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Mercedes B-Class

New MPV aims to take on C-MAX with a sporty drive and efficient engines

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The new Mercedes B-Class may not be a giant leap forward, but it improves on its predecessor. It’s stylish, practical and good to drive. With a starting price of around £22,000, it’s not cheap – but at least its efficient engines, such as the new diesel driven here, will make it affordable to run. It also bodes well for the upcoming VW Golf-rivalling A-Class, which is due next year.

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The new B-Class is one of the most important cars Mercedes has ever launched. It’s not simply an MPV aimed at the Ford C-MAX – it also has the front-wheel-drive chassis that will be used on the revised A-Class. So what can buyers expect?

Video: watch our video review of the Mercedes B-Class

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The old B-Class fell down in three areas – it wasn’t very stylish, didn’t feel especially well made and wasn’t fun to drive.

The new version gets off to a good start, as it is lower, wider and more aerodynamic. Although the wheelbase is a little shorter, engineers have tried to maintain passenger space by moving the rear seats back in the chassis.

The driving position is lower and sportier, but the high door panels can make the rear feel rather claustrophic. Even most adults will sit with the door panel above shoulder level.

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It is practical, though. You can slide the rear bench back and forth by up to 14cm (making it possible to free up more rear legroom or increase the boot from 488 to 666 litres), or fold it down to create more space. You can also flatten the front passenger seat.

Unlike the outgoing B-Class, though, you can’t fold the rear bench completely flat. Still, there has been a big leap in quality. All the materials feel expensive and the dashboard gets neat SLS AMG-style air vents, along with a central colour display that resembles Apple’s iPad. Engines include a new 1.6-litre direct injection turbo petrol, which comes with 120bhp in the B180 or 154bhp in the B200.

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We drove the fastest diesel, the B200 CDI, which has a new 134bhp 1.8-litre engine and is available with a new seven-speed dual-clutch transmission.

It’s very quiet, and 300Nm of torque from 1,600rpm means it’s responsive too, with 0-60mph taking around nine seconds. It works well with the seven-speed automatic, which comes with fast and smooth paddleshifters mounted on the steering wheel. Stop-start helps boost economy to 64mpg and lower emissions to 115g/km, so it should be cheap to run, too.

Mercedes benchmarked the B-Class against the sporty Ford C-MAX, and it’s certainly good to drive. It could do with more feel from the steering, but the new front-drive chassis is impressive – there’s not much body roll, but there’s lots of grip and it always feels secure and precise. Choose 17 or 18-inch wheels and the ride is quite firm, though.

Equipment levels haven’t been confirmed, but expect all models to come with alloys, air-con and Bluetooth, while Mercedes is making a number of safety systems available including blind spot assist, speed limit sign recognition, active parking and a low-speed collision avoidance system. It all adds up to a very impressive people carrier that’s much better than its predecessor.  

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