TEST DRIVE: Mercedes B Class

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Class act – Steve Sharpe drives the Mercedes B Class

MPVs have been a popular class of vehicle in recent years, but the premium sector of that market was until recently a bit limited.

Mercedes’ B Class was one of the few to fit the bill, but cars like BMW’s 2 Series Active Tourer started to appear, and with other manufacturers upping the quality of their models, the B Class began looking over its shoulder nervously.

The B Class first appeared in 2011 but at the end of last year Mercedes gave it a thorough makeover, with a new look, higher levels of technology and a new batch of engines.

There’s now the choice of two petrol engines – a 1.5-litre B180 and a 2.0-litre B200 – and four diesels.

The new B Class builds on the strengths of its predecessor – delivering a spacious cabin – but it definitely scores higher in the looks department than the previous model.

Family hatchback / MPVs have come a long way since the early days and this Mercedes has a bold new front and rear design, plus a revised interior,

It looks wider and lower, moving away from the boxy, awkward look, and the large three-pointed star sitting proudly in the bold two-bar grille leaves no doubt of its heritage.

The front bumper has been redesigned with new, more pronounced air intakes either side of the new grille, and there are also integrated LED daytime running lights.

The rear bumper has also been modified and sits below a set of new LED lights, and the bold ridges down the flanks sweep upwards towards the read. The overall impression is more of an extended hatchback than a traditional MPV.

Inside the cabin the quality of Mercedes’ workmanship is impressive indeed. The materials are soft touch and springy right down to feet level, and the fit and finish is second to none.

The dashboard is split into three horizontal segments, with the middle section a striking silver. The switchgear’s solid and durable and the buttons are easy to use, although a strip of silver buttons under the media controls are hard to work out while on the move.

Circular metal air vents decorate the sweeping dashboard and a large colour display screen mounted above the centre console opens access to various multimedia functions.

Like many systems, the media screen takes some working out and, like the recently revamped C Class, the gear-change lever is on the right hand side of the steering column, exactly where the wipers normally are found, which once again takes some getting used to. Still, it does allow the area between the front seats to be used for extra storage space.

There’s plenty of space inside the B Class, with a load of room in both front and back, with more than enough head and legroom for all passengers.

The boot is big,with a split-level floor for extra practicality, and with sliding rear seats, there is even more stowage area available. There are plenty of little cubby holes dotted around the cabin for a family’s odds and ends, too.

Mercedes’ new range of engines includes the 2.2-litre B 220 diesel version I drove, matched with a seven-speed automatic gearbox, which is a flexible, all-round performer.

With sub-9 second 0-60mph figures, the B220 provides smooth acceleration throughout, and can cruise comfortably for miles.

The gearbox can be a little awkward, and is very short geared at low speeds, so you’re hardly in first before it changes up. It can get be hesitant as well, and I found it a little jerky when pulling away from stationary.

The diesel engine’s a little noisy, rising in gruffness as the revs get higher, and there’s some wind noise and road noise coming through when cruising on rougher surfaces, although the ride itself is pretty comfortable overall.

As a family car the B Class isn’t going to provide a thrilling ride but the typical buyer isn’t going top mind unduly about that.

However, the B 220 handles well when cornering, with body lean well controlled and good levels of grip. It’s a smooth, swift and well-controlled ride, handling more like a hatchback than a MPV.

The model I drove was the 4Matic Sport version of the 220CDI, which had four-wheel drive for even better roadholding and a bit of reassurance when the snow and ice comes.

You’ll have to pay premium prices for a premium MPV and the Mercedes starts at more than £21,500 for the entry-level 1.8 petrol, rising to around the £28,000 for the top-spec CDI 4Matic Sport.

The range encompasses trim levels of SE, Sport and – new to the B-Class – the range-topping AMG Line.

But even entry-level SE cars come with plenty of standard equipment, including 16-inch alloy wheels, leatherette upholstery, iPod stuff, a reversing camera and anti-collision braking technology.

Sport models add larger 17-inch alloy wheels, an interior lighting package with 12 different settings, and automatic headlights and wipers. Range-topping AMG Line cars then add 18-inch wheels, part-real leather seats and more aggressively styled bumpers.

My top-spec version had a premium package option of parking assist, heated seats, Garmin navigation and performance headlights, but that adds about £1,500 to the cost.

Mercedes have improved economy figures across the range, so that even the top spec version I drove posted official figures of 56mpg. Every model has stop-start technology too so emission figures have been cut.

There’s also a fully-electric B-Class Electric Drive model now available, which apparently can cover 126 miles on a single charge. This comes in at over £30,000, although the government grant does bring this down to the mid-£20,000 mark.

The B class is a premium car and you’d expect the price tag to reflect that.

But the Merc has much going for it, not least lowered emissions and better economy.

With Mercedes’ prestigious badge on the front, a very high-quality interior and good running costs, the B Class is still at the top of the premium MPV / hatchback sector – a smart car that’s easy to drive, both in town and on longer runs, and with the luxurious feel you’d expect from a Merc.

Fact file

Mercedes B 220 4Matic Sport

Engine: 2.2 litre diesel

Transmission: 7 speed auto

0-62mph: 8.3 secs

Top speed: 137 mph

Fuel economy: 56.5mpg avg

Price: £28,623 (£30,175 inc options)