The Mercedes B220 4Matic Sport is £100 shy of being the most expensive B-Class you can buy. It’s available only in top-spec Sport trim and with a seven-speed automatic gearbox.
This particular B-Class doesn’t have many obvious rivals. There are plenty of family-friendly four-wheel-drive vehicles, but far fewer options if you don’t want an SUV.
So does four-wheel drive make much of a difference to the way the B-Class drives? Plus, does this model have appeal – however niche – for people who want a compact car with more traction during the winter months?
What’s the 2014 Mercedes B220 4Matic Sport like to drive?
With 181bhp and the 4Matic system to help put that power down under hard acceleration, it’s no surprise that the B220 petrol is the quickest model in the B-Class range.
The engine and gearbox combination is ultimately disappointing, though. Other petrol B-Classes have pretty flexible performance, but the B220’s potential is hampered by its transmission. It’s available only with the seven-speed automatic, and the gearbox is just as jerky as in the A-Class and CLA models.
Pottering around town in Eco mode is tolerable, and the hold function works well in queuing traffic, but try to pull away briskly and the dual-clutch 'box dithers around before selecting a gear and you're shot forward in a rather undignified manner.
Sport mode makes shifts quicker, but doesn’t make the driving experience any smoother. Using the wheel-mounted shift paddles in manual mode improves things when changing up, but downshifts are still too hesitant.
Apart from adding weight, the 4Matic system makes little difference on urban or country roads. Most of the time power goes to just the front wheels, so you’ll benefit from the extra ability only from time to time.
Like all other B-Classes, the 4Matic Sport version has a pretty firm ride. It’s particularly sharp over ruts and patchy surfaces, where it thumps and jitters about, but elsewhere it’s relatively calm. Our test car had 17-inch wheels and soft winter tyres, but Sport models get 18s and firm summer tyres as standard, which won’t help matters.
Ignore the name of the trim level – the way the B-Class drives is fundamentally dull. The steering is perfectly light around town, but is too vague around the dead-ahead position when you’re pressing on, and weights up inconsistently as soon as you turn the wheel. The 4Matic system might reduce understeer a little in some circumstances, but the pronounced body lean in bends means you’ll never fancy pushing the car hard.
What’s the 2014 Mercedes B220 4Matic Sport like inside?
The B220 4Matic comes with seven airbags, automatic (xenon) headlights and wipers, air-conditioning, leather upholstery and a reversing camera as standard.
You also get a CD player with Bluetooth and a USB socket, but it’s a shame that adding a DAB digital radio costs a whopping £430. Still, some options are better value, not least a pair of rear side airbags (£395) if you frequently transport kids in the back.
Mercedes’ Active Park Assist system is standard, which can take care of the steering when you're parallel parking. Safety kit is comprehensive, too. The B-Class gets a system that monitors how alert the driver is, plus one that can warn you of potential collisions.
There’s no doubt that the soft-touch dashboard and leather seats give the B220 a very classy feel for a family hatchback – but you’d expect that for more than £28,000. There are harder plastics lower down, but all the surfaces are textured and feel of a decent quality.
There’s loads of adjustment for both the driver and front passenger, which means anyone should be able to get comfortable. Two adults will be just as happy in the back, because the space on offer is better than in any premium rival at this price.
The 488-litre boot is another trump card over traditional family hatchbacks, and it can expand up to 666 litres if you add the £515 variable seating pack. This option turns the rear bench into a modular set-up that can be slid backwards and forwards, and adds a front passenger seat that can fold flat, allowing seriously long items to be loaded.
Should I buy one?
If you’re after a fast, stylish hatch that can transport four adults in comfort, then you should look at the Audi A3 Sportback 1.8 TFSI. With the exceptions of overall space and retained value, it beats the B-Class in every area that matters. It’s better to drive, more comfortable and a good deal cheaper to buy and run. If you need four-wheel drive and an auto 'box, even the A3 quattro S tronic is cheaper than the Merc.
If your must-haves are a large boot and four-wheel drive, then we’d suggest a Skoda Octavia Estate 4x4. Four-wheel drive is offered only with the diesel engines, but the Skoda is much more composed and comfortable than the B-Class, not to mention better to drive. It also offers a vast load space, even if you’ve got three passengers in the back.
The 1.6 TDI 105 is our pick of the Octavia Estate 4x4 range, but if you want more performance, the 2.0 TDI 150 is still brilliant value. In SE trim is gets dual-zone climate control, rear parking sensors and a digital radio as standard, yet will cost a private buyer £5000 less than the Mercedes. For company car users, the difference is more than £60 per month.
The Mercedes B220 4Matic Sport is roomy and well equipped, but it’s simply too far behind rivals in other areas to recommend.
What Car? says…
Skoda Octavia Estate
Mercedes-Benz B220 4Matic Sport
Engine size 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol
Price from £28,135
Torque 221lb ft
0-62mph 7.5 seconds
Top speed 140mph
Fuel economy 42.2mpg