Merc's B-Class is a huge step forward

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IOL mot pic may10 Mercedes B-Class 1 . Latest B-Class boasts more radical looks than its predecessor. It is also jam-packed with safety and comfort features while the handling is surprisingly sporty.

I had a rather interesting encounter with the new B-Class at last year’s Frankfurt Motor Show.

Being all-new the car was obviously one of the highlights on the Mercedes stand, but to give visitors an interactive experience the Germans put together quite a novel experience. They set up some seriously high-def screens starting from the driver’s window, curving past the bonnet and ending at the front passenger window.

The idea being a brief experience behind the wheel, but it was really more about showcasing how safe the B Class has become. And I remember trying it out , getting too close to the virtual car in front of me, and forcing the Collision Prevention Assist system into heart failure. Which had me thinking about how just a few years ago this technology was privy to the flagship S Class only, and how far this B Class mummy-mobile has in fact come.

Fast forward to last week and actually getting my hands on the new B200 CDI, and the first thing I have to admit is that I never thought I’d use the words sporty and mummy-mobile in the same sentence.

But, man, have they got some of the styling right.

That strong front end with that bold grille and huge three-pointed star is cool, but those new headlights, geez, they belong in the Playboy mansion. I also dig the pronounced curve along the side, it’s a little bit like a Nike swoosh. The roof height has been reduced and even the body sits five centimetres lower than before. The back on the other hand is still quite vertical and old school with no real design pizazz.

IOL mot pic may10 Mercedes B-Class 2 Passengers sit lower and more comfortably inside. Note the dramatic slash up the side. .

Step inside and the last thing you will think about is a shopping trolley or a mall. I’m talking about neat and elegant stitching, a sporty steering wheel with a big silver star in the centre, sporty pedals, and a thin little LCD screen which sits permanently atop the centre of the dash. And, like in the SLS, there’s jet-fighter themed air vents, but nice big ones – again, quite sporty.

Finishes aside I did notice one or two practical issues though.

Instead of an actual gearlever for the 7G-DCT dual-clutch ‘box you get a stalk on the steering column, which is very indicator-like. I think you know where I’m going with this. It’s easy enough to use, but we found out that at rolling speeds if you accidently pull it, it will engage reverse and start rolling back. You’d think it would just give off a warning.

We also had a basic aircon setup in our test unit, instead of the fancy climate control setup. Which is fine except that the fan, even on the lowest setting (0.5) was still too strong for comfort. You had to activate another vent zone, or move the vents away to make it manageable. The opposite was the problem on the temperature settings, it didn’t have the usual half-degree increments – but this didn’t affect things much.

What I did like was that even though the system worked off dials it would still tell you via the easier-to-see dashboard screen what your adjustments were.

BUILD QUALITY CONCERNS

IOL mot pic may10 Mercedes B-Class 3 Cabin is well equipped but we had issues with the ventilation. .

The button-activated handbrake was also not my favourite, but it deactivated smoothly on pull-off and wouldn’t activate unless you asked it too. Being a mummy-mobile the pull-down trays for the kiddies behind the front seats were a hit with my little ones too. But there were one or two build quality concerns. The driver’s-side window rubber wasn’t properly inserted into the frame, and the lever to open the undertray under the driver’s seat was broken.

Spending a long weekend with the B200 CDI was quite an enjoyable experience. It’s a great commuter for longish trips or for just messing about town. Merc reckons that the B’s new platform allows passengers to sit lower and enjoy extra head and legroom, and there did seem to be enough space all round.

The two-litre direct-injection diesel engine makes 100kW and a healthy 300Nm, and was torquey – especially when overtaking on longer open roads. But there is a definite issue with turbo lag, especially when trying to park or get away quickly from an intersection. It’s not the quickest engine, as our 0-100km/h test time of 10.3 seconds proved, but it felt more than adequate. Nor is it the quietest – from the well-insulated cabin you don’t hear much, but stand next to the car idling and it’s loud – like older diesels.

SEAMLESS OPERATION

The dual-clutch ‘box is certainly the way to go, and really was seamless in operation – I can’t see mummies wanting the hassle of a six-speed manual. Nevertheless, even with seven gears (and the Eco mode’s stop/start) I still hovered around the 6.9 litres per 100km mark (Merc claim 4.4).

I had no real issues with the ride quality either. Our test car had 225/45/17 tyres, and even though they’re runflats they didn’t impact on a smooth cruising experience.

I was surprised at how weighted the steering felt, and body roll wasn’t too much of an issue – thanks probably to the newcomer enjoying a lowered centre of gravity. The handling felt solid, stable and certainly safe.

And while we’re talking safety, this really is a B-Class with an S-Class safety CV. Standard safety nets include collision prevention assist (which watches your following distance), attention assist (which makes sure you don’t start snoozing behind the wheel), and the Pre-safe setup with seven airbags. Then there’s options such as Distronic Plus, blind spot assist, lane keeping assist, and active parking assist.

But no spare tyre, which I reckon is a bit of an anomaly.

VERDICT

Merc calls the new B-Class a compact sports tourer. I think that’s a step too far. The looks I think are sporty, especially with the right wheels, but there’s a definite step up in terms of luxury and safety, matched to good handling and a plush ride. Soccer mums, this is as good as it gets. Write out a cheque for R368 000. - Star Motoring

Follow me on Twitter: @mineshbhagaloo

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