By Ronan Glon
Tuesday, Mar 6th, 2012 @ 3:00 pm
Ford arrived at the 2011 edition of the Geneva Motor Show with a concept car called the B-Max. At the time, it was said to prefigure an upcoming small minivan designed to take on the Opel Meriva on the European market.

A year later, Ford has returned to Geneva with a production-ready version of the B-Max. Little has changed from the original concept, with the most notable differences being a reworked grille and the logical addition of exterior door handles.

Ford has fitted the B-Max with rear sliding doors, a feature that is uncommon in the compact minivan segment. This has enabled designers to omit the B-pillar entirely, creating a nearly five-foot wide side opening. Ford says that the doors have been reinforced, so the lack of a B-pillar does not compromise the van's structural integrity.

The innovative B-pillar-less setup is an attempt to one-up General Motors' Opel Meriva, whose rear doors open in a suicide fashion at a 90 degree angle.

"Door systems like this have been a designer's dream for many years," said Stefan Lamm, exterior design director, Ford of Europe. "We have taken the concept from an idea on a designer's sketch pad, to a stylish and versatile product on the showroom floor."

Inside, the interior design of the B-Max recalls that of 2013 Ford Escape (known in Europe as the Kuga), albeit with a more vertical center stack. Ford says that the 60/40 split rear seats can be folded flat with a simple "˜one-hand, one-motion' mechanism, while also folding the front passenger seat results in a spacious cargo area that can accommodate loads measuring up to 7.7 feet in length. An adjustable load floor in the trunk area creates a flat load space when the rear seats are lowered, with extra stowage space underneath.

Notably, the B-Max is the first Ford vehicle offered for sale in Europe with Ford's SYNC connectivity system. Ford hopes to sell 3.5-million Sync-equipped cars in Europe by 2015.

The B-Max will be powered by an assortment of gasoline and diesel engines displacing under two liters. One of them will be the three-cylinder, 1.0-liter EcoBoost gasoline engine also found in Focus; another will be the Duratorq TDCi diesel.

The B-Max is expected to roll into European showrooms in late 2012.

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