By June Neary
Can you really justify paying somewhere in the £20,000 to £25,000 bracket for a mini-MPV? If so, then here's the one you should probably buy. June Neary checks out Mercedes' improved B-class..
Will It Suit Me?
The Mercedes of mini-MPVs was never going to be a cheap car, but it was always going to be a good one. And so it has proved. There's been a lot of moaning that, at prices up to £25,000 or more, this second generation B-Class model is considerably more expensive than cars against which it apparently competes, like Renault's Scenic and Ford's C-MAX. But first, you'd expect it to be and second, Mercedes say that this isn't a mini-MPV anyway. Sure, they hope it will steal sales from top end small People Carriers, but the company also wants you to think of it as a kind of 'Sports Tourer', aimed at 'lifestyle' (that word again) customers for whom practicality is not the be all and the end all. Whether you swallow that or not, I would have thought there would always be a market for a practical, spacious family car with a premium badge. I could see myself going for something like this, if funds permitted. Let's check out this improved second generation version.
Inside, the low-ish roofline doesn't translate into less headroom. In fact, there's actually more than you might expect, something you especially notice at the rear where there's potentially more legroom than Mercedes offers in a £70,000 S-Class luxury saloon. To really stretch out, you'll need to have paid extra for the EASY-VARIO-PLUS system. This enables the rear bench to both recline and slide backwards and forward by up to 140mm to maximise space for either passengers or their packages behind. Which is all well and good if there are only two of you at the back. A third adult though, is not going to be very comfortable at all, perched as he or she must be on a seat that really isn't a seat at all but instead a raised section of upholstery linking the two outer chairs. Worse, this car's front driven layout hasn't prevented a transmission tunnel-shaped intrusion robbing centre seat legroom. Still, there's decent luggage room on offer, even if the 488-litre capacity is a little down on the figure offered by the MK1-era B-Class model. It's slightly more than you'd get in a Ford C-MAX for example, and about 50% bigger than the restricted space you'd have to put up with in a Golf or Focus family hatch. Plus, if you've opted for the sliding back seat, you can push it forward and increase the luggage compartment capacity to 666-litres without chucking any passengers out. That though may not be necessary if you poke longer items through the ski-hatch also included in the EASY-VARIO-PLUS package. As part of that, Mercedes also throws in a fold-flat front passenger seat, should you flatten the 60:40 split-folding rear seats and find the 1545-litre total capacity to be insufficient. The boot floor can be raised to make the loading area completely flat. Which is all very worthy - but now for the best bit. Behind the wheel. It's very hard to think of any sub-£25,000 family car that feels as good as this one once you get into the driver's seat. It's a beautifully conceived cabin, from the three-dimensional fascia finish to the SLS supercar-style airvents.
Behind the Wheel
So, you'll be keen to know how it'll feel on the school run or on a trip to collect your dry cleaning. I was. The answer will depend a little on whether you've resisted the temptation to opt for a stiffer, lower 'Sport'-trimmed model and/or a set of large 18-inch wheels. Both will damage the ride quality that for me, makes the road going experience as classy as the fit and finish. This isn't an inherently sporting car and personally, I can't really see the point of specifying it that way. Around town, it certainly feels manoeuvrable, helped by a tight turning circle, courtesy of the more compact engine and gearbox installation. This enhanced MK2 B-Class gets an improved Renault-derived 1.5-litre four-cylinder diesel in the B180 CDI diesel version that most buyers choose, which improves efficiency by about five per cent. The 2.1-litre B200 and B220 CDI diesels continue, the latter offered with an all-wheel drive variant. Petrol power comes via a pair of 1.6-litre four-cylinder units. The B180 is good for 122PS and the B200 a modest 156PS. A six-speed manual transmission is fitted as standard but a clever 7G-DCT dual clutch transmission is available as an option. This shifts gear with virtually no interruption in motive power and Mercedes claims it combines the comfort of an automatic with the efficiency of a manual transmission.
Value For Money
This is the crux of it of course. Curiously, I thought the better value B-Class models were the more expensive ones. I felt rather let down by the weedily-powered B180, but the B200 CDI at around £24,000 I thought a very appealing package and decent value for what it was. Many will be like some of my colleagues, looking at these prices and comparing them to something like a Renault Scenic or a Focus C-MAX before deciding that the gulf is just too large. To my mind that's missing the point. If you must compare to something conventional, compare to something like a Volkswagen Passat Estate or Volvo V60 - all more natural and more realistic rivals.
Could I Live With One?
I must be what Mercedes call 'an aspirational person' since I bought into the B-Class premise without much difficulty. Class costs but in return, you get a masterpiece of packaging, an aspirational badge, low depreciation and a quality steer. If that's not enough to justify the price premium in your book, then fair enough. Me? I'd rather shake the piggy bank a bit further for a B.