Cars that frequent the streets in large numbers, but don’t really stand out in any particular way, have an interesting stigma about themselves. They may be purposeful or reliable vehicles, but they struggle to evoke any notable emotions or sentiment from the general public, and sometimes more importantly, their drivers. With the two generations of B-Class that Mercedes-Benz has lathered city centers around the world with, you could argue that it was a success story. The numbers would certainly appeal for this anyway: 1.5 million units sold since its market launch in 2005 is no small feat for a car, that by its very nature, has somewhat of a run-of-the-mill aura. But if Mercedes-Benz can make the ‘minivan’ sexy again, surely this would be a feat to brag about.
Enter the new Mercedes-Benz B-Class; the newest iteration of the ‘sports tourer’ that is intended to finally make car-pooling and driving the kids to soccer practice a source of pleasure.
Styled in recognizable Mercedes-Benz avant-garde style, the new B-Class fits right into the modern lineup of das Haus. With its fluid and smooth lines the car is quintessentially a B-Class, but with a modern face and overhauled design features. The long wheelbase paired with short overhangs, the wide dual-grill slats and dynamic headlights, all sitting on 19-inch wheels contribute harmoniously to the sporty appearance. The two-part rear lamps running right to the edge of the car and its low squat coalesce to create an impressively energetic rear-end.
The rear diffuser serves its purpose well in parallel to the air vents and roof spoiler – their presence is muted to the extent that they are not individually noticeable, but still contribute crucially to the overall stance of the car.
The interior of the new B-Class is perhaps its greatest tour de force. Many design features have been carried over from the A-Class, most notably the extended cockpit display – two 10.25-inch screens behind a single slab of glass look sleek and well integrated. The screens have a high degree of customizability, and significantly more sophisticated appearance compared to the stick-on navigation screens found in other Mercedes iterations.
The screen is used in part to display one of the distinctive MBUX (Mercedes-Benz User Experience) features: augmented reality integration. It may sound overly complicated, but it boils down to a wonderfully simple system that shows a video image of the surroundings taken with the aid of the front camera, which is then augmented with helpful navigation information, such as arrows or house numbers that are superimposed on the video footage.
The new B-Class also borrowed features from its older sibling: the S-Class. Akin to its flagship companion, the B-Class boasts a plethora of innovative safety features and driver assistance tools. Recognizable from the array of quintessentially discursive names are all the ordinary systems such as active break assist, lane keep assist, blind spot assist, and many more. In a nutshell, the B-Class can be configured to be a remarkably cautious, and safe vehicle.
The majority of these systems could, without a doubt, avoid common and predictable fender-benders and collisions. The issue emanates neither from their reliability nor competence to avert collisions, but from their innately dismaying appeal: most safety features and driver assistance tools are optional extras that will quickly pile up the price tag of your configuration. Nevertheless, there are some great features that could very well justify their price.
Evasive Steering Assist, as Mercedes calls it, is an active system within a speed range from 20 to 70 km/h, helping the driver to avoid pedestrians detected by the radar sensors or cameras. If the driver initiates an evasive manoeuvre by turning the steering wheel, the system provides assistance by adding precisely calculated steering torque to support the movement of the steering wheel. Another exonerating feature is ability to let the car automatically stop and drive in a tailback – giving you peace of mind to revel in the joys of traffic jams.
What goes for the interior, also goes for the performance: your configuration can drastically impact the day-to-day driving experience. Under the hood you may pick what strikes your fancy from five different powertrains – three of whom are diesel variants. The most capable layout comes in the B 220 d, which boasts an 8-speed dual-clutch transmission, 190 horsepower produced from a 2 liter, four-cylinder, turbocharged engine, and a combined fuel consumption of 4.5-4.4 l/100km.
This makes the premier diesel variant a significantly different vehicle in comparison to the top-tier petrol engine, which only receives a 7 speed DCT gearbox and a 1.5 litre turbocharged unit. In normal driving conditions the petrol variant doesn’t noticeably lack any driving grace from the 7-speed gearbox. That is, as long as your right foot doesn’t suddenly succumb to a strong downward pull, whereby the rpm’s rise as quickly as your anxiety-levels. Indeed, the B-Class isn’t fond of sudden accelerations, and reminds you firmly that it is merely a comfortable city tourer intended for carpooling – any attempts for spirited driving and the B-Class feels like a fish out of the water.
Its performance higher up the rev limiter is somewhat of a contradiction when judging the B-Class from its appearance. Although the styling of the car is certainly contentious, the optional AMG package adds some nifty features to embolden the notion of the B-Class being a ‘sports tourer’. And although the car is highly aerodynamic and mindfully streamlined, it is a comfortable and safe highway cruiser at best. In fact, with long journeys in mind, Mercedes developed the ENERGIZING seat kinetics system that enables minimal changes to the inclination of the seat cushions and backrest to prevent back pains or general feelings of discomfort.
Although the B-Class changes its driving dynamics entirely when you are pushing down on the throttle, the car handles with surprising effortlessness on more winding roads. The highly functional steering wheel is precise in the twisty bends, yet reasonably light for city driving. In Comfort mode the B-Class drives somewhat like a small boat sails at sea; albeit the experience is smooth, sometimes it absorbs road bumps with a bit too much rebound to and fro. The Sport mode noticeably improves driving poise, but driver engagement or feedback from the car remains minimal.
All in all, the Mercedes-Benz B-Class is a respectable sports tourer. The plethora of optional safety features can be a blessing in disguise, and the interior could be configured to immerse you in a cutting-edge cockpit. Although the driver engagement is minimal (and further subdued by an assortment of driver aids), the B-Class is probably the most energetic and lively embodiment of a hatchback to date. Crafted for function and quotidian household purposes it has the potential to serve as a remarkably well-rounded car for customers specifically demanding a family oriented car.