"The Mercedes B-Class is much sportier than its predecessor, with loads of cabin space."
The Mercedes B-Class is the German premium manufacturer's compact MPV, designed to bring the fight to other more mainstream rivals like the Volkswagen Golf Plus and Ford C-MAX. Originally launched back in 2005, the older B-Class was replaced by the current car in 2011, and it's significantly better than its fairly dull predecessor, sporting a much more stylish exterior combined with that little bit of extra space and flexibility. It's built around a front-wheel-drive platform that's also used in the latest, more stylish A-Class and three other upcoming Mercedes models. The interior layout is roomy and versatile, maintaining Mercedes’ reputation for serious quality. The B-Class comes with a choice of two diesel and two petrol engines, plus a seven-speed twin-clutch automatic gearbox that's available across the whole range. The B-Class comes in only two main specifications – the entry-level SE and top-of-the-range Sport.
MPG, running costs & CO2 emissions
If you’re looking for the best economy and lowest emissions, the 107bhp B180 CDI is the best choice, with fuel consumption of 64.2mpg and CO2 emissions of 115g/km. Even the most powerful 154bhp B200 petrol still manages to return 45.6mpg and emits only 144g/km thanks to a combination of turbocharging, direct injection and stop-start as part of Mercedes BlueEFFICIENCY technology. As with all premium models, however, you’ll pay above average for parts and servicing no matter how reliable it proves.
Interior & comfort
You get as much legroom in the back of the B-Class as you do in the Mercedes S-Class executive car, really spoiling rear passengers for space. Plus, all the seats – front and back – are very comfortable and supportive. All the main functions, including the sat-nav, are controlled by a rotating dial and displayed on an Apple iPad-style main central touchscreen. Road, wind and tyre noise are well suppressed when driving on the motorway, while the soft suspension soaks up most small bumps, too. Unless you order the Sport model, that is, which has a much firmer ride. While SE models get 16-inch wheels as standard, the Sport car has 18-inch wheels and lowered suspension, which means it jiggles around a lot on uneven surfaces.
Practicality & boot space
The current B-Class is simply much more practical than the car it replaced. It may be lower, but it actually get more headroom (thanks to the seats also being mounted lower inside the car) and more interior space in general. If you order the £600 Easy Vario Package (which isn’t particularly cheap, we have to say), the interior is even more versatile. The rear bench splits into two sections (60:40) and slides back and forth to boost the boot space from 486 litres up to 666 litres, or give extra legroom – basically whichever you need most at any given time. The rear seats also fold flat and floor of the boot can be lifted up to create a fully flat loading area that makes getting long, large objects into the boot easier. The front passenger seat also folds forwards, freeing up even more space. Unfortunately, with the rear seats flat, you only get 1,545 litres of space, which is nearly 200 litres behind the Ford C-MAX's boot.
Reliability & safety
While the B-Class itself doesn’t yet rank in the 2013 Driver Power customer satisfaction survey, Mercedes has climbed a further three spots up the manufacturers list, to place fifth overall. This improvement on the 2012 poll shows Mercedes pulling ahead of both Audi and BMW, with only Mazda, Jaguar, Skoda and Lexus proving more reliable and satisfying from an owner point of view. This reflects Mercedes’ excellent reputation for reliability. Likewise, the B-Class is still too new for there to be any reported problems, but any major mechanical failures are pretty unlikely anyway. All the engines and the automatic gearbox are brand new, but are derived from proven Mercedes technology. For example, the 1.8-litre diesel is a modified version of the 2.1-litre engine that's already used in the C-Class and E-Class, both of which have so far proved very dependable. In terms of safety, the B-Class naturally scored the maximum five-star rating in the Euro NCAP crash safety tests, with every model coming fitted with a full range of airbags, electronic stability control, and Mercedes’ own Collision Prevention Assist, which brakes automatically if it senses an accident is imminent. There are also lots of safety accessories available as optional extras, including lane keep assist and blind-spot detection.
Engines, drive & performance
The B-Class is now more comfortable and fun to drive thanks to a new suspension and a lowered centre of gravity. Improved electric power steering also makes it incredibly easy to turn the car and use around town, although it does lack a bit of feel when driven faster on larger roads, but you don’t get very much body roll when driving through the corners. The 1.6-litre turbo petrol engine can be ordered with either 120bhp in the B180 or 154bhp in the B200, both of which offer impressive performance. But as this is meant to be a family car, the diesel engines suit the B-Class better. The 1.8-litre engine is available with 107bhp in the B180 CDI or 134bhp in the B200 CDI, with both offering plenty of speed and proving very responsive. They’re a little noisier than the petrol engines, but engine noise never becomes intrusive inside the car. The seven-speed automatic gearbox is only available as an expensive option, however, but it's worth every penny. Going against the norm, where manuals get the best out of cars, the B-Class automatic is smooth in auto mode and changes gears quickly when you use the wheel-mounted paddles.
Price, value for money & options
This is a Mercedes, so it's hardly surprising that you can expect to pay a good £4,000 more than a Ford C-MAX for even the cheapest B-Class. But also, as this is Mercedes, you get an upmarket interior and loads of equipment and accessories for your money. All models get 16-inch wheels, air-conditioning and an automatic parking system (which are always a giggle), while optional extras include sat-nav, a panoramic sunroof and leather seats. You will have to pay more for this B-Class than you would have for the old model, but the value of the extra features really does cancel that out. You’ll have to pay above the odds for any servicing and replacement parts – this is a Mercedes, after all, though the silver lining is that you should see some of your money back when the time comes to sell it on the UK used car market, thanks to some very strong resale values.