The German luxury manufacturer has started an unprecedented offensive to regain the top spot in its segment, fueling deep changes in its core perspectives – the automaker now has a very different approach to design and is even emphasizing dynamism more than ever before.
And the second generation B Class, launched some while ago – late 2011 – is one of the early adopters of the new philosophy, with some key changes to its design – but still limiting the dynamism card. It’s not as “hard core” as the new A Class but also not that serious as the first generation.
Featured even before the third generation A Class, the B Class still shares many features with its smaller sibling – like some over all styling cues for example and the fact that still resembles an “inflated” version of the smaller compact offering. Still, we have to agree that it’s not as obvious anymore as it was with its first generation/second generation A Class.
And, because it was launched before – when Mercedes looked like it was still unsure if it’s doing the right thing with its 180 degrees perspective shift, many traditional clients could appreciate the B Class for its connection to the more serious and “dormant” Mercedes from a few years ago.
The B Class is modern looking, featuring the new styling for the headlamps (here in a rather good interpretation – I have my reserves on other models) and the now well-known “force” sidelines. The most definite connection to the old B Class is in the back, where it features only slightly altered stop lamps.
Anyway, as it was the case in the past, the B Class will be chosen especially by more mature clients, which wanted a more traditional Benz, with the bonus of added space when choosing it over the A Class. This will also be the case now, as the younger audience will definitely choose the stylish, bold and aggressive A Class.
Interior and gadgets
If you remember the older A Class or B Class, the new model’s interior will come as a welcome surprise, with the overall design completely changed, modern looking, stylish and functional. The B Class won’t win the competition against the A Class here, which features an even better design and choice of materials, but will score big points on the space chapter.
The dashboard and instrument cluster is very close to its smaller sibling but still retains sufficient personality. I enjoyed the satin-silver plastic inserts but other materials were unworthy of a Mercedes Benz interior – and unfortunately they tend to be present quite a lot. Still, the new steering wheel and the overall atmosphere tend to compensate them – well, at least until you see the starting price tag (our B180 CDI was north of 26.000 euros).
Speaking about space, the front seats were ample and comfy, with almost no visible side support, which actually made them very good for long journeys. Their size was also appropriate and although for electric controls you need to open the cash wallet further, the manual controls for the driver’s seat were intuitive and easy to use – I found a perfect driving position in mere seconds.
The back seat can take three adults, unlike most of the traditional Mercedes thanks to the front wheel drive, which ensures there is no transmission tunnel in the middle. Also, the car is wide and there is no problem for very tall people as the car is really, really tall (well not that tall, but from inside so it seems). The luggage compartment is decently sized and the presence of a folding backrest ensures bigger items will go in as well.
If you have the cash, Mercedes allows you the full multimedia experience, with Command and Harman Kardon audi experience, but for the standard issued audio Audi 20 (even with the optional Becker Map Pilot fitted) I simply found the view screen (located in a great position though) to be really… egoistically small. It was actually emphasized by the huge bezels (when you opt for the Command the screen is bigger and they shrink) – in an era of almost bezel free smartphones, which tout 5-inch (or bigger) screens of Full HD resolution (or more) it could be considered as a rather cheap step from Mercedes to save money.
On the other hand, the trip computer comes as a very nice change, with its display located in the center of the instrument panel, offering comprehensive information and even geeky tips on how eco is your driving style – it gives you an overall percentage and three main categories (acceleration, coasting and smooth driving) and I often found myself enticed to reach a high percentage.
Also, Mercedes chose to opt for a steering wheel transmission shifter in case you have the 7 G-Tronic automatic transmission – a nod to US driving, the bigger S Class and overall a very ergonomic choice, with the manual duties performed through the shift paddles.
Engine, transmission, fuel consumption
Mercedes-Benz has started rolling out a newer engine for the B180 offering, a 1.5 liter as opposed to the usual 1.8 turbo, but we had on our test car the old one. It gives you an unimpressive 110 hp and 250 Nm, which were suitable in most situations – except for when you really needed an extra oomph – like overtaking or reaching fast a highway cruising speed. If the town is the most usual case scenario though, the power and performance figures of 11,9 seconds to 100 km/h and 190 km/h top speed (for the automatic transmission) are more than enough. This is because we are talking about a diesel that delivers its torque from low revs (250 Nm at 1750-2500 rpm in our case) and a fast double-clutch automatic transmission.
Speaking about the latter, for the B180 the 7G-DCT is not standard – and you have to give more than 2000 euros on it (2.256,80 Euro in Romania), but it is well worth it. It gives a smooth and fast (when needed) performance and Mercedes also provides it with a three-program setup – for the Eco conscious, for the Sport driven and a Manual mode.
It will actually give you the same average fuel consumption of 4,1 L/100 km as the standard manual with six speeds, but it beats it hands down in terms of responsiveness and comfort.
Mercedes-Benz touts the B Class as a Compact Sports Tourer – and the R Class as a Grand Sports Tourer – but frankly the compact model is a very plain hatchback, with a hint of MPV. For that, its overall height is a bit on the tall side of the segment, which improves interior space and has almost no effect what so ever on the handling. For sure, the added weight and slightly worse aerodynamic shape won’t give you the same crisp handling as an A Class, but the B really fares well.
It is actually pretty dynamic when you need to, thanks to a very good steering system, which gives enough input to the driver and also adjusts its effort needed with speed. With the sporty steering wheel, a dynamic parcour is really enjoyable even in the town, but you need to mind the dimensions of the car, which are slightly bigger than your average compact car.
While outside the town, the B Class really demonstrates its Benz prowess, with a very smooth, comfortable and quiet ride, as the only noise present in the cabin at highway speeds will be from the wind or tires (we had winter on, so it’s understandable). The engine is very well muffled, even if you require full throttle in an overtake situation.
Also, despite the height, the suspension system gets the job well done on faster courses, giving (together with the steering system) the driver confidence in negotiating fast turns. Still, the comfort remains high, as the suspension as well negotiates all holes quietly and in an efficient manner.
As safety is concerned, Mercedes-Benz gives you standard or for extra cash almost anything you could imagine… and more. I found especially helpful a little aid – the Collision Prevention Assist system (offered standard on the B180) that lets you know if you are in the danger zone behind a car: if you get too close it will display a visual warning and if you get too close and too fast there will also be an audio one.
The B Class has a toned down version of the new design language that will please the more traditional Mercedes clients, a smooth and comfortable ride and a great seven speed double-clutch automatic transmission that ensures great fuel consumption and ride comfort.
The 1.8 liter engine lacks the oomph in certain situations and the car and its optionals are quite expensive. Also, the same toned down design might drive away new adopters of the brand.