Mercedes B-Class

New prestige compact MPV has already impressed, but does the B-Class make sense on UK roads?

Overall Auto Express Rating

4.0 out of 5

There’s no question the new B-Class is more relaxing to drive, better to look at and just as practical as the old model. But it’s not perfect: the lowered suspension on Sport models doesn’t cope well with rough surfaces, and the Ford C-MAX is more fun behind the wheel. Still, the Mercedes is in a class of its own when it comes to quality.

The new Mercedes B-Class is aimed at those who need more practicality than a family hatch can offer, but also want something more upmarket than a Ford C-MAX. It’s the first of a new family of front-wheel-drive Mercedes, including the A-Class and BLS four-door coupe, which will be introduced over the next few years.

For our first UK test, we’ve driven the range-topping B200 CDI Sport. Its engine has already impressed us with its refinement, but will the lowered sports suspension prove too firm for this country’s roads?

Our car had winter tyres on 17-inch rims, instead of the standard-fit 18-inch alloys. As a result, the ride is marginally improved, but the 15mm lower sports springs still fidget over imperfections and crash over larger potholes. We’d recommend buying the cheaper SE and spending the £1,300 you’ll save on options.

The car flows nicely on smooth surfaces, though. Body control is excellent, with very little roll. The electromechanical steering is accurate and direct, too, but it lacks feel, and the B-Class never feels as light on its feet as the C-MAX, despite weighing 13kg less.

Yet that’s no fault of the engine, which revs smoothly, pulls strongly and fades into the background at cruising speed. Although the six-speed  manual box fitted to our test car was slick enough, the seven-speed dual-clutch auto (a £1,450 option) suits the car’s grown-up character better.

The B200 CDI is the most expensive model in the range, but we think it’s definitely the best. On paper the two turbo petrols – the 120bhp B180 and 154bhp B200 – have impressive performance, but in reality they feel flat at low revs. Elsewhere, the 107bhp B180 CDI diesel struggles with a full complement of passengers and gear on board.

With its upright grille and large three-pointed star, the B-Class follows the new Merc family style closely. It’s wider and lower than before, giving a slightly squatter stance – but as you’d expect with a compact SUV, practicality takes precedence over style.

The B-Class has 60:40 folding rear seats as standard, but if you add the £600 optional Easy Vario pack, the bench can slide back and forth, too. With it in the fully forward position, boot space increases from 486 to 666 litres, or you can fold the rear bench and the passenger seat flat for a total of 1,545 litres – that’s 178 litres less than the C-MAX.

Quality has improved, too, with chunky aluminium air vents and a tablet-style 5.8-inch colour screen dominating the dash. But craftsmanship and materials of this calibre come at a price – the £24,710 B200 CDI Sport costs £3,215 more than the equivalent 138bhp C-MAX 2.0 TDCi Titanium.

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