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Mercedes B-Class

Compact MPVs have be-come big news in recent years, with new offerings from virtually every mainstream car manufacturer hitting the road in the past 12 months.

Family buyers who place much importance on a premium badge will love the B-Class. As the only prestige compact MPV, it offers excellent build quality, style, a good driving experience and lots of room. But those who are used to mainstream people carriers will be disappointed by the lack of versatility - and the price tag.

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Compact MPVs have be-come big news in recent years, with new offerings from virtually every mainstream car manufacturer hitting the road in the past 12 months.

Even so, prestige makers have been reluctant to dip a toe in the water, unsure of how the people carrier image would sit alongside their brand values.

All that changes in September, when the ground-breaking Mercedes B-Class goes on sale. This car offers a versatile interior and sharp styling, while prices range from £16,995 to £22,795.

Mercedes is the first premium brand to launch a contender in this market. And, with no direct rivals from Audi or BMW, the newcomer is aimed squarely at buyers of flagship versions of compact MPVs such as the Ford Focus C-MAX, Mazda 5 and Vauxhall Zafira. Based on a stretched A-Class platform, the B-Class takes its little brother's tidy looks and makes them bigger in every dimension, adding a more distinctive front end, complete with a bold grille.

Step inside, and you cannot fail to be impressed by the spaciousness, thanks to the tall, wide-opening front and rear doors and the quality of the A-Class-style dashboard. There is plenty of headroom in the back, while legroom nearly matches that of the S-Class.

Boot capacity also impresses, with 544 litres expanding to 2,205 litres once the split rear seats are folded flat. Aiding all-out load space is the standard Easy Vario system, which consists of removable rear-seat squabs - hidden under the twin-height boot floor - and a fold-flat front-passenger chair.

By choosing the £205 Easy Vario Plus option you can completely remove the passenger seats front and rear to create a van-like storage area. But load space is the B-Class's only real trick. It is strictly a five-seater; there are no hidden extra chairs in the boot, while the rear bench does not slide to provide added versatility and storage cubbyholes are lacking. In short, the C-MAX, 5 and Zafira offer families more.

However, the Mercedes is good to drive, with a smooth ride and secure, nimble handling. Mated to a short-throw six-speed manual transmission, the refined 2.0-litre turbodiesel engine delivers 109bhp, and provides strong performance. It also returns 50mpg and emits a low 146g/km of CO2.

Air-con and a CD player feature as standard equipment. Alloys, electric rear windows and automatic headlights are included in the £950 SE package, seen here, which pushed the cost of our test car to nearly £20,000. That's a lot to pay for what is essentially a bigger A-Class - particularly when rivals offer more versatility at a much lower price.

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