Car reviews - Mercedes-Benz - B-Class - B250 4Matic
Performance, excellent traction, hi-res reversing camera, easy to activate park assist function, intuitive Bluetooth pairing, interior space and storage, excellent LED headlights
Room for improvement
Firm urban ride and suspension noise, some driveline clunkiness around town, flimsy fold-out tables for rear passengers, engine vibration and diesel-ness at shutdown and start
28 May 2015
Price and equipment
AT $54,200, plus on-road costs, standard equipment for this flagship of the B-Class range includes LED headlights, keyless entry and start, automated parking, a reversing camera, nine airbags, colour-selectable ambient lighting and a security alarm.
Giving this top-performing B-Class a sporty aura is a sports steering wheel linked to a variable-assistance/variable ratio rack, stainless steel pedals, an AMG bodykit, lowered ‘comfort’ suspension, privacy glass and 18-inch AMG alloy wheels – behind which are drilled brake discs with Mercedes-Benz branded callipers and of course, the 4Matic all-wheel-drive system.
As tested, this B250 was valued at $63,840 plus on-road costs, due to the $9640 worth of driver assistance tech ($2490), Comand infotainment upgrade ($2490), panoramic sunroof ($1490), AMG red stitched leather ($990) and electric seat adjustment/heating ($990).
Only non-metallic red, white or black are available as no-cost colour options and the Cosmos Black metallic paint finish of the car tested attracts the same $1190 premium as all six other metallic hues.
On the model tested the synthetic Artico upholstery was replaced with red-stitched leather, the semi-autonomous braking and blind-spot monitoring were upgraded to include adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assistance, the infotainment setup boosted to include a 10GB music library, internet via Bluetooth, a DVD player, DAB+ digital radio and a 12-speaker Harman Kardon Logic 7 audio system and HDD navigation with traffic updates.
The only option not fitted to our test car was a space-saver spare wheel. You just get a puncture repair kit.
The biggest updates to the facelifted B250’s interior are the digital displays, with a larger (8.0-inch, up from 7.0) central screen and slick new full-colour multi-function readout between the dials.
Clear and attractive graphics supply concise and useful information, the steering wheel mounted controls are intuitive and even the sometimes contentious rotary infotainment controller was a breeze to use after a few moments of familiarisation.
Mercedes also has one of the easiest methods yet of pairing a phone via Bluetooth.
That said, the central display now looks so much like the iPad, it was a constant temptation to use it as a touchscreen.
The upgraded sat-nav fitted to our test car was excellent, with clear and accurate mapping plus helpful traffic updates and we were impressed by the quality of the audio system and its DAB+ digital tuner.
We again found it easy to come around to the Mercedes way of thinking when using the column-mounted gear selector, which in urban manoeuvring is perfect for rapidly shifting between drive, reverse and park without taking a hand off the wheel. For manual shifts, the steering wheel mounted paddles look and feel good.
A genius was behind the design of the automated parking system, which accurately detects when the driver is about to go into a parking space, prompts them to confirm using a steering wheel button, then takes over the tiller-twirling while the driver controls the pedals.
Interior comfort and space are never in question with the B-Class, especially the abundance of storage options, although the grade of (optional) leather used in the car tested felt – as one passenger put it, “a bit Korean”.
The same passenger, riding in the back, then described the fold-down tables as having a “made in China” feel to them. We were inclined to agree as the brittle folding instilled fear that they would break upon first use.
It is a shame the cheaper B200’s classier and breezier open-pore eucalyptus wood trim is unavailable on the B250, which can only be specified with black ash or imitation carbon-fibre.
Engine and transmission
The addition of AWD shaves a tenth off the B250’s 0-100km/h sprint time (now a sprightly 6.7 seconds) but the extra weight has increased the official combined fuel consumption figure from the original front-drive version’s 6.5 litres per 100 kilometres to 6.8L/100km.
Interestingly, our on-test fuel consumption average of 8.9L/100km matches what we achieved in the front-drive version on its December 2012 launch program.
To save fuel, the rear wheels are not driven during normal driving and only come into play when the electronics see fit. Greasy Melbourne roads, interspersed with slick tram tracks, provided a good workout for what Benz calls 4Matic.
In the B250, exploiting a gap in traffic with a full-bore start then turning across two sets of tram lines, some road markings and three lanes of road – in pouring rain – can be completed with the ease and confidence known only to drivers of well sorted AWD vehicles.
As the gap emerges and the accelerator is pressed to the floor, there is little hesitation from the B250’s transmission and engine before power reaches the front wheels. As peak torque kicks in a barely detectable moment later, front tyres can be felt slipping ever so briefly before traction is restored as the rear wheels come into play.
Before you know it, you are safely and confidently through the gap and across the tram tracks and road markings – without the histrionics associated with driven wheels also having to cope with steering across low-grip surfaces.
On the occasions we did detect some assistance from the electronic stability control, it was subtle enough to feel more like a gently guiding hand than an interference.
It all illustrates how effortless the B250 makes otherwise challenging urban and suburban driving.
