New 2012 Mercedes B-Class review
The only thing the new Mercedes B-Class five-door, five-seater premium hatch-cum-sports-tourer estate has in common with the previous generation is the name.
Gone is the previous well-liked, but expensive to produce, sandwich floor construction which housed a multitude of storage compartments, and in has come an all new conventional type platform, a version of which will support the yet to be released new A-Class supermini hatchback range.
We are told the new B-Class is the first of a series of inter-related smaller cars to come from Mercedes-Benz as they try to make serious inroads into the premium brand compact car segments dominated to date by Audi and BMW.
The all new B-Class, like its predecessor, is without question designed for classy family duties. I have in the past seen them most often being used by seemingly well off mums delivering and collecting children to/from school.
Another group of users I have regularly seen are older couples, empty-nester, who can afford a Mercedes but want that extra room for their active senior lifestyles such as garden centre shopping, carrying the grandchildren or the family dog.
The vehicle also appeals to the less-able because of its large load space, easy fold-down rear seats and easy to get in and out of, higher than average, comfortable but supportive seats, plus the option of an automatic transmission for petrol and diesel engines.
The previous generation B-Class edged towards being an MPV people carrier competing against the likes of the volume selling and cheaper Ford C-Max, Citroen C4 Picasso and the Vauxhall Zafira. Today's totally new B-Class isn't what I would now refer to as an MPV, it's more of a C-segment roomy five-door hatchback edging towards a sports-tourer estate.
Mercedes B-Class prices
The new Mercedes B-Class prices range from £21,295 to £26,160 with SE and Sport levels of styling, trim and specification. There is the choice between two 1.6-litre latest generation four cylinder petrol engines with 120 or 154bhp power outputs and there are also two 1.8-litre four cylinder new generation CDI turbodiesel units with 107 or 134bhp.
All four BlueEFFICIENCY engines are fitted with ECO start/stop as standard. Six-speed manual transmissions are also standard or an optional £1,450 seven-speed, twin-clutch automatic gearbox can be chosen.
The B180 CDI BlueEFFICIENCY Sport test car, the likely best-seller costing £23,360, was well equipped and has all the usual features now expected as standard in a premium brand model. But there is a large list of extra cost options and packs that will add further to the price.
Standard equipment on this version are four electrically operated windows, electrically controlled door mirrors, air conditioning, a good audio system with a 5.8-inch colour display screen feeding car information visually from the computer to the driver and selected by a central control unit.
A full array of front and side airbags maximises safety features. There is also my least user-friendly function, the electronic parking brake.
Outside there is now an element of sports design for the new B-Class bodyshell. It looks more athletic with sculptured lines in the side bodywork giving a toned appearance. Glitzy door mirrors, daytime running lights, a large duel-slatted grille with an imposing Mercedes star badge centrally positioned, smart alloy wheels, side sills and chrome detailing all give a modern sports image.
The Sports specification includes large 18-inch alloy wheels shod with low profile run-flat tyres and a lowered sports suspension.
Mercedes B-Class interior
The rear seats offer loads of leg space and the long distance between them and the back of the front seats allows lots of room to easily load and unload children into their childseats or seatbelts. There is a £515 Easy-Vario sliding rear seat option to make rear accommodation more flexible and this should be a standard-fit feature.
The rear seat squabs do not tumble forward so the 60/40 split rear seat backs are folded down on top of them and this means the forward area of the load floor is slightly elevated so long items have to be pushed uphill to load them. The boot space with all five seats in use is generous with 486-litres and with all three rear seats folded the load area increases to 1,545-litres.
The interior design, including five large round air vents with loads of chrome finishes, comes from the latest C-Class models so the usual Mercedes premium design is continued down to the B-Class.
There is lots of ambient lighting that adds to the premium finish together with leather trim and artificial leather upholstery. The instrument cluster of four dials continues the sports impression and my Sport specification version had rubber studded bright metal pedals.
Driving the new Mercedes B-Class
The Sports-spec 18-inch alloy wheels shod with low profile run-flat tyres and a lowered sports suspension are the undoing of this particular new B-Class model for me. The ride is so harsh as to be uncomfortable most of the time and tiring on a long journey.
The low profile tyres and lowered firm suspension just did not cope with our poor road surfaces and potholes. Deeper ruts and holes created a crashing ride; a real jarring impact went through the vehicle which was also noisy.
A family people carrier, or up-market roomy sports estate cum hatch, just shouldn't have these characteristics, for our UK roads anyway. On smoother German or other European roads it might be acceptable, for us in the UK it doesn't work and Mercedes needs to tune their car's suspension system and adopt a wheel size for this important market. My advice is chose an SE model with smaller wheels and without the sports suspension.
Fortunately the previous electro-mechanical power steering has been revised and the latest B-Class has much sharper steering responses with better feedback. The road holding and cornering is also improved, partly due to the lower centre of gravity brought about by the lower floorpan over the previous sandwich twin floor design.
B-Class running costs
The 1.8-litre, four cylinder latest generation common-rail turbodiesel engine with BlueEFFICIENCY technology gives a modest 108bhp and 184lb ft of torque from 1,400rpm so it remains responsive accelerating from low to medium speeds.
The Sport signature definitely refers to the specification and styling tweaks rather than performance. That said in this sector the top speed of 118mph is enough and the zero to 62mph acceleration time of 10.9 seconds is adequate.
Fuel economy is officially 64.2mpg in the Combined Cycle and my test car returned a very respectable 56.2mpg, so what we lose in zippy performance we save in fuel costs.
The CO2 emissions of 121g/km mean a VED road tax cost of zero under the First Year rating and then £100 per annum for the second year of ownership onwards. Insurance costs are attractive as well with a group 15 rating. Company car owners will benefit with a competitive 17 per cent charge.
The styling of the new B-Class will attract premium brand buyers in the compact family car sector as will the very roomy interior and good fuel economy.
But the poor ride comfort and the price, if top spec models and options are chosen, take the gloss off ownership in a competitive market sector. If a B-Class appeals - stick with SE versions.
Mercedes-Benz B180 CDI BlueEFFICIENCY Sport 5-Door
Price: £23,360 + options
Engine/transmission: 1.8-litre, four-cylinder, turbodiesel, 108bhp, 184lb ft of torque from 1,400rpm, 6-speed manual
Performance: 118mph, 0-62mph 10.9 seconds, 64.2mpg (56.2mpg on test), CO2 121g/km, VED road tax £0 First Year rate then £100 per annum, BIK company car tax17%
Insurance group: 15E
Capacities: 5-seats, boot/load space 486-1,545-litres
For: Attractive sportier styling, very roomy interior, comfortable seating, lots of load space, good fuel economy
Against: Poor ride comfort from the sports suspension, large wheels and low profile run-flat tyres combination, expensive if the Sport specification and other options are chosen, SE models will be better on the pocket and on comfort, electronic handbrake, rear seats do not fold completely flat