Mercedes-Benz B-Class review

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The B-Class is the Mercedes of mid-sized MPVs. This third generation version has been usefully improved. Jonathan Crouch takes a look.

Ten Second Review

This improved version of the MK3 model Mercedes B-Class represents the brand's continuing attempt to create what it calls its family 'Sports Tourer'. As for what exactly one of those might be, you can get a feel for the answer at first glance. Here's a car that's clearly more practical and versatile than a Golf or Focus-sized family hatch. But not as frumpy and high-set as a typical mid-sized MPV. It's the Mercedes take on compact, upwardly-mobile motoring for a compact, upwardly-mobile family.

Background

Mercedes has always struggled to build compact, affordable cars that feel like, well..... a Mercedes. Not so long ago, you tried an original A or B-Class and thought it nicely built but not quite special enough, ultimately a very expensive way to buy a very expensive badge. And that was a problem. Executives, you see, rarely question the Three-Pointed Star price premium in their large, smart saloons and SUVs, its necessity obvious every time they ease behind the wheel.

Without that extra class, choosing one of this brand's smaller models can sometimes seem like a colossally costly way of buying what in essence was a fairly ordinary family hatchback. The suits from Stuttgart knew it and in response have in recent times invested more than ever before in new, more Merc-like generation of compact models. This third generation B-Class, which arrived here in late 2018, was one of them. Four years on, the brand lightly updated it to create the car we're going to look at here.

Driving Experience

Like its A-Class showroom stablemate, the B-Class has been getting progressively more sporty as model generations have come and gone. Which is another of the reasons why Mercedes wants to position it as a 'Sports Tourer' rather than an MPV. It certainly doesn't drive like an ordinary People Carrier. Thanks in part to the stiff, sophisticated MFA2 platform used with this third generation model, body roll's kept well in check and you're favoured with prodigious grip that's impressively untroubled by mid-corner bumps. Not much has altered dynamically with this updated model, the changes primarily centred around the adoption of more efficient mild hybrid tech for the familiar petrol and diesel powerplants still on offer.

These now incorporate the brand's 48V mild hybrid system including the usual MHEV belt-driven starter-generator: that'll give you a 13hp boost when moving off. All variants have to be had with DCT auto transmission, with either 7 or 8-speeds. The B200's 1.4-litre petrol powerplant offers 163hp. The alternative is the B 200d diesel, which has the brand's familiar 2.0-litre conventional unit.

As before, the B-Class is able to drive semi-autonomously in certain situations. That's assuming you specify the optional 'Driving Assistance package' with its 'Active Distance Assist DISTRONIC' feature which uses camera and radar systems to anticipate the traffic up to 500 metres ahead, while predictively and conveniently adjusting the speed when approaching bends, junctions or roundabouts.

Design and Build

The changes made to this updated B-Class model are subtle and aimed at further underlining what Mercedes claims is this model's 'premium' feel. There are slightly smarter LED headlamps, a light restyle for the front bumper and radiator grille and revised two-part LED rear lamp clusters. As before, there's a relatively long wheelbase with short overhangs, a slightly lowered roof line than you might expect from a family MPV and wheel sizes of between 17 and 19-inches.

The cabin spruce-up is equally subtle, with materials quality improved, plus Mercedes has updated the steering wheel (trimmed in soft Nappa leather), revised the 'comfort' seat design of more affordable models and added a standard reversing camera, along with an extra USB-C port with a higher charging capacity. More significantly, the MBUX infotainment system has been updated and can now be ordered with fingerprint sensor access. It also gains more advanced speech recognition and wireless 'Apple CarPlay'/'Android Auto' smartphone-mirroring. And there are three fresh screen display styles - ''Classic', 'Sporty' and 'Discreet'.

Otherwise, it's as you were. All variants now get a 10.25-inch centre-dash screen which, above base trim, is joined with a 10.25-inch virtual instrument display to create one continuous monitor, much as you get in larger Mercedes models. As before, the fascia's five round air vents feature a high-grade turbine look with finely styled air ducts, inspired by the world of aviation.

On the back seat, the rear bench base can slide and the backrest angle can be altered to enhance luggage space, which can therefore vary between 455 and 705-litres with all seats in place. Fold the rear seat down and up to 1,540-litres of space can be freed up.

Market and Model

You won't be expecting this B-Class to be priced to the level of the volume brand mid-sized MPVs that used to populate this class. It isn't. But if you were looking at an upper-spec version of a contender like that, this Mercedes could still appeal. Prices sit primarily in the £35,000 to £45,000 bracket. There are four mainstream trim levels - 'Sport Executive', 'AMG Line Executive', 'AMG Line Premium' and 'AMG Line Premium Plus'.

As you'd want for the money, every B-Class model comes well equipped. All variants get a 10.25-inch central touchscreen with a MBUX multimedia system featuring 'Hey Mercedes' voice activation. And if you avoid base trim, you'll get a 10.25-inch instrument cluster screen too. Plus there's comfort suspension, a DAB radio, Artico man-made leather upholstery, Active Lane Keeping Assist, Speed Limit Assist, a Keyless-Go starting function and air conditioning. Along with LED high performance headlights, alloy wheels of at least 17-inches in size and automatic climate control.

This improved fourth generation B-Class is of course very well connected. Navigation functions, for example, can be based on traffic feedback from so-called 'Car-to-X communication' where information gets fed in from other similarly-equipped road users. As usual, there's a dowloadable 'Mercedes Me' app that connects you into your car and can tell you things like local fuel prices or the availability of parking spaces at your destination.

Cost of Ownership

Let's get to the WLTP figures. As usual with mild hybrid tech, don't get your hopes up too high for the difference it'll make: full-Hybrid and Plug-in Hybrid powertrains cost more for a reason (namely that unlike MHEVs, they allow the engine to run fully electrically). Anyway, B 200 petrol manages up to 47.0mpg on the combined cycle and up to 136g/km of CO2. But the economy champion of course, is the B 200d diesel variant, which in base trim exhales up to 133g/km of CO2, while only drinking a gallon of fuel on the combined cycle every 55.4 miles. With respectable performance figures, it's still a tempting package.

The warranty may be an industry standard 3 years but is for unlimited miles, handy to know if you spend a lot of time on the road. Just remember that a mid-range diesel is the sensible option for high resale figures. With that in mind, something like a mid-spec B 200d model might well represent the sweet spot of the range.

Summary

Ferrying the family around isn't something most of us especially look forward to doing. But Mercedes doesn't see why it shouldn't be. In this improved version of the third generation B-Class, Stuttgart has made decent strides in engine efficiency and media connectivity. Its real importance though, still lies in proving its maker capable of delivering Mercedes quality to the mainstream,

True, it isn't perfect. This model's BMW 2 Series Active Tourer is a fraction sharper to drive. But dynamic handling won't typically be a priority for likely B-Class folk. In compensation, this Mercedes serves up a completely different level of cabin quality and technology than you might be expecting to find from this class of car. You pay for that of course, but at least you'd get quite a lot of the extra premium back at resale time. And in the meantime, you'll have enjoyed a very Mercedes-style perspective on compact family motoring.

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