Is there any point in a People Carrier if it's a really small one? It's a fair question that supermini-MPV models in the Nissan Note, Citroen C3 Picasso and Vauxhall Meriva segment have often struggled to answer. We think that in many respects, Ford's B-MAX offers a credible response to that query, its unique design and unrivalled versatility offering more ways to use a car of just 4m in length than you might ever have thought possible. It's now been improved with the option of a pokier 140PS version of the 1.0-litre EcoBoost petrol engine that most buyers want.
Ford models are generally great to drive and most of the reason why is found in one thing: chassis stiffness. You might think that the lack of a B-pillar would see this B-MAX falling down here. Not a bit of it. It's not that there isn't one: it's just that you can't see it. Clever design has integrated the central pillar structure into the leading edges of the front and rear doors where they come together. When they're shut, they clamp themselves to the body very tightly and become part of the stiffness of the car. So much so in fact that this B-MAX can actually boast a stiffer structure than that of the Fiesta supermini upon which it's based.
And a stiffer ride too? Well actually no. In fact, the ride quality is one of the very best things about this car. There's a suppleness to the suspension which strikes a better balance here than in almost anything else Ford makes, soaking up terrible town tarmac, yet firm enough to keep body roll well controlled through twisty roads you'll enjoy yourself on thanks to the standard torque vectoring system that helps corner turn-in and accurate, well-weighted electric power steering.
And under the bonnet? Well, if you can get beyond the 90PS 1.4 and auto-only 105PS 1.6-litre petrol units at the foot of the range, there's plenty to admire, most notably with the innovative three cylinder 1.0-litre EcoBoost petrol powerplants, as before offered in either 100 or 120PS guises and now also available in a pokier 140PS form. If you want a diesel, there's a choice of a rather slow 1.5 TDCi unit in 75 or 95PS guises.
Most important here of course is the issue that dominates discussion every time talk turns to this car: the doors. The front ones open normally but the back ones slide aside on cleverly concealed runners, so parents need have no more worries about their offspring re-sculpting the side of adjacent parked cars in tight supermarket spaces.
And with the side doors open, you're ready to admire this car's party piece: the absence of the kind of centre B-pillar that almost every other car in the world has to have for structural rigidity. Here, that same stiffness is provided by the edges of the doors themselves when they shut tightly together, clamping themselves against the body. What this ingenuity creates is a car that's incredibly easy for anyone of any age to get in and out of. And get things in and out of. With both side doors open, there's a 1.5m-wide aperture, into which you can slide items of up to 2.34m in length if you've taken up the option of folding flat the front passenger seat. Of course, most of the time, you'll still be loading stuff like that in through the 318-litre boot, extendable to 1386-litres if you flatten the rear bench.
This car though, has primarily been packaged for people - and the lives they lead. Thanks to the pillar-less Easy Access system, its simplicity itself to lean in and install a child seat or to help in an aging relative. And up front? Well, with an overall vehicle height that's 12cm higher than a Fiesta, you get all the benefits of what Ford calls a higher 'command' seating position.
It's a tad ironic given the name that Ford's B-MAX is missing very little - apart from its B-pillar. Were it not for that, this would be a smart, carefully thought out but generally unremarkable contender in the supermini-MPV segment. As it is, this one stroke of design genius has set this model apart and established it as a class leader.
Of course, we've had cars designed around doors before: few of them had much else to offer. Here though, it's different. Strong safety, the SYNC connectivity system's cleverness and three-cylinder EcoBoost engine technology that delivers petrol power with diesel returns: all these things make this model one of the benchmark choices in its segment. Other rivals might be slightly bigger or more affordable but if you can afford one, in this Ford, you've what for us is the perfect growing family's second car. And finally, a small people carrier that makes perfect sense.Click here to find out more about our Ford B-MAX range