In a class by itself
The designers of the new B-Class were given a double task. Not only did the new generation have to be more spacious and practical than the previous one, it also had to be more sporty. Mercedes-Benz therefore refers to it as a "Sports Tourer" rather than an MPV.
To make the B-Class more sporty, a long wheelbase and a short front and rear overhang were chosen. This, together with the low roofline, creates an elongated, streamlined shape. The sportiness is emphasised by the relatively large rims (16 to 19 inches) and the sharp-cut front.
Sporty or not, it's all about space in the B-Class. Despite its lower build, the B-Class still has easy entry and a high seat (90 mm higher than in the A-Class). The dashboard is not built around the occupants (as in the A-Class), but is instead flat. In addition, the door panels are also extra slim, to create as much interior space as possible. The space in the front is therefore fine and the room to move around the front seats is also definitely good. Because the B-Class is built in height, the rear passengers sit more upright. The rear seats are on rails (24 cm adjustable), providing either more legroom or more luggage space. Trunk space ranges from 455 to 705 litres. Folding the rear seats all the way down creates 1,540 litres of cargo space. This makes the B-Class averagely spacious for a car in this segment.
The B-Class distinguishes itself from other MPVs with its comfort. And that starts with seating comfort! The B-Class is the first Mercedes-Benz with "Energising" function. This adjusts the seat slightly while driving. Instead of the passenger sitting differently on a long drive, the seat adjusts its shape, which has the same relaxing effect. Initially it is a little strange when the backrest or seat surface moves spontaneously, but in practice the promised effect is definitely achieved. In addition, the B-Class offers programmes to relax, cool down or warm up quickly. The seat heating or cooling system plays the main role, but music and mood lighting also contribute. Truly unique are the muscle exercises, where spoken instructions can be heard to relax the muscles while driving. During the test, all options were tested and found to be useful and pleasant.
Something special happens at Mercedes-Benz: not the fanciest models, but those aimed at the youngest target group are the first to be fitted with the latest electronics. That's why the B-Class is available with "MBUX". This stands for a large display that controls many functions as the user wishes. That control can also be by voice. There is no need to recite fixed commands in a fixed order. Like the smart assistant on the mobile phone, the B-Class understands a variety of requests from "navigate home" to "how is the weather in Mallorca?". As can be seen in the pictures, the answer to that last question is: dud.
New features of MBUX include a car-sharing system and centralised parking search. The latter means: when a Mercedes-Benz has left a parking spot, it is reported centrally and other cars can use that information to find a free spot.
As with the larger Mercedes-Benz models, the B-Class also offers some semi-self-driving functions. The B-Class automatically maintains a safe distance from the car in front, braking for danger and staying within the lane itself. Based on data from the sat nav, the B-Class can automatically reduce speed at roundabouts, sharp corners or other dangerous traffic situations. Unfortunately, on the test route, this proved to lead to unpredictable behaviour: for one hairpin bend, the computer went full on the brakes, and just when the driver was counting on the car automatically reduce speed before a bend, this did not happen. Also, on more than one occasion, the "pre-collision" assistant suddenly tightened the belts in anticipation of an accident when only a tunnel or roundabout was being approached.
As mentioned earlier, the new B-Class was not only to be more functional and comfortable than its predecessor, but also more sporty. To combine comfort and dynamics, a variable suspension was chosen, with the driver choosing sporty, comfortable or economical. While the difference between these modes is barely perceptible in some cars, the characters of the B-Class can almost be called extreme. In comfortable mode, the suspension is soft and the body tilts. In dynamic mode, on the other hand, the B-Class is so sharp that very careful driving is required to avoid sudden excesses.
No matter which setting is chosen, the distance between the mechanics and the driver is great. Moreover, there is a certain delay between a command via the steering wheel and an actual change of direction, which always leaves the driver feeling uncertain about the car. It is always waiting to see how the car will react to a certain situation, whereas it should be predictable. It makes no difference whether the B-Class is equipped with a torsion axle (base engines) or a construction with four wishbones (more powerful engines). Ultimately, the B-Class is best when driven calmly and smoothly. Then the car offers plenty of comfort, as befits a Mercedes-Benz.
An all-new 2.0-litre diesel engine has been developed for the B-Class, delivering either 150 or 190 hp depending on the variant chosen. This new diesel engine is also paired with a new automatic transmission that has eight gears instead of seven (if existing engines are chosen, they are paired with the existing seven-speed automatic). The character of the engine is strongly determined by the driving mode chosen. In dynamic mode, the response to the throttle is so eager that on wet surfaces it takes some effort not to drive off with wheel spin. In comfortable and economy mode, the "B220d" is mostly subservient. Never is it audible or tangible that the powerplant is struggling to perform, while it is also never noticeable how much reserve is available. The power is simply there, regardless of engine speed or situation.
For comparison, we also drove the "B200": the 163 hp petrol engine. Like the diesel engine, it performs effortlessly in all conditions.
The Mercedes-Benz B-Class is a special car because there are very few MPVs (Multi Purpose Vehicles) from premium car manufacturers. The third generation of the B-Class not only aims to be functional and luxurious, but also has sporty aspirations. On the latter point, the B-Class unfortunately fails to convince. The car is fast and looks sporty. Even when a dynamic character is chosen, the handling is too artificial and there is too much distance (and lag!) between the driver and the technology.
In comfort mode, the B-Class is a true Mercedes-Benz and this MPV offers more comfort than an average family car. In doing so, the B-Class convinces as a "premium" product with modern car comfort. Those who have driven "MBUX" once never want to go back. Arranging all screens yourself and deciding how functions are operated is ideal. Like modern smartphones, the B-Class has a smart assistant that can execute voice commands. However, the difference is: a phone can easily be operated via the screen, but the driver has his hands on the wheel, and then a smart assistant that listens to spoken commands is ideal. The many comfort features, from seat massage to semi-self-driving functions, also add extra comfort and convenience. This makes the B-Class, more than ever, a class by itself.
- Extremely comfortable
- Innovative, pleasant comfort functions
- Effortlessly high-performance diesel engines
- Uncertain handling
- Unpredictable behaviour driving aids
- Does not live up to sporty aspirations