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FIRST THOUGHTS: Mercedes-Benz is set to take on the small car class with a serious onslaught in the next few years. And to get the ball rolling, the extremely popular B-Class has been massaged, updated and upgraded. After our initial first drive, we can attest that it's certainly been worth the wait.
The B-Class is and has been unique in a few ways. While it's compact and diminutive, it is definitely a people mover. While it's got that city runabout feel both from the outside and in the cockpit, it's quite adept at touring through the countryside. And while it plies its trade in an ever more competitive sector of the market, it stands alone as the only luxury compact people mover that is not based on a family SUV platform. Mercedes-Benz acknowledges that the previous model was important to them and so this new version is an extremely significant launch for the brand.
This, the second generation of Mercedes' B-Class has arrived Down Under to much fanfare and anticipation. It's the beginning of a new era for MB. There are a lot of changes to take in. To our eye, straight up it's as attractive as a compact city car gets. The new styling is sharp, eye catching and, dare I say, sporting. Once you settle into the cockpit, you'll notice that the interior is perhaps even more impressive than then new C-Class. And that's saying something, given how impressed we have been with that car since launch.
It's easy to dismiss the premium end of the market as being a little beyond the average budget, out of range to most of us. Well, Mercedes-Benz has moved to squash that theory and they've achieved that on a number of fronts. This B-Class is literally jam packed with standard gear – both inclusions and mechanical. That's even if you start with the 'entry' B180 model.
There's the quite brilliant 7-speed dual clutch auto that is so silky smooth regardless of engine variant, you scarcely notice it going about its work. There's no manual option, but to be honest, you won't miss it. The auto is that good. Nine airbags deliver class leading safety technology, Bluetooth phone connectivity is standard along with audio streaming, while climate control and cruise control also line up as standard inclusions. There's a whopping 14.7cm screen standard, along with a multi function steering wheel and ambient lighting.
That said, there's always the slicing of nearly five grand off the B180 BlueEfficiency turbo petrol model pricing to entice potential buyers. That means, you can get into that model from $38,950.
From launch, three models will be available with the aforementioned B180 kicking things off. There's also a B200 with a turbocharged petrol engine under the bonnet and a B200CDi that packs an impressive turbo diesel engine. While there's a long list of standard inclusions, Mercedes-Benz has also offered up some smart options packs that range in price from $1400 through to $2990, keeping costs under control but also allowing buyers to personalise their B-Class.
We'll take a close look at the engine variants when we undertake a full test, but the initial numbers are impressive. All engines are more fuel efficient than those they replace and the two petrol engines are incredibly versatile. Power and torque across the range are right where they need to be to deliver an engaging driving experience. In ascending order, the engines generate 90kW/200Nm, 115kW/250Nm and 100kW/300Nm.
At launch we couldn't quite choose between the boosted petrol engine and the flexible diesel engine for our favourite. This wasn't made any easier by the fact that modern turbocharged petrol engines deliver diesel like torque, and modern turbo diesel engines feel like a powerful petrol engine with none of the old diesel drawbacks. Despite effortless power, torque and drivability across the range, fuel usage is low, with the two petrol engines sipping only 6.1L/100km, the diesel a frugal 4.7L/100km.
As you'd expect, the B-Class gets a 5-star ANCAP rating, due in no small part to class leading safety inclusions. Active and passive safety have both been taken care of with Pre-Safe protection standard. Collision prevention assist, attention assist, active park assist and the aforementioned nine airbags are all standard, while all B-Class models get rear parking sensors.
The revised exterior styling dominates the visual appeal. Add the optional exterior kit with attractive alloy wheels and low riding suspension, and the B-Class looks even better. In fact it looks much sportier than any city car has a right to. It's inside though where the B-Class is a major step up and away from the previous model.
The overall design of the B-Class is longer, which crucially delivers 12mm more leg room in the rear. Not a lot by the numbers alone, but significant when it comes to moving adults around in comfort. The dash and its curving design is attractive and modern, the steering wheel chunky and sporting and the switchgear has a premium feel and look to it. Touch surfaces are of a high quality and even small details like the stitching are meticulously finished.
Up front, the seats are accommodating for just about all body shapes and comfortable even after a few hours on the go. There's plenty of leg room for the front seat passenger and we found it really easy to get comfortable behind the wheel. Importantly, there is a wide expanse of visibility on offer from the driver's pew. The rear seats are also comfortable, if a little smaller than the front seats. Two adults could easily take up residence in the back seats for a longer road trip, there's no doubt about that. Overall, there's a real premium feel about the interior from the minute you close the door and sample the insulation afforded by the quiet confines.
Out on the road, we managed to sample each model and as stated, found it tough to pick between the turbocharged petrol and diesel versions. Both are quite sensational to drive with the optional handling pack adding another dimension to an already impressive vehicle. Despite sporty handling, bump absorption is excellent even over nasty road surfaces, That said, performance isn't wanting in any of the three models with perhaps a slight advantage to the diesel given its strong roll on acceleration.
VERDICT: Willing engines and an incredible gearbox that deliver more power and torque while using less fuel. There's more standard kit and clever options packs and that's before you get to the price reductions across the range. There's a whole lot to like about the impressive new B-Class. That it looks so stylish only adds fuel to the fire.
|Body type||5-door hatchback|
|Country of manufacture||Germany|
|Number of cylinders||4|
|Engine size||1.6 L|
|Claimed max power (kW)||90 kW @ 5000 rpm|
|Claimed max torque (Nm)||200 Nm @ 1250 rpm|
|Claimed fuel consumption||6.1 L/100km|