Sensors to stop you hitting obstacles, a car that rings emergency services if you crash, a mirror to see your kids – all with wider door access. Is this the new must-have car or too much hand-holding?
Ford’s new B-MAX vehicle aims to give families more space in a small car, without safety being compromised. But with reminders to bring your mobile phone with you, lights to tell you when the front air bag is on and off as well as automatic braking up to 30kph, some drivers might wonder what’s left for them to do! MFM was granted exclusive access to Ford’s Merkenich Crash Test Centre in Germany to witness a side-impact crash test on Ford’s B-MAX.
Feeling like we’d snuck onto the set of Top Gear - several staff admitted it was the first time even they’d been allowed in – we learned Ford’s removal of the static B-Pillar (the pillar in the middle of the car that the doors normally close onto) is pretty unique.
Taking out the B-Pillar gives the car a 150cm wider door opening. The huge space is ideal for getting car seats in and out or loading up your weekly shop. If all the seats are flat there’s 1386 litres of space, that means room for a bulky pushchair, travel cots, kitchen sink (almost!) and all.
The design is the first of its kind, and one of the engineers told us it was a 'eureka moment' which made Ford wonder why no-one else has done it. But the pillar was obviously there for a reason. “I can imagine a parent looking at that and being worried about safety. But the vehicle is designed to perform and be as safe as any another car,” Tom Overington, Automotive Safety Office Safety Project Manager, assured us. This is down to various types of steel and intricate catches in the standard hinge front door and sliding back door that connect to create a B-Pillar if a side-impact crash occurs. This stops the doors from opening and absorbs some of the impact.
The idea of catches and hatches slotting together quite so intricately had us concerned about little fingers getting trapped. But Tom assured us the doors operate the same way as any others in day-to-day use.
The recreation of the B-Pillar only occurs if the car is struck on the side. This was aptly demonstrated by a 950kilo sled thundering into the side of the car at 35kph – the pièce de résistance of the day.
Ford’s B-MAX also comes with a voice-activated emergency assistance system, SYNC. This smart piece of kit uses your Bluetooth enabled phone to alert emergency services if the airbags are deployed or if the fuel pump is shut off as a result of a collision.
If you’re worried about nudging your neighbour’s wheelie bin and having a hoard of emergency services turn up - don’t panic! You have 10 seconds to cancel it. And if you’re travelling in Europe, it’ll know to speak to the local services in their mother-tongue and you in English. Clever, huh? “With a crash itself, when unavoidable, we protect the people," explained Andreas Ostendorf, VP of Sustainability Environment and Safety Engineering. "But with pre-crash we’re doing everything we can do in the vehicle to help drivers avoid the crash.”
The Active City Stop option on the B-MAX is part of this development. Sensors help detect potential obstacles and will stop the car up to 30kph automatically to avoid impact.
In addition, Ford has added an extra light to the dashboard to alert drivers when the front air bag is on or if you've turned it off to transport a child in a car seat in the front passenger seat (it's always safer to have children in car seats in the back). Carsten Bazant, a Ford representative from the crash test centre, told us this means you can’t mistake the position the lock is set to, which is operated by a key. Away from crash safety, quirky extras like a mirror to let you see the kids in the back of the car, easy-grip handles and a boot without a lip to make loading easier have been added. Plus you can’t slide the back door fully if the petrol cap is open and the fuel cap size makes misfueling impossible. We even heard whispers that buttons in the car are tested to be false-nail-accessible! Whether Ford’s innovation will influence the market remains to be seen. And ultimately, do families need this much assistance? We’re not sure. Perhaps we’ll ask the car…
See the collision taking place here
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