Ford finally arrives in the compact MPV segment - a sector traditionally dominated by both General Motors and Japanese rivals - with its new B-Max and proves it's been worth the wait. There's not much that is unconventional about the car - it has an interior as flexible as rivals' and a traditional looking exterior design. But with the trick door-opening system (and specifically the space creating pillar-less structure), as well as the excellent new 1.0-litre EcoBoost petrol engine, it will clearly be shaking up the establishment for many years to come.
In the Metal:
Ford's new B-Max looks a little like a re-imagined Fiesta with a higher centre of gravity; there are kinetic design details, short overhangs and a neat stance. Short and to the point, but only so we can talk about the B-Max's most clever and endearing feature. Where most cars in this segment make do with door openings around 75cm, the B-Max doubles that - all because it has no B-pillar splitting the car down the middle.
The result: a car that has the easiest entry and exit for rear passengers this side of a Rolls-Royce Phantom. Conventional front doors and a sliding rear, it means those with small children can simply lean through and place them on the rear bench - frankly it's like the world of the concept car has made it to the Ford showroom. Make no mistake, this simple design and engineering detail is one of the most revolutionary changes in the whole history of car design. Our only criticism of the Fiesta and Focus influenced cabin is the poor quality door card plastics and chunky transmission tunnel housing - which on our left-hand drive test car intruded on space for the accelerator leg. Hopefully this won't be such an issue with right-hand drive cars.
Okay, so the B-pillar - or rather the lack of it - has already wowed us, but what makes this particular B-Max a five-star car isn't just the ease of ingress and egress, but the thrilling three-cylinder petrol engine too. Previously tested in the Focus (accounting for 30% of all Focus sales now), we already know it can handle a family car, despite the diminutive displacement.
But just like in the Focus, it's the way that it delivers its rather impressive power that strikes you the most. Smooth, exceedingly keen to rev and with an intake note that sounds genuinely cultured and sporty, there really isn't a lot to dislike about the powerplant. Release the throttle under hard acceleration and there's even a small chirrup as the 1.0-litre dumps off any remaining boost pressure.
Of course it's no Group B style turbo nutter (after all it's more about the 'eco' than the boost here), but performance of this multi-purpose people mover is perkier than anyone has a right to expect. The 0-100km/h dash is dispensed with in 11.2 seconds and in-gear flexibility is especially telling of its ability to punch above its weight.
Like its rivals you do sit high up, but the seat and wheel both offer plenty of adjustment, so if you want to peer rather than preside over the steering wheel the option's open. And even though the removal of the B-pillar has required some specific safety engineering, the A-pillars remain a reasonable size so you rarely find yourself peering round them like in some one-box cars.
Sharing its chassis with the Fiesta means the B-Max is without doubt the most fun compact MPV to drive as well, with neat body control and typically grown-up damping. Even the electric power steering offers decent feedback and a consistent weighting - though it's worth remembering that no matter how talented the chassis the 1.6-metre tall B-Max can't defy the laws of gravity and physics.
What you get for your Money:
Just two trim levels are offered, B-Max and B-Max Titanium. Standard equipment includes air conditioning, one-touch electric windows, fold-flat rear and passenger seats, ESP and remote central locking. Titanium adds 15-inch alloy wheels, front fog lamps, LED daytime running lights, a heated windscreen, trip computer and integrated 'child observation mirror'.
Full specifications and pricing details will be released when the car arrives in Ireland this September. The 1.0-litre EcoBoost engine will be offered in 100hp guise and it's complemented in the line-up by 1.4-litre 90hp petrol unit (Band B), a 1.6-litre 105hp engine coupled with an automatic transmission (Band C) and the likely best-seller, the new 1.5-litre 75hp TDCi diesel, which again is in Band A.
It really is a case of 'less is more here'. The lack of B-pillar really does add to the experience, especially for those who regularly have to carry a small family - in that respect the Ford B-Max has absolutely no peers. And with the excellent new 1.0-litre EcoBoost three-cylinder engine under the bonnet, it seems that this particular B-Max can do no wrong.