quality is pretty good too, and you can connect devices through either the USB or aux-in slot. It’s a shame the system wouldn’t accept my old Sony MP3 player, even with the traditional aux-in slot.
Having spent two weeks with the Ford B-Max, it definitely proved to be a good run around and I could see why a small family would find this car appealing. However, this does mean that the B-Max has that whiff of boring family car that MPVs tend to have. There’s also no choice for an automatic transmission, which will certainly disappoint some. But, did the 1.0-litre EcoBoost engine live up to its award-winning title? Mostly yes. Ford have proved that a tiny 998cc engine is enough to power a small family car and give pretty good fuel economy while doing it. However, like with almost every other engine in the world, it’s almost impossible for the average driver to match the amazing fuel economy claims of the manufacturer – your driving style will have to be the same as a robot and you’ll have to have perfect driving conditions. But it is a great efficient engine nonetheless, and has proven to be quite versatile – you’ll find a flame-spitting 200hp version in a road-going Formula Ford racer too!
By Alex Kisiri