First Drive

2014 Mercedes B-Class review

The Mercedes B-Class gets cleaner, more frugal engines, extra equipment and a pure-electric model for 2014. Have the changes made it more appealing than an Audi A3 Sportback or Volkswagen Golf Estate?

Words ByRory White

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The Mercedes B-Class tries to fill the roles of many different types of car. It’s a premium hatchback on one hand, but is also styled like a small MPV, while aiming to offer an estate’s space and practicality.

Whatever its intentions, Mercedes has shifted some 380,000 B-Classes globally since its introduction, and to keep things fresh, it’s giving it a face-lift for 2014.

The dimensions of the B-Class are unchanged, but it now has fresh styling and a higher-quality interior that includes a new infotainment screens. There are also more options to choose from, and a longer list of safety kit.

Four diesel versions are on offer, starting with a 108bhp 1.5-litre unit available as the B180 CDI or B180 CDI ECO – the latter getting range-best CO2 emissions of 94g/km. Then there are two 2.1-litre engines; the B200 gets 134bhp while a 173bhp 2.1, called the B220, is also available. Topping the range is the B220 4Matic, which is the only all-wheel drive model.

Petrol power consists of a 1.6-litre engine that is offered in both the B180 with 120bhp or the B200 with 154bhp. In spring 2015 a pure-electric version of the B-Class named 'Electric Drive' will join the range, which Mercedes claims can travel 124 miles on one charge.

What’s the 2014 Mercedes B-Class like to drive?

As the mid point in the diesel line-up, the B200 CDI feels about right. It’s easily strong enough around town and does a decent job of pulling from below 1500rpm when accelerating to overtake or negotiating steep hills.

The 2.1-litre B220 CDI feels more comfortable performing those tasks at higher speeds, though, and would be the more effortless drive with the B-Class full of people and luggage.

The 220 CDI also manages to feel more refined, because it remains quieter when revved hard and it transmits slightly less vibration back through its steering wheel and pedals.

The silent Electric Drive B-Class feels a lot like other electirc cars, because it delivers all its torque immediately to provide the best outright performance of any B-Class. There are three driving modes which offer more or less power and throttle response to help preserve battery life, and various regenerative braking modes, too.

All but the electric B-Class models we tried were equipped with Mercedes' seven-speed automatic gearbox, which is best once up to speed, when it offers quick but smooth changes both in automatic mode or when choosing gears via the wheel-mounted paddles. However, it often dithers momentarily when you pull away from a standstill or ask it for a sudden burst of acceleration.

Every test car also featured all-wheel drive - although the UK B200 CDI won't get this option - but despite grip being good in every case, the B-Class isn’t a particularly engaging car to drive quickly.

It suffers noticeable body lean in tight bends and there’s very little sense of what’s going on at the front wheels through the steering wheel. AMG Line cars get a different variable steering rack, but this system feels equally unnatural, as it still suffers the same lightness around the straight-ahead, but then throws on too much weight on turn-in.

There are also two suspension set-ups available on the B-Class: β€˜Comfort’ on SE and Sport models, and β€˜Comfort lowered’ on range-topping AMG Line cars.

In the former setting, the B-Class damps large obstacles such as speed bumps relatively well, but fails to settle over pock-marked Tarmac and suffers noticable vertical movement over undulating roads. AMG Line models are better tied-down, but the same bumps and scruffy roads are felt more sharply in the cabin.

All B-Class models whip up quite a bit of wind noise around there mirrors and A-pillars at speed, but road and engine noise isn’t such an issue at a constant cruise.

What’s the 2014 Mercedes B-Class like inside?

The B-Class’ internal dimensions haven’t changed and that’s no bad thing. There’s still plenty of space for two adults to stretch out in the front of the cabin and the driver gets a good amount of adjustment on the wheel and seat to fine-tune their perfect position.

Those in the rear also get a good deal. The same two tall adults will find their knees clear of the front seatbacks and their heads a way off the rooflining. That said, while three children can sit side-by-side in the back, three adults will find it a squeeze.

Boot space with the rear seats in place is 486-litres (Electric Drive models get slightly less), which is considerably better than what’s offered by an Audi A3 Sportback or Volkswagen Golf, but less than a C4 Picasso or Golf Estate. Every B-Class now comes with sliding rear seats as standard, which in their most forward position, leaves a larger 666 litres of space, but very little legroom for rear passengers.

The boot is a good square shape, though, and has a wide opening, while its standard adjustable floor means the loadbay is flush with the load-lip. The rear seats can also be split 60/40 and lie almost flat to open the cabin up even further.

The cabin has been given a lift, but it didn’t really need it. The soft touch areas atop the dashboard and on the doors continue to create a sense of quality, and the cabin’s chrome details help, too.

A 7.0-inch colour screen now comes as standard, but we tried the larger optional 8.0-inch version, the menus on which are controlled using a rotary dial between the front seats. The on-screen graphics look great, but navigating the menus isn’t as easy as on BMW’s iDrive, which sets the standard among modern infortainment systems for usability.

Aside from the 7.0-inch screen, entry-level SE cars come with lots of standard equipment, including 16-inch alloy wheels, leatherette upholstery, iPod connectivity, a reversing camera and city-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 man-made, part real leather seats and more aggressively styled bumpers.

Should I buy one?

The B-Class continues to offer more interior space than you get in a traditional family hatchback, together with a bigger boot, a high-quality interior and an impressive standard kit list. The Electric Drive B-Class is an intriguing prospect, especially if its estimated Β£27,000 price (after the Β£5000 government grant) becomes reality. Although, that makes it more expensive to buy than a Volkswagen e-Golf or BMW i3.

However, in terms of the conventionally fuelled models, we still think there are more sensible options depending on your needs.

If you want a premium family car, an Audi A3 Sportback has space for four adults, a decent-sized boot, an even higher-quality interior, a better ride, sharper handling and lower list prices on equivalent models. In fact there’s enough of a gap in some cases to add some of Audi's more attractive options.

If space and practicality is your priority, the Golf Estate is cheaper in most cases, too, and it comes with a bigger boot, a similarly high-quality cabin and a better mix of ride and handling.

What Car? says…

Rivals

Audi A3 Sportback

Volkswagen Golf Estate

Mercedes-Benz B200 CDI

Engine size 2.1-litre diesel

Price from Β£23,650

Power 134bhp

Torque 221lb ft

0-62mph 9.9 seconds

Top speed 130mph

Fuel economy 65.6mpg

CO2 111g/km

Mercedes-Benz B220 CDI 4MATIC

Engine size 2.1-litre diesel

Price from Β£28,625

Power 175bhp

Torque 258lb ft

0-62mph 8.3 seconds

Top speed 139mph

Fuel economy 68.9mpg

CO2 130g/km

Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric Drive

Engine size Electric motor

Price from Β£27,000 with grant (est)

Power 178bhp

Torque 251lb ft

0-62mph 7.9 seconds

Top speed 99mph

kWh/100km 16.6

CO2 0g/km