The punchy 155kW/350Nm 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine helps, seamlessly propelling the whole 1505kg package along on a wave of torque, with full grunt available from just 1200rpm.
Adding to the effortlessness was the optional adaptive cruise control, which maintains a safe distance from the vehicle in front right down to a stand-still, then resumes with a gentle prod of the accelerator once traffic starts moving again.
Combined with the blind-spot monitoring, lane-keeping assistance, autonomous braking, electronic stability control and AWD, it feels as though crashing an optioned-up B250 would require gross negligence.
When we drove the original front-drive B250 we were bowled over by the quietness and smoothness of its engine and seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission combination.
That drive was largely on country roads but this time we did a lot of urban grind, uncovering some occasional and previously undetected bumps, clunks and thumps in the system while crawling along in traffic, a bugbear often associated with early dual-clutch transmissions.
We and our passengers also thought the engine had a diesel-like sound and vibration to it as the idle-stop system cycled it on and off.
It is not clear whether the roughness was just the urban driving, the cool temperatures, the addition of all-wheel-drive or the fact the car we were driving had just 1600km on the clock and was not yet fully run in.
Given room to stretch its legs though, the B250 has little to commiserate and much to celebrate. It is effortless, refined, quiet, smooth, flexible, enjoyable and hot-hatch quick when you want it to be.
Ride and handling
We were quick to notice some significant bump-thump from the B250, the acoustics of its boxy interior no doubt part of the cause, along with the lowered suspension and 18-inch rims wrapped in 40-section low-profile rubber.
At urban speeds the ride is firm, with potholes, expansion joints and other imperfections making themselves known, especially for rear passengers. However the impacts are well controlled and the suspension feels very well damped, adding to the confidence inspiring dash across a busy junction described above.
Exploring suburbia the ride feels much more supple and at triple-digit speeds it feels as rock-solid, settled and comfortable as any Autobahn-optimised German car should.
That extends to the steering, which on the B250 has a variable assistance and rack ratio that goes a bit dead at speed to provide a relaxing long-distance cruise but soon wakes up when it realises you want to tackle some twists and turns.
It is quite crisp and alert-feeling around town, making it quite fun to point and squirt through traffic and as nippy and agile as you could want for a car of its size and weight.
Approaching tighter turns, the slightly wooly turn-in and perception of height do not inspire huge confidence – see elsewhere in the Mercedes range for that kind of encouragement – but there is always plenty of grip in both wet and dry conditions, while traction is never an issue thanks to the effective AWD setup.
We are big fans of the fancy drilled brakes fitted to the B250 for their excellent pedal feel and performance.
Safety and servicing
In May 2012 the B-Class achieved a record ANCAP crash-test score, with an almost-perfect 36.78 out of 37 – earning it five stars. Not until October 2014 was it bettered, by the Hyundai Genesis (36.88 out of 37).
Complimenting usual Mercedes-Benz alphabet soup of electronic safety and stability aids, the B-Class comes with a reversing camera, nine airbags, semi-autonomous braking, and blind-spot monitoring as standard.
Service intervals are 12 months or 25,000 kilometres and the warranty lasts three years with unlimited kilometres.
Compared with some mid-life facelifts undertaken by Mercedes-Benz, the B-Class update is mild and was accompanied by price increases, which perhaps shows how unconcerned they are by the arrival of the BMW 2 Series Active Tourer.
Saving the biggest change – all-wheel-drive – for the top-spec, top-performing B250 variant received the biggest price hike at $3800 over the front-drive version. This end of the range is arguably where Benz can get away with it, and given the B200 is $1500 more than before, the AWD system premium is reduced to around $2300.
The B250 is sporty for a sensible-shoes B-Class and the addition of AWD makes it even more sensible without diluting the character. It is perhaps ironic that as BMW releases its first front-drive model with the 2 Series Active Tourer, Mercedes adds drive to the rear wheels of its B-Class.
In doing so, Benz has managed to maintain the fact that there’s nothing quite like the B-Class on the Australian market and ensured it remains relevant in showrooms among the A-Class, CLA and GLA with which it shares a platform.
Mercedes-Benz markets the B-Class as the “multi-task master” and in this guise, there is some truth to that. It holds plenty of appeal for the buyer who begrudgingly accepts practicality and is unwilling to compromise on performance.
And with that in mind, we found a lot to like and little to fault.
BMW 2 Series Active Tourer 225i from $55,900, plus on-road costs
Feels more SUV-like than the B-Class, has a classier interior and provides a more powerful engine plus an extra gear ratio for an almost insignificant $700 more. Lacks the B250’s AWD but a convincing front-drive debut for BMW. Only scored four crash-test stars from ANCAP.
Citroen C4 Picasso from $40,990, plus on-road costs
Another newbie in the tall-boy hatch game, Citroen’s uniquely styled C4 Picasso offers loads of tech, and a supple, compliant ride, with a sprightly 1.6-litre turbo petrol unit. It is offered in one spec only and is a very strong opponent to the two Germans.
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