Mercedes B-Class review
The Mercedes B-Class is a premium compact MPV that majors in quality and comfort as well as space
The quality and comfort boxes are well and truly ticked, as are (somewhat unexpectedly) the dynamic and road-holding boxes. The B-Class has better steering and a far more soothing ride quality than you might expect. But the high price tag and lack of a seven seat option hold it back a bit, even if the available engine choice is usefully vast. Electric option is an interesting one, but most families will choose a far simpler petrol or diesel and just savour the boot space and that desirable badge on the nose.
The B-Class takes Mercedes’ front-wheel-drive platform and the same petrol and diesel engines as the smaller A-Class hatchback (all of which are shared with Renault, Nissan and Infiniti interestingly) and adds to them more space and a much bigger boot. The B-Class tries to find the space in the Venn diagram where premium appeal, high quality, comfort and family-friendly roominess all converge.
There is just the one body to choose from, that of a tall compact MPV. It’s a long way from being one of Mercedes’ better-looking styling jobs, but it’s reasonably handsome given the limitations of the class in which it operates.
Besides, MPVs are far less about style and far more about space, and this is an area in which the B-Class really delivers, with more rear legroom than the bigger E-Class saloon, and a massive boot too. There is no seven-seat option though, which rather holds back the B-Class compared to the competition, primarily in the form of the seven-seat BMW 2 Series Gran Tourer, not to mention more mainstream models such as the Ford Grand C-Max or VW Touran.
The B-Class does have brand recognition on its side though. Mercedes has been in the compact MPV game longer than BMW and a long list of happy customers may make for an easier selling proposition.
Engines, performance and drive
We do tend to forget about petrol power for family cars in this CO2-obsessed world, but the B180 petrol is actually a surprisingly sweet little engine to drive, and with care you can stretch fuel economy well into the high-forties-mpg. The only kicker is that with Co2 emissions of 129g/km, you’re going to have to spend £110 a year to tax it, whereas an equivalent B180 CDI diesel will cost you just £20 per annum. In overall performance terms, the sweet spot is the 2.1-litre four-cylinder B200 CDI diesel, with 134bhp and a helpful 300Nm of torque. It’s also a Mercedes-built engine, whereas the B180 CDI is actually a 1.5-litre unit borrowed from Renault-Nissan. Perhaps that’s unimportant, but it may matter to some.
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If you’re willing to look beyond these most popular versions, there are a couple of left-field B-Classes that are worth a look. The B-Class Electric Drive uses a 176bhp electric motor fed by a stack of lithium ion batteries to produce a brisk 7.9sec 0-62mph time, and a claimed one-charge range of 124-miles. Think of it as a vastly more conventional rival to the groovier BMW i3.
Surprisingly the fastest petrol engine, the B200 turbo, is actually nearly half a second slower to 62mph than the electric one, but at least it will still be going at mile-125. With 154bhp and 250Nm on tap, it’s a decently brisk motor and costs just £20 a year more to insure than the more basic B180 petrol.
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It’s actually a rather sharp car to drive too. True enough, the steering feel and weight could be a little more consistent, but overall, and especially for such a tall vehicle, the B-Class feels good through the corners and the ride quality is exceptionally good, especially if you avoid the 20mm-lower AMG suspension option.
It’s a pretty simple choice when it comes to picking a B-Class engine. Lots of long motorway miles to drive? Go for the B200 CDI, which should manage better than 65mpg on a long run. Are urban journeys more your thing? Then the B180 with 120hp should do the job – you’ll keep at least £1,000 to spend on fuel, compared to the cheapest diesel and it’s a smooth and refined engine. Really only drive in town, for short hops? Then the battery-powered Electric Drive B-Class could be for you.
MPG, CO2 and running costs
We could just wipe this debate out right here and say buy the Electric Drive B-Class – you’ll pay somewhere in the region of £2 for every 100-miles you drive (an utterly unbeatable cost-per-mile ratio compared to petrol or diesel) and you’ll never have to pay any road tax.
Of course, there’s a catch and it’s the Electric Drive’s limited 124-mile (at best) range, so it won’t be suitable for all. Never mind, because the B-Class’s diesel engine lineup has enough built-in economy to keep pretty much all but the most cost-focused happy.
While there are no current B-Class models that dip into the sub-100g/km free road tax bracket, all of the diesel models are in Band B, so will cost you just £20 a year to tax, with the exception of the B220CDI 4MATIC four-wheel-drive model, which has 130g/km CO2 emissions so costs £110 to tax for a year.
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While fuel economy claims should always be taken with a pinch of salt, both the B180 CDI and B200 CDI say they can beat 70mpg when fitted with Merc’s 7G-TRONIC automatic gearbox, and experience tells us they’re not fibbing – at least 60mpg is possible with a diesel B-Class in daily driving.
The petrol models fare unsurprisingly less well, but they’re not entirely outclassed. Both B180 and B200 claim better than 50mpg on average (mid-forties is probably about right) and given that they save you a considerable amount of cash at purchase time compared to a diesel, they can readily absorb the extra costs of tax and fuel.
The lowest rated model is a B180 CDI SE which sits in Group 12 for insurance, while a a B220 CDI 4MATIC sits in Group 27. Electric Drive models sit in Groups 24 and 25.
While you might expect any car with a Mercedes badge to hold back the hordes of depreciation, it’s not quite the case – the B-Class doesn’t beat the benchmark 50 per cent retained value after three years (a £22k B180 will be worth roughly £9k after three years) so it’s no better off than its more mass-market rivals. It’s also a car with a long, sometimes bewildering options list so choose your spec carefully to avoid paying for toys that won’t add value come resale time.
