Classy offering falls down in driving stakes

THE high-end small family MPV market is not one that would strike you as being terribly big, but it is sobering to note that the Mercedes B-Class, which has had something of a chequered history, has sold in pretty impressive numbers since it first emerged

Classy offering falls down in driving stakes

The new Mercedes-Benz B-Class is a high-end small family MPV and as expected is a very well appointed machine with a classy interior decor and a lot of technology on offer, writes Declan Colley

The high-end small family MPV market is not one that would strike you as being terribly big, but it is sobering to note that the Mercedes B-Class, which has had something of a chequered history, has sold in pretty impressive numbers since it first emerged.

In fact just over 1.5m of them have hit the streets in the last 14 years and the fact we are now looking at the third iteration of the B-Class indicates that the Stuttgart behemoth has found something of a golden niche for itself with this car.

That being so, it is unsurprising the company is keen to mine that seam for everything it is worth.

If BMW could be backed into a corner and forced to make their first ever front wheel drive car — the 2 Series Active Tourer — in an attempt to glean some of the market share for a posh family car, it is indicative of just how profitable the B-Class has been.

Similarly, the existence of the B-Class is probably the only reason the Volkswagen Golf SV still exists — albeit you have to look hard for one — and it is nothing like as swanky as either of its two German opponents.

I could have said rivals instead of opponents there, but you can be assured that grave offence would be taken in both Stuttgart and Munich if I referred to VW as being a rival.

No opponents fit the bill in much clearer terms, but the fact of the matter is that there are very few such executive small family MPVs on the go right now and that is why last year Mercedes went about unveiling the brand new B-Class — a model range which has just gone on sale here in Ireland.

Originally the B-Class gestated from the first two generations of the A-Class, but as the powers that be in Unterturkheim had other ideas for the A-Class badge as time went on, it was decided that the B-Class would be developed as the small family car (as the A-Class had originally been intended), while the latter would be a small family car which came in saloon, hatchback and coupe guises, if you follow.

Understandably, given the size and engineering needs of such machines, both share quite a lot of components — from the basic platform through to engines, gearboxes and a load of other stuff. But the B-Class is still resolutely a small MPV, while the A-Class, obviously, is not.

It is a five-seat MPV, however, as might be guessed by the small designation and consequently there is no seven seat option available, but if this car is aimed at empty-nesters — or at the very least aspirant empty-nesters — then few will actually want a seven seat option.

That being the case, the B-Class is really aimed at the more mature family and not the growing one, but there are plenty of lesser-order family MPVs and SUVs out there to provide for the needs of the latter demographic.

As you might expect then, the B-Class is a very well appointed machine and I would challenge anyone not to be impressed by the classiness of the interior décor, the materials used to make it so classy and the level of tech that’s on offer.

We were lavish in our praise not so long ago about the tech on offer in the A-Class and the manner in which it is laid out in an ultra-modern dashboard design and the B-Class largely mirrors that, which scores heavily in its favour.

In the AMG Line specification we were given to try, the B180 Automatic features the highly impressive MBUX multimedia layout, featuring twin 10.25in screens and a level of graphic excellent which you do not really expect to get at this level of the automotive food chain.

Now the extent of all the added options on the tester does throw another eight grand onto the bottom line, so when you’re ordering a B-Class you’d want to be very specific about what you want and don’t want and you will have to do homework to sort out wheat and chaff, but I would certainly recommend any techie upgrades above standard simply because they are so comprehensively excellent — not to mention spectacularly gob-smacking.

You may want to do without such as the light longitudinal-grain aluminium trim (€240 extra), or the panoramic sliding roof (€1,834), depending on your point of view or even state of mind, but I would actually recommend both.

Although it must be said that when I first tried to use the sliding roof, I pressed the wrong button and set off the call-for-help system, which was a little embarrassing.

Otherwise the interior is as airy, roomy, connected and practical as any small MPV can be, although I did think the boot was a little ungenerous — and particularly so if you’re, say, a keen golfer.

So far, so very good then. The B-Class certainly lives up to its billing as a top-drawer above-the-ordinary family motor. But then we come to the drivetrain and things here, I’m afraid, start to drain all the goodness outlined above.

The tester’s was badged a B180, but don’t think you’re getting a 1.8 litre engine, because you’re not. The car was fitted with the 1,332 cc four pot petrol engine which of itself is a rather nice piece of kit and another demonstration that small capacity petrol engine can work really well.

Performance figures are not gaspingly impressive, but more along the lines of decently capable. There’s 136 bhp on offer and this translates into a top speed of 212km/h and a 0-100 kph time of nine seconds, while the fuel consumption works out at 5.4 l/100km (51.8 mpg) and the emission figures are 125 g/km for an annual tax bill of €270.

ALL very good on that front, then. But when you actually drive it, this turns out to be a maddeningly frustrating car. The combination of the engine with a seven speed automatic gearbox should, in this day and age, be a thing of refinement — beauty even. Not so here.

Whatever way the box has been programmed there is a tremendous amount of first gear lurching about as the unit cannot seem to decide when is the best time to change up. And, in fact, when you open it up and get it moving through the gears, progress often seems arbitrary and the gearbox seems perplexed by what’s being asked of it.

Indeed I found the whole thing to be damn annoying and while this B-Class will throw in neatly imperceptible changes in the middle gears when you’re peddling along at moderate pace, any over-enthusiasm on the loud pedal will see it taking one or maybe two downshifts too many, inducing terror in passengers and grim alarm in the driving seat.

On top of that, it is not quite as sharp a handler as the A-Class. This is not a bad car in the handling and ride stakes, but being an MPV it might be described as stoic rather than heroic in both departments.

Thus, if you truly want to enjoy your driving experience and still want a three point star on the bonnet (or grille) look elsewhere in the Mercedes range – or even in the B-Class line-up where there are several diesel options.

That said, the B-Class is as good if not better than anything else in the posh segment it occupies and it is a very nice thing to live and sit in. But if you’re looking for dynamic driving chops, don’t expect any.

Colley's Verdict

Mercedes-Benz B 200d


    The Cost: From €34,395 - €42,646 as tested
    The Engine: Decent small capacity petrol – but the auto gearbox spoils the fun
    The Specification: Largely decent
    The Overall Verdict: Not as good as it might be

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