Car reviews - Mercedes-Benz - B-Class - 5-dr hatch range
Classy and roomy cabin, better styling, value, ride quality, refined dual-clutch transmission, tractable diesel engine
Room for improvement
Sludgy Eco mode takes edge off performance, base petrol engine, steering feel, ergonomic oddities
4 Apr 2012
MERCEDES-BENZ has launched its second-generation B-class in Australia and, while its styling and proportions appear evolutionary, what lies beneath is nothing short of a ‘clean sheet’ redesign.
The marque had no small amount of success with the old B-class here, selling 2211 models in its final year on sale to top the premium small-car segment.
Mercedes-Benz Australia hopes to sell even more of the new model, with a target of between 2500 and 3000 in its first full year – provided it can secure enough supply from the German factory in Rastatt.
On first inspection, the new model looks the goods. A pair of swooping side slashes help do away with the slab-sidedness of the old model, while the bluff nose and prominent three-bar grille give the car added road presence.
The cabin is also a quantum leap forward, with a clean and well laid-out fascia, a large screen mounted high on the dash, a delightful three-spoke steering wheel and a trio of SLK-inspired round air vents.
The man-made Artico ‘leather’ upholstery in both B200 variants is excellent as far as artificial leathers go, but the genuine hide that comes as part of the optional Exclusive package is nicer still.
We would be very tempted to part with an extra $2990 for the Comand pack, which adds a bigger screen, satellite-navigation, 10GB hard drive, voice control, internet connectivity, a Harmon Kardon sound system and a reversing camera.
Negatives begin with the column-mounted gearshifter on all models, which frees up storage space along the centre console but feels decidedly old-hat.
We were also less than enamoured with the hard plastics adorning the transmission tunnel and lower parts of the dash.
Overall, though, the cabin is a lovely place to be, from an entry-level B180 through to a B200 with every option package available.
The interior also retains the practicality that appealed to buyers of the previous-generation car, with acres of headroom and legroom both front and rear, and an array of storage spots allowing even four tall and burly adults to travel in comfort.
With the rear seats upright, the cargo area has more space than most compact SUVs and, while the rear seats don’t fold completely flat, the clever lifting load floor creates an even surface for bigger loads.
The lack of a full-size spare – the B-class controversially gets more expensive run-flat tyres as standard – also frees up space, allowing the floor to drop down and create a deeper hatch area.
In order to retain headroom despite the lowered overall height, Mercedes has lowered the seat height in relation to the road by 71mm, so the driver feels more hunkered down.
While this does no harm to the new model’s brief to display more on-road dynamism than before, it does water down the high-mounted driving position that many compact SUV buyers find so appealing.
The large glasshouse and narrow A-pillars help visibility, and the feather-light steering makes parking a doddle. Rear visibility is decent and is aided by the standard parking sensors.
After 300km on mostly country roads in regional Victoria, we can say the new B-class is a better drive than its predecessor. Though not the last word in dynamism, it’s a pleasant all-rounder for what is essentially a family-oriented vehicle.
The car felt most at home on long and winding provincial roads, remaining planted to the road and exhibiting little body roll. In the twistier stuff, the car still felt composed and willing to hold onto a line, although it’s feel-free electro-mechanical steering negated any sense of nimbleness.
Ride quality on patchier stripes of tarmac was excellent, despite the fact that all but one of our test cars featured optional lowered sports suspension and 18-inch wheels with low-profile run-flat tyres. The base B180 with standard 16-inch wheels and softer suspension felt more pliant.
There was a steady hum from the tyres at higher cruising speeds, probably audible because of an impressive lack of wind noise courtesy of the car’s ultra-slippery 0.26Cd aerodynamic shape.
Despite lugging an extra 80kg over its front wheels compared to the petrol models, the B200 CDI diesel felt the most tractable courtesy of its beefy 300Nm of torque (delivered between 1600 and 3000rpm) and is also quiet for an oil-burner, despite the conspicuous lack of sound deadening under the bonnet.
The bigger 115kW/250Nm 1.6-litre turbo engine in the B200 BlueEfficiency is arguably the pick of the range, exhibiting substantially more fizz than the detuned B180, shifting the 1395kg car without fuss and ticking over at a quiet 2000rpm on highway cruises.
Despite producing a handy 200Nm of torque, the 90kW base petrol engine feels noticeably less refined and swift than its big brother, taking over 10 seconds to hit 100km/h. It felt almost wheezy in Eco mode, although the activation of Sport mode freed up the throttle and held lower gears for longer.
The new dual-clutch transmission performed admirably in most instances, limiting upshifts when in Sport mode and changing quickly when set to manual mode.
We noticed one significant moment of hesitation when accelerating out of a roundabout, and it was also hesitant to kick down when the car was set to fuel-conserving Eco mode, so we are interested to see how it fares in the city.
Mercedes has done well sprucing up the styling and adding more dynamic flair and interior ambience with the new B-class while retaining the practicality that won its predecessor so many admirers worldwide.
Considering its strong list of standard equipment and sharper prices – and let’s not underestimate the power of that three-pointed-star badge – Mercedes Australia should sell as many as it can get its hands on.
Part family MPV, part European premium hatch, we suspect the new B-class will continue to sit happily in its own little niche Down Under.
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