Mercedes calls the new B-Class a ‘Compact Sports Tourer’. As far as we’re concerned, it’s basically a five-door hatchback – a prestige-badged, premium-priced rival for the likes of the Ford Focus and Volkswagen Golf.
It comes with a choice of four engines – two petrol, two diesel – and prices starting at just over £21,000. For our first experience of the B-Class here in the UK, we’re driving a B180 CDI SE, which is the cheapest diesel model in the range, with a list price of £22,060.
What’s it like to drive? Sadly, the way the B-Class drives is its weakest point; and the most disappointing aspect is the amount of noise it generates. Not only is the 1.8-litre diesel engine too noisy – both at idle and when revved – the car also itself suffers from too much wind- and road noise at speed.
The B-Class makes for a very noisy motorway cruiser, and rivals such as the Golf show it up hugely in this respect.
The ride, too, is a disappointment, even on this SE model, which is supposedly more geared to comfort than the other trim available, Sport. As soon as you pull away, you’re aware of a firm feel to the B-Class’s step, and whatever your speed, the ride never seems to settle. Driver and passengers alike find themselves constantly jostled in their seats.
To make matters worse, what the driver also won’t like is that the major controls lack the kind of positive feel that is so appealing in cars like the Golf and Focus.
The B-Class’s steering, for example, is inconsistently weighted: it has a lot of play at the straight-ahead position, which means it turns it slowly to start with; but, once it starts turning, it feels quite sharp.
Similarly, the lack of weight to the clutch and throttle pedals means they have no sensation, making the car hard to drive smoothly, especially at low speed.
However, it’s not all bad news. The engine does give reasonable performance and decent flexibility – although the 64mpg average economy may well be more interesting to potential owners – and the car handles pretty well for something as big and tall as this, with good body control through the bends.
What’s it like inside? Space is one of the B-Class’s biggest selling points, and in this respect it’s fairly impressive. In the front, there’s simply huge head- and legroom, while the rear isn’t much smaller. You can easily take four six-footers in a B-Class, although fitting five will be more of a squeeze, because shoulder room is rather tight.
Where the Mercedes really scores over its Ford and Mercedes rivals is in the boot: seats up or down, its capacity is way ahead, with the best part of 500 litres at your disposal with the seats up. That’s well over 100 more than the Golf can offer.
The only drawback is that, when you fold down the 60/40 split rear seats to extend that space, they don’t sit completely flat, leaving an awkward lip in the floor.
Otherwise, the B-Class is a pretty classy thing. The ‘propeller’ air vents in the dash are a nice touch, as is the iPad-style screen that sits above them in the centre of the dash.
Our only disappointments are that the ventilation controls are quite a reach, behind the gearlever, while some drivers found it a little too easy to catch the iDrive-style rotary control for the on-board systems with their arm when changing gear.
Should I buy one? Deciding whether or not to buy a B-Class boils down – at least partly – to just how attractive you find a Mercedes badge. Rivals such as the Golf offer pretty much the same amount of passenger space and cost quite a bit less money.
True, the Mercedes arguably has more class, as well as good economy from its range of engines and generous equipment – especially safety-related features, such as Attention Assist and Collision Prevention Assist.
However, it’s still not enough to tempt us away from the Golf. After all, VW’ hatch is a prestigious car in its own right, as well as better to drive and cheaper to buy than the new B-Class. For us, the Golf remains a class-leading package.
What Car? says…
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