Stephen Odell, boss of Ford of Europe, wasn’t in any danger of under-selling the subject of this road test when, introducing the Ford B-Max to the press at the Geneva motor show in 2012, he said that it “does things which other vehicles simply cannot do, and will have a major impact on the market for compact cars."

Bold claims for what you might have taken for a Jody-come-lately entrant in a bit-part segment, which instantly turned this promising little hatchback into something of a hostage to fortune. Citroen's Picasso models continue to dominate European MPV sales charts, after all. Time to investigate what kind of substance Ford’s new downsized family car can use to back them up.

This is the Blue Oval's smallest MPV - technically, a rival for the Citroen C3 Picasso and Skoda Roomster. Its calling card is a pair of sliding rear doors - features not unknown to the people-moving segment in general, but not fitted to a car this size before now. And if you’ve seen the TV advert, you'll already have realised that those doors close over something even more unconventional: a body structure that comes entirely free of B-pillars.

That certainly makes the B-Max unique as a utility-oriented hatchback, but how much more practical does it make the car in the real world? And where’s the catch, exactly? Not on the B-pillars, that much is for sure.

The B-Max also becomes the first Ford armed with its turbocharged 1.0-litre, three-cylinder Ecoboost petrol engine to face the Autocar timing gear, the engine having arrived too late in both Focus and Fiesta ranges to power our particular road test examples.

It's offered in the B-Max in 99- and 123bhp states of tune, alongside 89bhp 1.4- and 104bhp 1.6-litre normally aspirated petrols, and 74- and 94bhp 1.5- and 1.6-litre turbodiesels. And it makes for an unusual feature in any modern model range: a range-topping petrol derivative that isn't a hybrid, and yet that simultaneously offers the most power, the most performance and the lowest CO2 emissions of any model in the range.

Top 5 Family hatchbacks

  • Seventh generation Volkswagen Golf
    More than 29 million Golfs have been sold since 1974

    Volkswagen Golf

    1
  • The popular Ford Focus in 1.5 TDCi Zetec form
    The standout component of the Ford Focus has always been its handling

    Ford Focus

    2
  • Seat Leon
    Seat offers five engines for the Leon, ranging from a 104bhp 1.2 petrol to a 181bhp 2.0 diesel

    Seat Leon

    3
  • Seventh generation Vauxhall Astra
    The seventh-generation Vauxhall Astra seems to be a collection of General Motors' latest and greatest technology

    Vauxhall Astra

    4
  • Mazda 3
    The SkyActiv platform used in the 3 features more high and ultra-high-strength steel, offering greater strength and less weight

    Mazda 3

    5

First drives

Find an Autocar car review

Driven this week

  • First Drive
    26 July 2016
    An expensive but entertaining, intriguing and very usable road-going track car whose rarity may eventually underwrite its high price
  • First Drive
    26 July 2016
    French fashion brand Givenchy has come together with DS for a special edition DS 3. Is it now any closer to the class leaders?
  • 2016 Audi Q7 e-tron
    First Drive
    26 July 2016
    Plug-in hybrid Q7 promises economy of 156.9mpg and BIK rates of 10%. It’ll take you a while to recoup the £10k premium over a standard Q7, though
  • MG GS Exclusive DCT
    First Drive
    22 July 2016
    MG's crossover in self-shifting, top-spec form has limited appeal at this price
  • Lexus GS450h F Sport
    First Drive
    22 July 2016
    The Lexus GS450h might offer plenty of pace and reasonable running costs on paper, but diesel alternatives make more sense