Mercedes B-Class

31 Aug, 2005 12:43pm Chris Thorp

High performance plus family-friendly practicality. With such a mix of abilities, the popularity of fast estates is no surprise - so why haven't high-performance people carriers had similar success?

Verdict

If ever a car had an identity crisis, it's the B-Class Turbo. It looks sharp, accelerates like a hot hatch and handles tidily, but it falls short of the excitement mark. The Merc is little more practical than an estate, so the Turbo will have to rely on its badge and distinctive style to attract buyers. Keen drivers will be disappointed.
High performance plus family-friendly practicality. With such a mix of abilities, the popularity of fast estates is no surprise - so why haven't high-performance people carriers had similar success?

It's a tough question, but Mercedes is hoping its new B-Class is the answer. Part estate, part MPV, the turbocharged flagship version has been driven by Auto Express. With 190bhp, the B200 Turbo boasts enough power to worry hot hatch class favourites, but will it draw in fans of fast family cars?

The B-Class's 2.0-litre turbocharged engine delivers its power to the front wheels, and offers a commendable 280Nm of torque. On-paper performance is equally eye-catching, with 0-62mph taking only 7.6 seconds and a top speed of 140mph.

From the driver's seat, the B-Class feels every bit as quick as the figures suggest. However, the car is so clinically efficient, we can't help feeling it lacks the character of rivals such as the VW Golf Plus or Vauxhall Zafira GSi. The quiet powerplant is smooth and refined; as with many Mercedes models, the Turbo is more about discreet pace than deafening acceleration.

It's a similar story for the rest of the driving experience, as none of the controls is as taut as those of a true hot hatch. The six-speed manual gearbox has a sloppy feel, while the steering is little better, showing a lack of feedback and over-light weighting. With limited bodyroll when cornering and plenty of agility, the chassis is more capable. The B200 Turbo does not beg to be driven hard, but should you enter a corner too quickly, it shows plenty of composure.

Where Mercedes hopes to score points over conventional hot hatches is by offering a more mature package. The styling is attractive rather than garish, and the high-quality interior feels solid and durable. There's enough boot space to rival many conventional estates, while the cabin is light and airy. A bumpy ride is the only drawback to what is an ergonomically sound and comfortable five-seater.

And it's probably best that potential buyers are sitting down when they glance at the top end of the B-Class's price list. While the entry-level variant seems like good value at £16,995, the flagship turbo weighs in at a far less appealing £22,795. What's more, the options on our luxuriously equipped car pushed the value up to a massive £27,390. With cheaper prices and lower running costs, the less-powerful B-Class models make far more sense.

Key specs

* The B-Class is based on a lengthened A-Class platform, sharing the smaller model's innovative sandwich floor design. The turbo version is the range's fastest variant.
* Engine: 2.0-litre 4cyl, 190bhp
* 0-62mph: 7.6 seconds
* Price: £22,795

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