Coldplay: with their catchy melodies and inoffensive lyrics, those lovely British lads epitomise mainstream rock music. Now I reckon there’ll be a lot of Coldplay-ed in the new 2012 Mercedes B-class. Both are middle-class, family-friendly and rather safe.
Apparently, the B-class MPV (or sports tourer in Merc-speak) is the most extensive new model update in Benz’s history, adopting a new front-drive platform to lower the centre of gravity and boost agility.
The new 2012 Mercedes B-class in detail
Powertrain developments include using the latest 1.8-litre turbodiesel and dual-clutch transmission, and the inaugural outing of Mercedes' M270 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol. The 122hp version of this engine is counter-intuitively badged B180, while the 156hp version we drove is badged B200.
It’s an impressively smooth engine, as you take it way up the rev range with its long gearing and faint turbo whistle in the mid-range. The torque peak of 184lb ft matches the base diesel's, and while the 1.6 petrol doesn’t feel super punchy, it has the guts to overtake and can despatch 0-62mph in 8.6secs. Combined fuel economy is an impressive 45.6mpg; thank stop/start and a 0.26 drag factor, stupefying for something that looks like a cereal box on wheels.
The new six-speed manual is a little notchy but easy-going; the dual-clutch automatic works sweetly, responding hungrily to kickdown by bolting a couple of gears lower. The responsive brakes have a satisfying, firm feel.
How does the B200 B-class ride?
This B200 was a Sport, which costs around £1300 more than the base SE trim. Sport brings stiffer dampers, a 20mm lower ride height, natty 18-inch two-tone rims and a less comfortable ride. The Sport got itself into a terrible pogoing action over a punishing motorway stretch of high frequency bumps; the Comfort suspension and 17s didn't fare much better, though it was more compliant around town. The upside is that the B-class Sport corners much flatter and with more composure than its predecessor. But it's not going to make you shiver or have sparks flying.
One culprit is the electrically assisted steering: it's light and so slow around the dead-ahead, it hasn't got a mere sneeze factor but a 'week laid low with flu-factor'. Forget the Sport pretensions, and go for Comfort and 17-inchers on UK roads.
What's the cabin like in the 2012 B-class?
The B has an A-grade interior. Dark, soft plastic coats the dashtop like the shell of a choc-ice, nudging up against a honeycomb contoured facia. The vibrant TFT screen so closely resembles an iPad it could trigger a spate of B-class break-ins by uninformed criminals.
This being a MPV, there's a high-seating position, formidable A-pillar blindspot, and heaps of space: rear legroom beats an E-class, and Marge Simpson and her beehive can travel in comfort. Don't expect funky doors, imaginative cubbies and gymnastic seats - you have to spend £600 just for a rear bench that rakes backwards and slides to boost the boot to 488 litres.
The B is smothered with safety kit, bringing a standard radar-based collision detection system and optional lane departure warning and blind spot assistant. It’s infuriating how often you see a warning sign: accelerating past a slow car onto a motorway, I triggered more beeps and bongs than someone selecting the ring tone on their new ‘phone.
All told, the B-class is perfectly civilised but rather forgettable. Like Coldplay then. If you like your gangsta rap or techno, find a family car with a little more devilment.