Interior, design and technology
It’s a Mercedes and feels every inch the proper Swabian bank-vault when you slip behind the wheel. Almost every surface is made of properly high-grade materials (as long as you don’t go digging too far down around the base of the doors or dash) and the switches and buttons are all solid and stolid to touch and use. The single column stalk, which controls the lights and indicators, may prove a challenge at first those unfamiliar with the ways of Mercedes, but actually it’s quite an elegant solution, and leaves space on the other side of the column for the gear-shifter on automatic models, something that really frees up some useful extra space on the centre console. Merc’s push-pull-flick column-stalk cruise control and speed limiter also remains a paragon of simplicity, and is the easiest cruise system to use by far.
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There are some flaws though. The instruments tend to look a little cheap on basic models and a little over-done on more specced-up versions (a flaw shared by the A-Class and GLA). If BMW can do simple, classy dials in all of its cars, why not Mercedes? And while the central infotainment screen looks like an iPad and looks as if you could pick it up and carry it away, it’s actually fixed in position. That shouldn’t really be surprising, but it seems somehow disappointing when you realise its glued firmly in place.
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You can utterly stuff the car with equipment though, from a panoramic glass sunroof to heated memory seats to keyless-go ignition and entry and ambient lighting. It’s a long options list and you’d better have your wits about you when dealing with it or the price will pretty quickly spiral out of control. This may be a family car, but they’ll have to be well-heeled families if they’re going to afford a well-equipped B-Class.
Sat-nav, stereo and infotainment
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All B-Classes come with the 7” central screen and rotary controller, and they’re all pre-installed for a Garmin sat-nav too. Bluetooth connection is standard for both phone and audio functions, and there are two USB sockets and an SD card reader. You can upgrade to an 8” screen with COMAND Online infotainment which includes a wifi hotspot, and there’s the option to include Mercedes Connect Me which allows you to control some of the car’s functions via a smartphone app. Considering the plethora of high-tech options available for the B-Class it seems a bit odd, and a bit stingy, that DAB radio reception is a £430 option.
Practicality, comfort and boot space
Mercedes often claims that the B-Class has as much interior space as an S-Class, which might be true on a technical level, but isn’t representative of the comfort on offer.
At just 4.3-metres long, the B-Class is barely any longer than a Ford Fiesta, but it packs a whopping amount of cabin space into a very small footprint. While this second-generation B-Class isn’t quite as clever, technically, as it’s predecessor, it still manages to pull of some pretty TARDIS-like tricks when it comes to bigger-on-the-inside tests.
Leg room, head room & passenger space
With 2,699mm wheelbase, the B-Class was never going to be short on cabin space, and thanks to its extra height (it’s a lofty 1,557mm tall), passengers can sit more upright to liberate even more room. So legroom, headroom and knee room are especially impressive, especially in the back. The ‘same space as an S-Class’ claim is probably accurate measured volumetrically but sadly it’s never going to be as comfy as the Big S.
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That’s because the upright seating means you can’t slouch as comfortably as you otherwise might be able to, and there are issues with the driving position too. Actually, if you’re going to do long motorway journeys with a B-Class then you really, really need to spec it with the automatic gearbox, as that’s the only way to get cruise control. Without cruise, the relationship between the steering wheel, seat and lightly-sprung accelerator pedal is a recipe for leg-and-back-ache.
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488-litres is right on the money for the class average, and the B’s boxy, upright shape means you can make the most of every litre. Fold the seats flat and you get 1,547-litres, which is a pretty remarkable figure for a car as short as this. You can also spec the car with some useful load-space items such as a rubber-lined tub for carrying loose, or dirty items such as sports kit, while there’s also a fold-out concertina sill and bumper protector for protecting the paint from being gouged by anything you’re loading into the back – a common problem with complicated baby buggies and prams. The EASY-VARIO PLUS system means that the rear seats can be slid back and forth to maximise luggage space, there’s a ski-hatch for long, slim items and an adjustable boot floor.
Reliability and Safety
Mercedes has massively improved its quality and reliability since the dreadful days of the early 2000s, when models like the E-Class and C-Class threatened to undo a quality reputation stretching back more than a century. Thankfully, things have picked up a lot since then, but the B-Class hasn’t done well in our Driver Power survey, finishing in 118th place – into the bottom half of the table. Perhaps lingering issues with Mercedes’ dealer network is holding it back?
At least on the safety front, you’re definitely OK. Merc’s reputation for safety is really only matched by Volvo, and the B-Class comes with a battery of life-saving tech. As well as lots of airbags, stability control and ABS, all B-Classes come with Attention Assist (which warns you if you’re getting drowsy) and Collision Prevention Assist Plus which warns you if you’re getting too close to the car in front, and which can activate emergency braking if you don’t take action to avoid a collision. There are also brake lights that flash under heavy braking and an emergency call system. EuroNCAP gave it a full five-stars for crash safety with a whopping 97 per cent score for adult occupant protection.
You can spec safety up further with items like active cruise control, blind spot monitor, lane-keeping assist and Pre-Safe, which pressurises the brakes and tightens the seatbelts if it detects an unavoidable collision.
You get a three-year, unlimited mileage warranty, with a 30-year anti-perforation guarantee with the B-Class. There’s no option to increase the length of the warranty, but you do get complimentary roadside rescue, which renews every year as long as you keep the car serviced at a Mercedes main dealer.
Mercedes doesn’t issue a set mileage limit for services – that’s taken care of by the on-board diagnostics, but it does recommend at least one visit back to the dealer every year. There’s a fixed-price service plan available, which costs from around £24 a month on a subscription basis, which covers all your normal regular serving costs.