The Ford B-Max is a compact MPV based on the Fiesta, which is designed to steal sales from the Citroen C3 Picasso, Honda Jazz and Vauxhall Meriva.
Don't go thinking the B-Max is just a bloated supermini, though – it's far cleverer than that. Most unusually, the car has no central pillar, while sliding rear doors gives an unobstructed opening to the cabin, which Ford claims is twice as large as that offered by the Vauxhall Meriva.
All this makes the B-Max very much a standalone model.
What’s the 2013 Ford Max like inside?
The B-Max is 12cm longer and taller than the Fiesta it's based on, but it's the unique door system that really sets the B-Max apart from its supermini sibling.
With no central pillars to divide the cabin in two, there's a 1.5-metre wide aperture when both doors are open.
Sliding doors and absence of central pillars give easy access to cabin
Rear access isn't totally unrestricted, of course, because the front seats are still where you'd expect to find them. However, the seatbelts for these are integrated into the seat backs to minimise clutter.
If you're in a busy multi-storey car park and are trying to get toddlers into and out of their child seats, the B-Max's sliding rear doors will be an absolute godsend.
Climb inside the cabin and you'll find space for four adults and a driving position that's spot-on, with loads of seat travel, plenty of support for your back and two-way steering wheel adjustment.
The funky-looking dashboard works pretty well, too, although it takes a bit of time to familiarise yourself with the intricacies of the on-screen menus.
Dashboard is similar to Ford Focus's
Most of the materials on the dash look the part, especially on the higher-spec Titanium versions we drove. We're yet to drive an entry-level Studio-trim car and it will be interesting to see if the B-Max follows the pattern set by the Fiesta, which features some decidedly cheaper finishes on the entry-level versions.
At 318 litres, the boot provides a useful amount of space, and you also get an adjustable load floor to boost versatility.
That said, while a Meriva's rear seats split, fold and slide in three individual sections, the B-Max's rear bases are fixed and the backs split only 60/40.
At least when the seat backs are folded, they lie completely flat on top of the cushions and free up 1386 litres of load space.
B-Max is enjoyable to drive and rides comfortably
From a safety standpoint, the B-Max's doors are reinforced with ultra-high-strength steel to make the car every bit as crash resistant as a traditional vehicle.
Electronic stability control and seven airbags – including full-length curtains and a knee 'bag for the driver – also feature.
What’s the 2013 Ford B-Max like to drive?
If you think the removal of something as structurally integral as the central pillars sounds like a recipe for a big dose of the collywobbles, think again.
When the B-Max's doors are closed, locator hooks in the roof and side sills lock them in place to help maintain body rigidity.
As a result, the B-Max isn't in the least bit jittery; it sweeps through corners with precision and feels securely planted at speed.
The B-Max also steers with panache and has a consistency to the weighting of all its controls that makes it an absolute delight to drive around in.
The ride feels just right for a family car; cushy enough to take the sting out of smaller ruts and bumps, yet controlled enough to prevent nausea-inducing body roll in bends.
Strengthened roof and door panels help maintain body rigidity and ensure good crash protection
It's much the same story on our harsher UK roads. The B-Max has a stiffer set up than rivals, helping to maintain great handling characteristics, but it's only the largest potholes and most broken surfaces that really expose this.
The entry-level engine is an 89bhp 1.4-litre petrol. Power delivery is smooth and the engine is reasonably hushed, although the lack of a sixth gear means the revs are quite high at motorway speeds.
Ford claims the 98bhp three-cylinder Ecoboost combines the power of a 1.6 with the economy of a 1.0-litre.
The Government figures of 57.7mpg and a 0-62mph time of 11.2 seconds would appear to back up these claims. However, the larger Ford Focus with a more powerful version of the same engine has failed to achieve anywhere near its official figures in our real-world True MPG tests.
Ford's new three-cylinder Ecoboost petrol unit is one of the engine options
On the road, this engine is punchy enough, and while it has a rasping three-cylinder exhaust note, there's a near-total absence of mechanical vibration.
The only significant drawbacks concern the pronounced steps in the power delivery as the engine works up through the rev range, along with a bit of low-rev turbo lag.
If outright economy is your main concern, then the 70.6mpg 1.6 TDCi is the version to go for. It's equally at home in town or the motorway with enough torque to feel comfortable in faster moving traffic.
Should I buy one?
The B-Max isn't all that cheap. Our favourite version – the 98bhp 1.0-litre in Zetec trim – will set you back £16,195. An equivalent Honda Jazz is £1400 cheaper, while a similar-spec Citroen C3 Picasso costs £1895 less.
However, in every other respect the B-Max represents Ford at its brilliant best. When you consider that dealers will almost certainly be willing to negotiate on price, then there's no reason at all why the B-Max shouldn't be on your shortlist.
Our reviews are based on hard data and thorough testing in the real world.
Up to the minute news from around the globe