Steve Sharpe drives the new slick and sporty Mercedes B-Class
Mercedes’ B-Class family hatchback, like its smaller sibling the A-Class, has received mixed reviews since it first appeared in 2005.
Despite having a lot going for it – plenty of space and a mechanical “sandwich” platform which, like the A-Class, offered excellent safety measures and a mini-MPV like proportions – it failed to capture the nation’s hearts.
But last year both the A-Class and the B-Class each underwent a serious overhaul – they are both essentially new cars – with the B-Class now ready to take on the likes of the Ford C-Max and the Volkswagen Golf in this sector.
While still perched between a hatchback and an MPV in shape and room, the new B-Class is lower and wider than its predecessor, and so appears more dynamic and sporty.
Mercedes’ bold front grille, with its big three-pronged star and LED running lights, looks impressive, while the creases along the flanks, steeply raked windscreen and roof, and tidy rear end result in a smart-looking car, an MPV / hatchback cross that falls on the positive side of both.
Inside the cabin there are the hallmarks of Mercedes usual quality.
Almost identical to the A-Class, the interior is well-put together and made up of a lot of soft-touch materials.
The dash undulates in front of you, dominated by the colour display screen and the three circular air vents which are edged in metal.
The media system is controlled by a circular knob in the central console. It works well but it quite easy to nudge with your elbow, inadvertently jumping a song.
It’s simple and well-laid out, with a quality finish and feel to it.
But the overall feeling of the interior is one of space.
Although the new model is squatter than the previous incarnation, and the driving position is nearer the road, there is still a load of legspace and headroom in every seat.
Add to that a large, well-shaped boot and seats that fold forward and you get a roomy family hatchback that should easily be able to cater for a normal tribe’s needs.
The B-Class comes in a number of petrol and diesel engines but I drove the range-topping Blue Efficiency model.
Its 2.1-litre engine, paired with Mercedes’ seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox, delivers a smooth powerful performance, reaching 60mph in less than 8.5 seconds and with a top speed of 137mph.
Overtaking is easy with extra power on tap when revs are high at speed but the automatic gearbox can be a little slow to respond at lower speeds and lower revs.
It’s illustrated best when you slow to a crawl or to a halt at a junction or a give way sign – occasionally the automatic gearbox paused considerably before the new gear was selected ready for acceleration. It never posed too many problems though.
Again, though, like the A-Class, the gear change selector is positioned on the steering column, slap bang in the place where the wipers are normally to be found. This does take some getting used to.
The B-Class is a comfortable car to travel in although the ride can be a little fidgety on rougher surfaces, especially in the Sport version, with its lowered and stiffened suspension, but things are pretty well controlled.
Now the B-Class is more squat and wider than before, cornering has improved and there’s little lean as you corner.
There’s a bit of road rumble coming through from rougher surfaces but wind noise has been well silenced, and although there is a diesel rasp from the 2.2-litre diesel engine, it’s never too intrusive.
Both the A and the B-Class were criticised as being too costly at launch and although you are going to pay more for the pleasure of driving the famous three-pronged star, the B-Class boasts impressive amounts of standard stuff and levels of safety.
The B-Class range starts at £21,490 for the 1.6 petrol, rising to £27,825 for the 2.1-litre sport diesel.
There are only two trim levels and you get pretty much everything with the basic SE, including alloys, air-con, four electric windows, a CD player with USB port and a system that helps steer your car into a parking space.
Opt for a Sport models – and my test car comes only in Sport trim – and you add man-made leather upholstery, Xenon headlamps and a reversing camera. My test car also came with an impressively high-tech music system.
On the safety side there are seven airbags as standard, plus stability control and a driver drowsiness detector, and a system that warns of an possible collision.
Each model is tagged with the term BlueEfficiency and every one has a Stop-Start system which cuts down on fuel consumption and emissions, ensuring that the range as a whole returns decent economy figures. The 2.1-litre diesel returned more than 60mpg.
With family favourites like Audi’s A3, the Golf, BMW’s 1 Series and Ford’s C-Max in its sights, this Merc is up against it but as a definite improvement on the previous model it offers something a little different to a buyer – and that Mercedes prestige.
Engine: 2.1-litre diesel
Transmission: seven-speed automatic
0–60mph: 8.3 secs
Top speed: 138mph