If a pub quiz asked you to name every Mercedes-Benz currently on sale, would you remember the B-class? We all know the A-class is the sporty hatchback, the E-class a commendable 5-series rival and that the S-class limousine may well be the world’s best car.
But the B-class is simply a five-door, five-seater compact MPV, offering a premium-badged alternative in theFord C-Max, Renault Scenic and VW Golf Plus class. Tellingly, it’s the only Mercedes car not offered as a go-faster AMG.
Still doesn’t sound that enticing…
Don’t judge a book by its cover. The B-class is indeed a frumpy box, barely lifted by the hasty application of some sweeping body contours. But once you’re aboard, you’ll discover this is a lovely environment in which to ferry a family.
We’re driving the entry-level B-class diesel for this test. The B180 SE uses a 1.5-litre four-pot diesel, generating an unremarkable 107bhp and 192lb ft. As such, it’ll only just strip the proverbial rice pudding of its skin, eventually recording 0-62mph in 11.6sec. A
sking the B-class to deliver maximum thrust is like persuading the Duchess of Cornwall to run the 110m hurdles. Far from quick, but maintaining decorum throughout. It’s noticeably quieter than the raucous 2.0-litre diesel of our Mercedes A-class long-term test car, or the 2.2-litre derv found in the CLA 220.
Is the B-class too expensive for most families?
It’s a Benz – you pay dearly for that three-pointed star on the nose. This B180 CDI Eco with a manual gearbox is the UK’s cheapest B-class, sporting an entry-level ask of £22,950. How does that compare with the existing class benchmarks? Well, France’s fresh, funky Citroen C4 Picasso with an equally dainty diesel is £20,255, while the good-to-drive Ford C-Max Zetec 1.6 TDCi is £19,150.
The Merc’s price premium is inflated by optional extras. Our test car, what with its (excellent) ‘Comand’ infotainment centre, (gorgeous) heated leather seats and polished black ash wood trim, and a plethora of (unnecessary) anti-crash safety aids, came out at £29,675.
The cabin isn’t perfect – the climate control interface is plasticky and all but hidden by the gearstick, while the parking brake handle remains a cheap-feeling bugbear. Nevertheless, it’s a classy cabin, and until the new BMW 2-series Active Tourer arrives later in 2014, by far the most sumptuous, well-trimmed MPV on sale.
Just how practical is the B-class?
Just about the worst gripe we have with the B-class as a commodious family car is its lack of cabin storage, due to no overhead cubby hole and pinched door bins. The high-roofed body makes for excellent headroom, and there’s legroom aplenty for one six-footer behind another, or three children across the rear bench. The low beltline might do no favours for the B’s styling, but unlike more overstyled family cars, the B-class doesn’t feel dark and claustrophobic inside as a result.
The rear pillar blind spot is a tad large, mitigated by the £305 reversing camera. Like the A-class and CLA, the B-class’s B-pillars sit alongside the driver like a parrot on a pirate’s shoulder, which can leave the driver and front seat passenger feeling a little hemmed in, and struggle for glance-and-go visibility at junctions.
Plenty of assistance on the vast tailgate makes for easy access to the 488-litre/1547-litre boot, helped by its back-friendly loading sill, which has a lower bottom lip than a sulking toddler. The B-class beats its rivals for seats-up space, but is an inferior van: its seats-flipped capacity is some 200 litres smaller than its more mainstream, cheaper rivals.
Is all that utility undone by a rough ride?
Mercifully not. Riding on 16in alloys, the B180 rides like a proper family car should, soaking up bumps with aplomb to keep lull the children to sleep, and suppressing road, wind and engine noise to keep the little darlings in the land of nod. Even at an 80mph cruise, bumping economy to better than 50mpg, the bluff B whispers along.
So, you’ve dropped the kids at the school gates and need to make it to the office on time. Is the B-class a willing steed?
Surprisingly, yes. Perfectly weighted steering, allied with a sensibly sculpted steering wheel gives the electrically assisted B-class’s rack much of the alacrity of its A-class and CLA stablemates. It even stops well, and avoids lolling through corners, despite the lofty driving pose.
The main weak link dynamically is the six-speed manual gearshift, which is too light and flimsy to have any real substance to engage with. It’s not a bad shift – just nothing to write home about. But the alternative is a £1275 hole in your wallet and Merc’s clunky seven-speed dual-clutcher, which <is> something to write about. To the dealer. In head-nodding frustration. On balance, the cheaper, simpler manual is better.
Pricey it may be, but the B-class isn’t a family car for snobs. It’s a well-rounded, complete car – even in its slowest, cheapest form. Certainly, it doesn’t deserve to be a forgotten footnote of the Mercedes range.