Car reviews - Mercedes-Benz - B-Class - B250
Engine smooth but grunty, transmission quick but seamless, ride firm but not uncomfortable, practicality not harmed by performance, safety
Room for improvement
Interior a bit plasticy in places, dynamics not sharp enough to complement impressive drivetrain, usual Mercedes-Benz ergonomic oddities
6 Dec 2012
AT THE end of two days driving a succession of other, more expensive Mercedes-Benz models comprising the SLK roadster, C-Class Coupe and new CLS Shooting Brake, we finally took a seat in the B250.
This flagship of what is the most affordable Mercedes model line in Australia – at least until the A-Class comes along in March next year – is around $30,000 less expensive than the next most affordable model we drove.
Despite this, the B250 felt like a proper Benz with its well-presented dash, mostly well-chosen materials, pleasing quality feel to the switchgear, comfortable seats and that deliberately unorthodox column-mounted gear selector.
At least the parking brake is now a button beside the driver’s right knee rather than a combination of pedal for activation and lever for deactivation, but it is still illogically placed.
There is an upside to the positioning of these controls though, as the B-Class offers plenty of storage in its centre console, our favourite being a large lidded recess into which a 1.5-litre drinks bottle can be placed – although Benz obviously thinks people won’t notice the cheaper plastics lurking lower down.
A low seating position and tall body style mean there is plenty of headroom front and rear, while clever packaging mean legroom for those travelling in the back is a match for far larger vehicles such as the CLS Shooting Brake we also drove.
All-round visibility is great and the boot is also massive for a car of this size, so happily none of the well thought out practical features of the B-Class have been tarnished by this little hot-rod, which can blast to 100km/h in a respectable 6.8 seconds.
Fuel consumption is an even more respectable 6.5 litres of (95 RON premium) fuel per 100 kilometres – although at the end of our drive route from Healesville to Melbourne Airport the trip computer was showing 8.9L/100km.
On the move we were impressed by the smoothness of the B250’s powerplant, which settles down to near silence while cruising and is never obtrusive under hard acceleration – although the muted note is something performance fans may lament.
Despite the smoothness, the engine has the poke to pin occupants to their seats, especially during a second-gear blast to overtake slow farm machinery for example.
Even more impressive was the dual-clutch transmission’s seamless shifting.
In most cases it is so quick and slick in operation, and the engine is so quiet that the only way we could detect it was doing anything at all was to watch the rev-counter.
For example, we tried using the paddle-shifters to switch between gears while maintaining a constant speed and there was no discernible difference until we changed down more than two ratios, when the engine became audible. It really is that good.
Like most modern Mercedes products, the transmission has eco, sport and manual modes, with the former putting that 350Nm of torque to good use by shifting up almost unfeasibly early and delivering a 100km/h cruise at seriously low RPM in seventh gear.
Even when encountering a hill, the aforementioned qualities mean the transmission and engine work seamlessly to make sure the B250 is running in the right rev range.
Selecting manual or sport mode while cruising along makes the transmission select sixth gear instead of seventh for more instant response, but this can be manually overridden.
Marking out the B250 as a something sporty are black 18-inch wheels, behind which are big, drilled brake discs with chunky Mercedes-Benz branded callipers – and the car sits lower too.
Big wheels and lowered suspension can play havoc with ride quality but we had no cause for complaint, and the pay-off was extra agility and body control, which made negotiating roundabouts fun.
That said, B250 does not offer the most interactive of drive experiences but remains competent and comfortable when driven briskly – we suspect the engineers have left all the excitement to its upcoming A-Class sibling.
The electric variable assistance and ratio power steering is a little vague off-centre – probably to provide straight-line comfort and stability during Autobahn driving – and turn-in is not exactly sharp.
But once that dead central zone is overcome and the B250 is pitched into a turn it feels more direct and accurate, if not full of feel and feedback.
Conversely, we enjoyed some of the best brake feel we have experienced for some time – once we became accustomed to a pedal that feels a bit high up compared with the accelerator – and they delivered a reassuring bite when piling on the pressure.
The elephant in the room remains the less expensive rear-drive BMW 125i, which is slightly more powerful but not as torquey but is quicker to 100km/h and even more fuel-efficient.
And while the BMW sets a dynamic benchmark, it cannot match the B250’s spacious interior so it is a case of horses for courses – at least until the A-Class arrives, which will also get the B250’s engine in AMG-fettled A250 Sport form.
The Audi S3 Sportback is way more expensive than the B250 so cannot be considered a competitor, but the flagship petrol variant of the Q3 SUV is closer to the mark in terms of price, performance and tall-boy styling.
Again Benz has created a product that has no real direct competitor with its refreshingly rapid, tidy handling, practical and spacious B250.
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