The Mercedes B-Class is a premium compact people carrier, designed to offer a spacious, upmarket interior, a comfortable ride along with easy access for those with limited mobility – due to its relatively high driving position. The closest rivals for this practical machine are the similarly-priced BMW 2 Series Active Tourer and the Volkswagen Golf SV, which both offer five seats and a large boot along with a slightly raised seating position.
Other mid-size five-seater people carriers that undercut the B-Class on price but offer similar levels of space include the Ford C-Max and the Seat Altea, which is soon to be phased out. Buyers after a comfortable but practical medium car may also want to consider the standard Volkswagen Golf or Ford Focus.
What is it?
The B-Class is Mercedes’ take on the high-end small MPV. While other models offer better value, hardier interiors and sportier handling, the B-Class focuses on comfort and offering a feeling of quality.
Prices are on the high side, starting at £21,500 for the 1.6-litre petrol B180 SE and rising to £30,050 for the four-wheel drive B220 CDI 4MATIC AMG Line. Three diesel engines are available along with two petrol units. Unusually, every engine is available with an automatic gearbox (barring the eco version of the B180 CDI) with the most powerful diesel coming as standard with a seven-speed automatic gearbox.
The most affordable specification level, SE, includes a reversing camera, a seven-inch media system, 16-inch alloy wheels and anti-crash safety kit, while Sport adds 17-inch alloy wheels, unique styling details, twin exhaust pipes, automatic windscreen wipers and ambient interior lighting. Topping the range is AMG Line, which includes an AMG body kit, lowered suspension, 18-inch alloy wheels, leather sports seats and stainless steel pedals.
What is it like to drive?
We drove the B220 CDI and the way this car drives is characterised by its engine and gearbox combination. Though this diesel model is only available with a seven-speed automatic, the gearbox feels dimwitted and extremely keen to keep the engine at low speeds when on motorways or dual carriageways and isn’t as smooth-changing as the best models around town – with a distinct pause in acceleration as the car swaps gears.
In default ‘Eco’ mode, the accelerator needs to be practically mashed into the carpet to encourage the B-Class to change down a gear or two above around 50mph, at which stage you shoot forward faster than you planned. Even if you set the car to ‘Sport’ mode, it doesn’t read which gear you want from your throttle inputs as well as with most equivalent automatic models, making for less than smooth progress and meaning that the driver can feel as if they have to expend more effort to get the car in the gear they want than with a manual gearbox – unless they constantly resort to manually overriding the gearbox with the steering wheel-mounted paddles. While the accelerator requires a lot of pressure before the car changes gear, the brake pedal is much quicker to respond – giving a mismatched feel.
The engine is impressively quiet when cruising at a steady speed, though at higher engine speeds, it is a little noisier and rougher than some other diesels, such as Volvo’s new D4 engine in the V40 hatchback. Despite a strong acceleration figure of 8.3 seconds to 62mph, the B220 CDI doesn’t feel as quick as you might imagine, partly due to the slow-to-react gearbox. Economy was also poor in our care; even with gentle driving on a mix of motorways, dual carriageways and around town, the B220 CDI consistently returned around 45mpg, according to the trip computer – a far cry from the official figure of 67.3mpg. Our car was fitted with winter tyres, which may have contributed to this. We drove the car in cold conditions and traction from the tyres was mediocre – especially as you need to stamp on the throttle to pull away from junctions briefly – which often resulted in the front wheels spinning.
Living up to its AMG Line trim, our car offered firm suspension and weighty steering. Though the steering gave a reasonable sense of confidence around corners, the ride is surprisingly bumpy for a car likely to be bought by those looking for practicality rather than a sharp driving experience. The car never truly manages to isolate passengers from the road surface and it isn’t much fun to drive in compensation. Road noise levels can also be high on rougher Tarmac, with noise from the tyres making its way into the cabin too. There is little wind noise and the engine is quiet when cruising, though.
What is it like inside?
In range-topping AMG Line trim the B-Class has a plush interior, with comfortable leather sports seats and a high quality feel to most of the materials – barring the naff so-called ‘carbon-fibre look’ dashboard trim, which looks like cheap plastic. Our car also featured optional ‘ambient lighting’, set to a garish green colour, which didn’t live up to Mercedes’ premium image.
True to many other Mercedes models the B-Class features a gear change lever where you’d normally have a wiper stalk. Though easy enough to use, this will take some getting used to for those migrating from other brands. As a result of this, the wipers are controlled by the same stalk as the indicators. With so many controls crammed onto one stalk the indicator/wiper stalk also forces you to spend some time fathoming out which bit does what.
We also had to stretch to reach the air conditioning controls from the driver’s seat, while setting the sat nav directions at times felt convoluted.
Is it practical?
The B-Class offers plenty of space in the front seats, and a reasonable feeling of room in the back, though the seat base is a little short for adult passengers. The rear seats do slide though, allowing you to expand the boot or have more passenger space.
The boot, though not initially appearing that large, offers plenty of space for most buyers, and if you fold the rear seats down it offers more room than its closest rivals, the VW Golf SV and BMW 2 Series Active Tourer. However, the Golf SV offers around 20 per cent more room with the seats up.
Getting into the car is easy, with the slightly raised driving position helping those with limited mobility, though the side skirts that form part of the bodykit mean that stepping out isn’t quite as simple. Forward visibility could also be better, with large front pillars and a sloping nose making manouevring a little trickier than it could be.
Should I buy one?
The Mercedes B-Class has plenty of plus points, with its spacious, upmarket cabin and strong claimed fuel consumption and performance. However, the model we drove was neither as economical nor as punchy as we expected – disappointing for the very steep price tag – and the combination of engine and gearbox left a lot to be desired.
AMG Line specification, as fitted to our car also seems incongruous for a practical family car, with the attempt to make the B-Class look and feel sporty compromising comfort levels, without adding much benefit behind the wheel. Those considering a B-Class would be wise to look at the more affordable models, where the balance of space and practicality is more appealing.
Don’t want to buy new? You can browse for a used Mercedes B-Class in our classifieds here.
Mercedes-Benz B220 CDI AMG Line
List price: £28,420
Engine: 2.0-litre, four cylinder diesel
Top speed: 139mph
0-62mph: 8.3 seconds
Fuel economy: 56.5mpg (urban), 76.4m