Despite a roomy cabin and the lure of the three-pointed star on the bonnet, the first-generation Mercedes B-Class
failed to make a big dent in the sales charts. Now the company is hoping this all-new version will finally crack the competitive family car class.
Bigger, better equipped and more stylish than its frumpy predecessor, the latest B-Class has set its sights on the cream of the compact MPV crop. So will it be a sales smash, or another forgotten flop like the original?
The new car certainly isn’t short of kerb appeal. At the front, the bold grille features a large Mercedes badge, while at the side, bold, swooping creases have been cut into the flanks. Our Sport-trim test car also benefited from standard LED daytime running lights (DRLs) and a 15mm lower ride height, which helps give it a more purposeful stance.
Eye-catching two-tone 18-inch alloys are included, too – although our test car was fitted with winter tyres and 17-inch wheels from the SE. Yet for most MPV buyers, it’s what’s inside that really counts – and sadly the B-Class proves to be a bit of a mixed bag here.
There’s no shortage of space. Occupants in the back get as much head and legroom as in the Golf Plus and C-MAX, while a wide range of seat and wheel adjustment means it’s easy for the driver to get comfortable.
What’s more, there’s plenty of useful storage room, including a neat two-level glovebox, deep door bins and a large cubby between the front seats. The well shaped boot holds 486 litres: 91 litres and 15 litres more than the Golf Plus and C-MAX respectively.
Yet unlike the VW, the B-Class doesn’t benefit from the flexibility of a sliding rear bench as standard. You have to fork out £515 for the Easy-Vario-Plus package, which also adds a centre rear armrest and ski hatch, plus a false boot floor that creates a totally flat load area when the rear bench is folded. We think this should be standard on a compact MPV.
At least the quality of the upmarket cabin is up to scratch, while the stylish dashboard looks great. Neat details include the SLS AMG-inspired ‘eyeball’ air vents and the iPad-like screen for the stereo and optional sat-nav. You also get a decent haul of gadgets, including a Bluetooth phone connection, a reversing camera and a leather-trimmed multifunction steering wheel.
Mercedes’ Collision Prevention Assist system is standard equipment on all B-Class models. It uses radar to monitor the traffic ahead and warns you if it senses you’re about to hit the car in front. Clever technology like this isn’t even available as an option on the Ford and Volkswagen.
The Mercedes also steals a march on its rivals at the test track, where it needed only nine seconds to complete the 0-60mph sprint; that’s seven tenths faster than the C-MAX managed. It also proved a match for the responsive Golf Plus in our in-gear tests.
So it’s a shame that the B-Class’ 1.8-litre diesel engine sounds so gruff when worked hard. And while the six-speed gearbox has a short throw, it’s not as slick and precise as the manual boxes available in the Ford and Volkswagen. Further undermining the Merc’s driving dynamics is its steering. Sport models get the company’s Direct Steer set-up, which is meant to improve responses and feedback. Yet it feels odd and forces you to make constant corrections mid-corner.
This is a shame, because the B-Class Sport’s lowered and stiffened suspension delivers great poise and plenty of grip. And while the ride is undoubtedly quite firm, it’s far from uncomfortable. What’s more, there’s very little wind and road noise.
Further adding to the Mercedes’ appeal are low CO2 emissions of 121g/km and strong residuals of 48.4 per cent, which go some way towards offsetting its high £24,710 list price.
Factor in its space, upmarket image and generous kit list, and the B-Class has a lot going for it. But are its strengths enough to make up for a flawed cabin layout, rough engine and unconvincing driving dynamics?
Chart position: 3WHY: The new Mercedes B-Class turns on the style. Unlike the quirky-looking old car, can it bring real prestige to the compact MPV class?