Mercedes up game for B-Class

FOR many industry observers the recent and concerted effort by Mercedes in this country, the realignment of the prices of the majority of its model range, had a ‘not before time’ feel about it, but the bottom line for both the company and its consumers is that the majority of that rage is now more affordable than at any time anyone can remember.

Certainly there is a feeling in the industry that Mercedes is now — in an Irish context — much more competitive and, in the face of continuing onslaughts from its premium brand competitors, this cannot be a bad thing for both the company and its dealer network as well.

This week we are testing the new B-Class, a car which the company grandly describes as a compact sports tourer, but is in effect a mid-size MPV. In this game, of course, you get used to having to wade through a lot of hyperbole and when Mercedes describes any new car as being a ‘a quantum leap in the compact class,’ you do tend to look around for a pinch of salt.

However, as B-Class project chief, Rudiger Rutz told us at the European launch last year, the car contains more new model features than any in the long and distinguished history of the brand.

It also precedes the new A-Class which was first seen at the recent Geneva Motor Show and the two models will now complement each other in the broad MPV segment.

The second generation B-Class was designed to have a younger look and feel about it by comparison with its predecessor and that is something the designers have achieved in spades.

What they have also managed to do is produce a car which is a much better driving proposition than the car it replaces.

We tested the ‘Chrome’ version of the B-Class which is exactly as it might suggest, what with exterior elements such as a ‘brilliant silver’ grille, side chrome trim elements, daytime running lights with chrome rings as well as a stainless steel tailpipe trim. Inside, that theme is continued with silver chrome trim elements throughout. All very nice.

On the engine front the car is fitted with the very efficient 1796 cc CDI BlueEFFICIENCY powerplant with some 80 kW (108 bhp) output and some 250 Nm of torque at between 1,400 and 2,800 rpm. This translates into a 0-100 kph capability of 10.9 seconds and a top speed of 190 kph.

Of more interest to people in these straitened times is, perhaps, the fact that the unit will return some 4.6 l/100km over the combined cycle. Undoubtedly the standard six speed manual ‘box helps in this regard.

The net effect of these figures indicates that despite Mercedes’ assertion that this is a sports tourer, the B-Class is no more than an adequate performer.

Having said that, it mixes that with good economy and the result is a car which, over longer distances is a very satisfactory partner indeed.

The old B-Class was not renowned for its handling abilities and this is an area where Mercedes has done a really impressive job this time around. A new four-link rear axle suspension system and a lower centre of gravity make this a far more appealing driving prospect than what went before and again it underlines the car’s abilities over longer distances. Indeed if you do long journeys on a regular basis, then this is a car worth very careful consideration. It might not be the most exciting performer, but it covers long treks with an understated sophistication and without using undue amounts of gas. The Mercedes claim of ‘cultivated sportiness’ might not be too wide of the mark, although their use of the word ‘sportiness’ might just be overstating things a little.

In terms of comfort, the interior is a cultivated place to be and the dashboard layout is easy to live with and characterised by the new-look air vents which are very eye-catching.

It is a pity that the fore/aft adjustment of the rear seat is only an optional item, but otherwise the B-Class boasts plenty of space and will easily cater for four adults comfortably.

The test car also featured Mercedes’ much-vaunted collision prevention system, which is a radar-based operation which triggers visible and audible warnings to alert the driver of possible danger.

The B-Class is a much more accomplished machine than the one it replaces, and while it might not match up to some of the manufacturer’s claims in terms of its sporty nature, it look much more appealing than the previous car and it is a much better drive as well.

And now that Mercedes here in Ireland has got a lot more real in terms of its pricing structures, the B-Class is a much more interesting buying prospect too.

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