"The B-Class is much sportier than its predecessor, with loads of cabin space."
The new B-Class is a compact MPV, positioned as a premium rival to the Ford C-MAX and Volkswagen Golf Plus. It's built around a new front-wheel-drive platform that will be used for the latest A-Class and three other new models. The interior layout is versatile and spacious, and maintains Mercedes’ reputation for quality. There's a choice of two diesel and two petrol engines – all featuring stop-start and offering impressive economy – plus a new seven-speed twin-clutch automatic gearbox is available across the range.
New electric power-steering makes the wheel extremely light to turn and easy to use in town, and while it lacks a little feel on faster roads, there's very little body roll in corners. The new 1.6-litre turbo petrol engine can be ordered with 120bhp in the B180 and 154bhp in the B200, and it's smooth and fast if you keep the revs high. But the diesel suits this family car better. The new 1.8-litre engine is available with 107bhp in the B180 CDI or 134bhp in the B200 CDI, and both offer plenty of performance and instant throttle response. They are noisier than the petrol engines, but good cabin insulation means it's never intrusive. The twin-clutch automatic box is a £1,450 option, and worth every penny. It's smooth in auto mode and changes gears quickly when you use the wheel-mounted paddles.
Rear passengers are spoiled for space – there's more legroom than in an S-Class. All the seats are comfortable, while the sat-nav and other main functions are easily controlled through a rotating dial and Apple iPad-style central screen. Wind and road noise is well suppressed on motorways and the suspension soaks up small bumps well – unless you order the Sport model. While SE models get 16-inch wheels as standard, this car has 18-inch wheels and lowered suspension, and jiggles around on uneven surfaces.
Mercedes has an excellent reputation for reliability. Although the B-Class is too new for there to be any reported problems, any major mechanical failures are unlikely. All the engines and the automatic gearbox are brand new, but are derived from proven 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.
Order the £600 Easy Vario Package and the interior is extremely versatile. The rear bench, which is split into two sections, slides back and forth by 140mm, increasing boot space from 486 litres to 666 litres. The rear seats also fold and a variable-height boot floor can be lifted up to create a flat loading area. The front passenger seat folds forwards, freeing up even more space. Even though the new B-Class is almost 50mm lower than its predecessor, passenger headroom has been increased by mounting the seats lower.
Value for money
Prices start at £21,290 – that's over £4,000 more than the cheapest Ford C-MAX, but of course equipment is generous. All models get 16-inch wheels, air-conditioning and an automatic parking system, while options include satellite navigation, a panoramic sunroof and leather seats. Prices are slightly higher than for the previous B-Class, but the value of the extra features more than cancels that out.
The most economical model is the 107bhp B180 CDI. It has fuel economy of 64.0mpg and CO2 emissions of 115g/km, so Road Tax is £30 a year. Even the most powerful petrol car, the 154bhp B200, returns 45.6mpg and emits just 144g/km thanks to a combination of turbocharging, direct injection and stop-start. As with all prestige models, though, you’ll pay above average for parts and servicing.