Mercedes might not have quite hit the target first time around with its original B-Class, but top marks to the German outfit for coming out fighting with a brand new model, which is bristling with clever design and technology.
This second-generation B-Class promises to draw a line under its less-than-stellar predecessor, with its rather sleek appearance and greater focus on boosting the driver and ownership experience. With the rise in popularity of compact people carriers — think Ford C-Max, Renault Scenic, Opel Zafira — walking away from such a popular and potential lucrative market sector was never going to be an option for Mercedes.
Of course, comparing Fords and Renaults to a Mercedes is akin to comparing apples to oranges. Nevertheless, if you’re in the market for what’s often promoted as an ‘activity’ or ‘compact lifestyle people carrier’ but find conventional estate cars and SUVs too limited or too big respectively, this second-generation B-Class is well worth a look.
The B 200 boasts a long, low-slung profile that does much to convince you that its five-seater layout works out just fine. And Mercedes is keen to stress that its premium cabin should appeal to both downsizers from luxury cars and those seeking an upgrade from their previous ride to something more attractive.
Certainly, this appears to be true judging from the array of trim options available, be it wood or metal effect materials for the doors and fascia. Leather is also an option, while the car’s (optional) panoramic glass roof adds a welcome touch of glamour to what could well end up being ‘mum’s taxi’ for the school run.
With the option to slide the rear seats fore and aft to vary the amount of space available to rear seat occupants, plus the ability to fold them almost flat, family-friendly versatility is available with little effort.
Oddment storage space in the cabin is also good, while the infotainment system can be upgraded to include a well thought out and centrally mounted iPad-esque glossy screen. Alas, Mercedes’ offering isn’t a touchscreen, but it’s big enough to deliver a rewarding user experience.
Driven by the car’s infotainment system, everything from the radio and MP3 integration, to navigation and mobile internet access is available for an extra outlay. It’s clear from sitting in the new B-Class, that Mercedes has learnt a lot from its past efforts. The same is true out on the road, as the car rides and drives like a completely different machine.
More composed on poorly surfaced roads and a willing performer in to the bends, its improved performance inspires much more confidence behind the wheel. Both manual and dual clutch auto gearboxes are offered, with the former the default option, along with Mercedes’ familiar foot-operated parking brake.
As you would expect, the latter is the more civilised approach to motoring and better suits the car’s relaxed personality. Factor in the redesigned column stalks — something Mercedes is rolling out across its range — and there’s a welcome, mature feel to the way the B-Class drives.
As with the rest of the industry, Mercedes has managed to deliver an engine line-up that balances economy gains with improved performance levels. A case in point is their new 1.6-litre petrol motor, which boast direct injection and low CO2 ratings. Keen drivers haven’t been forgotten either, as higher output engines promise to deliver a spirited drive if you’re willing to offset higher consumption for speed.
That said, all engines come with a fuel-saving stop-start function as standard, regardless of the transmission selected, ensuring that marginal gains are attainable irrespective of your driving style.
Now better able to cope with the rough and smooth of today’s patchy road networks and, crucially, offering a versatile and high-quality interior, it doesn’t take long to appreciate the effort made by Mercedes to make this B-Class a more rounded and appealing compact people mover.