Ford B-Max has sliding rear doors and no B-pillar; GMs rival Meriva has rear-hinged rear doors and central pillar

Ford B-Max has sliding rear doors and no B-pillar; GM's rival Meriva has rear-hinged rear doors and central pillar

There are two inescapable topics of conversation with the B-Max, Ford's new lofty compact car. The first is the doors, or rather the absence of a supporting central pillar between those at the front and the sliding affairs at the rear.

The second is that it marks the introduction of Sync, the company's connectivity system already fitted to 4m American cars, to Europe.

The B-Max dispenses with traditional B-pillars to add body stiffness and act as anchors for the side doors.

"Cars in this segment are limited by the size (length) of the platform and the need to provide good ingress and egress," said B-Max chief programme engineer Klaus-Peter Tamm. In this segment, the B-pillar is an obstacle, so we had to look at ways to make the [car] on the Fiesta platform without B-pillars.

"Coach doors (rear-hinged rear doors) were not what we were looking for because we needed the cability to be able to open them where there are posts, pedestrians or other cars. Sliding doors were always going to be the answer."

Tamm said removing the B-pillars and replacing them with body stiffening in the sills, roof and the doors themselves was the only solution considered but this posed some significant engineering challenges.

"Fortunately we have global teams who have an outstanding relationship, especially those in Europe and the USA. We have been able to give the car the same rigidity as our other small vehicles."

In the process Ford has also developed a new rear axle and powertrains and improvements to the platform that will appear on the next generation Fiesta.

The B-Max will be sold as a premium small car (for which read 'expensive'), which is why it can support Sync, said Tamm. The system gives full integration of mobile phones and portable electronic devices and can also alert emergency services in the event of a breakdown or accident and, with instant traffic messaging, can re-route the car in the event of a traffic jam ahead using the navigation system.

The only thing missing from the suite of features available in America is the voice-activated My Ford Touch because there are still language barriers to be resolved. Although it functions in 22 tongues, its interpretation of English is the American version and it might have trouble with a strong Scottish or Ulster {Northern Ireland] brogue.