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A new people carrier with easy access for €19,000?

The Ford B Max is the firm's cheapest and most innovative MPV yet.

Sitting below the excellent Focus-based C Max, the new B Max five-seater uses the underpinnings from the Ford Fiesta. The unique selling point with the compact MPV is the ease of access. B Max does away with conventional 'B' pillars (the ones in the middle of the car that connect the roof and the body). The front doors open conventionally and the rear doors slide rearwards – just like the seven-seat version of C Max - but the clever bit is that the B pillars are integrated into the doors. This enables a generous 1.5-metre opening for passengers to get in and out of the car.

The exterior is a little like a Ford Galaxy (or C Max) that has shrunk in the wash. The bonnet and front view of the Romanian-built car are smart and relatively low slung. The cabin of the front-wheel drive car is big inside and the roofline and glazed area reflect this. The tailgate and rear end could be easily mistaken for a 'C' or even an 'S Max' when viewed from a distance.

Inside, the cabin is well-appointed and the driving position very good. You don't feel as if you're behind the wheel of a cheap and nasty budget machine but instead there is an air of class to the proceedings – our test cars were fitted out in high specification. We particularly enjoyed the high-end Sony stereo. The cabin is eminently flexible and the load area generous for the class. Four adults sit comfortably and even five, at a push. Headroom and all-round visibility are excellent.

At the European launch in Munich, the only cars available had engines that will not be of interest or on general sale in Ireland. The 105bhp, tax band 'C' 1.6 diesel (€25,220) is not overly quiet or refined but does a good job of hauling the B Max around and is the most useful version on the open road. The other unit was a three-cylinder 'ecoboost' petrol version.

With prices starting at €19,170, the B Max is a serious contender for the school run vote. The entry engine for the Irish market is Ford's tax band 'B', 1.4-litre petrol 90bhp unit and although Ford predicts big things for the entry tax band 'A', 75bhp 1.5-litre diesel model (€21,840), I'm sure the basic petrol version will be well-supported. If you aren't doing high miles petrol power still makes sense. Petrol is traditionally the big seller in the supermini (Fiesta) class.

Two specification levels are available, with Titanium the top spec. Sadly, the really interesting stuff such as 'SYNC' - Ford's clever phone connectivity system that can read out loud your text messages among other things - isn't standard. Another feature that is only optional is 'Active City Stop' that prevents low speed collisions by automatically braking.

Opel's Meriva is the closest rival to the new Ford but starts at well over €1,000 more (€20,495). Plus it doesn't have as good access.

B Max is the best car in its class, thanks in the main to its class-leading cabin access.

Michael Sheridan