Mercedes B-Class review
The Mercedes B-Class is a premium alternative to the Ford C-MAX that’s spacious and well made
The original Mercedes B-Class was launched in the UK back in 2005, but it struggled to make an impact with buyers and was replaced by an all-new model just six years later. This second-generation model is a world apart from its dowdy predecessor, though, with a much sleeker look that’s inspired by the latest CLS four-door coupe. It’s designed for those who need a little more space and versatility than a standard family hatchback can offer, and goes head-to-head with the Ford C-MAX and Volkswagen Golf Plus in the compact MPV segment. It offers a clever and high-quality interior, tonnes of hi-tech kit and a range of efficient new engines. Mercedes is currently considering putting a flagship B45 AMG model into production and, if given the go-ahead, it will get four-wheel drive (all other versions are front-wheel drive) and use the same 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged engine as the hot new A45, producing 350bhp and 450Nm of torque. An electric version - shown in concept form as the Concept B-Class Electric Drive at the 2012 Paris Motor Show - is expected to go on sale in 2014.
Our choice: B180 CDI SE
The latest B-Class certainly isn’t short of kerb appeal. Although its overall dimensions haven’t changed very much, it’s lower and wider than its predecessor, which gives it a purposeful stance. The bold two-bar grille is dominated by a huge three-pointed star, which is accompanied by a pair of LED running lights in the front bumper. Bold, swooping creases have been cut into the flanks, while a more steeply raked roofline gives it a coupe-like shape. It’s not as stylish as the A-Class or its hatchback rivals the BMW 1 Series or Audi A3, but it’s definitely better looking than the bland Golf Plus. The interior features a sweeping dash that incorporates SLS-style metal air vents, while a large colour display above the centre console can be used to navigate the manufacturer’s COMAND media interface and gives passengers Internet access via a 3G connection. There are just two specifications to choose from, stating with entry-level SE, which comes with 16-inch alloy wheels, air-con, ambient lighting and Active Park Assist, which automatically parallel parks the car. Sport cars get 18-inch alloys, lowered suspension, privacy glass, bi-xenon headlights and a reversing camera.
Thanks to a lower centre of gravity and a new four-link suspension set up, the latest B-Class is more comfortable and dynamic than before. There’s very little body roll in corners, while the electrically assisted steering is quick and accurate. The suspension is supple, too, unless you order the Sport model. That comes with lowered and stiffened suspension, which delivers great poise and plenty of grip but the ride becomes uncomfortable over broken surfaces because of its bigger wheels, run-flat tyres and lowered springs. Sport models get the company’s Direct Steer set-up, which is meant to improve responses and feedback but forces you to make constant corrections mid-corner. The engine line-up is made up of a choice of two petrols and two diesel models. The turbocharged 1.6-litre petrol engine is available with either 120bhp or 154bhp and is smooth and fast. It can feel a bit sluggish at low revs, though. Our pick of the range is the B180 CDI or B200 CDI diesel models, which feature a new 1.8-litre engine with either 107bhp or 134bhp. These offer more torque, better throttle response and are more refined. A six-speed manual gearbox is fitted as standard, but a seven-speed twin-clutch automatic is available as an option and shifts seamlessly.
As you’d expect, the B-Class is a very safe car. It received a full five-star Euro NCAP rating when it was tested back in 2011, with a very impressive 97 per cent for adult occupant protection and a score of 86 per cent for safety assist. Every B-Class comes fitted as standard with the manufacturer’s innovative Collision Prevention Assist system, which warns the driver they’re fast approaching a car in front and pre-loads the brakes automatically, as well as ESP and a full complement of airbags. Blind-spot monitoring and a Lane Keeping Assist system, which steers you back into your lane automatically if it senses the car straying out of its lane, are also available as options. Mercedes always performs well in our Driver Power customer satisfaction surveys and it finished eighth as a brand in the 2012 results. The highlights were a third-place finish for the latest E-Class, while the previous-generation model came 14th. Owners offered praise for the cars’ build quality, performance, ride quality and comfort, as well as the service they receive from their local showroom. The B-Class is still too new to have made an appearance in the survey yet, there’s no reason to doubt it won’t be equally impressive. Although its engines and gearboxes are new, they are derived from proven technology, which means any reliability issues should have been ironed out. For example the 1.8-litre diesel engine is a modified version of the 2.1-litre diesel engine already used in the Mercedes C-Class and E-Class.
The latest B-Class is more spacious than its predecessor. Although it’s almost 50mm lower, there’s actually more headroom, as the seats have been mounted lower. The slightly higher driving position gives great visibility, while the range of seat and wheel adjustment makes it easy to get comfortable behind the wheel. The B-Class has a boot capacity of 486 litres, which is slightly more than the Ford C-MAX’s figure of 471 litres and considerably more than the VW Golf Plus’s 395 litres. Opting for the Easy Vario Package means that the 60/40-split rear bench can slide forwards and backwards by up to 140mm to create a 666-litre boot. But it is an expensive option that can drive up the price of the B-Class quite considerably. It also brings with it a centre rear armrest and ski hatch, as well as a false boot floor that creates a totally flat load area when the rear bench is folded. But we think it should be standard on a compact MPV. Folding the rear seats creates a 1,545-litre load area, which is a fair way off the C-MAX’s total of 1,723 litres. At least the front passenger seats folds, which makes carrying longer items much easier.
Every B-Class comes with the manufacturer's BlueEFFICIENCY tech, which includes a fuel-saving stop-start system. This means that even the most powerful 154bhp B200 petrol model returns 45.6mpg and emits only 144g/km of CO2. As you would expect, the most-efficient models in the line-up are the diesels. The B180 CDI and B200 CDI share an official fuel economy figure of 64.2mpg and CO2 emissions of 115g/km, which is better than the C-MAX and on a par with the VW Golf Plus BlueMotion. However, as with all premium models, the B-Class has a higher list price than its rivals, which is somewhat offset by strong residuals of 48.4 per cent. However, you can also expect to pay above average for parts and servicing.