Mercedes-Benz courts the compact MPV class with a more conventionally constructed B-Class. More equipment, huge safety and impressive economy combine in a more premium feeling product, though some mainstream rivals offer more space and practicality for less money.
In the Metal:
More conventionally styled than its rather awkward predecessor the new Mercedes-Benz B-Class is a smart if relatively understated looker in the compact MPV class. Feature lines on its flanks break up what would otherwise be a slab-sided two-box shape; it looks best in metallic finishes. It's lower too; thanks to a regular single-floor platform the B-Class is particularly aerodynamically efficient, with a coefficient of drag (Cd) rating of just 0.26.
The lower floor makes for a more comfortable driving position and greater foot-room in the rear seats. Billed as a five-seater it's best considered a four-seater thanks to the scalloped rear bench leaving an uncomfortable central position and a 'transmission' tunnel robbing leg room. Those seats can slide (optionally), while the boot is well shaped and offers good access. It's the quality though that's most notable, the B's interior befitting of a car wearing the three-pointed star. The fit and finish is excellent, refinement high and seat comfort good.
There's the usual talk of being sporty, but the B-Class is a compact MPV and doesn't need to be exciting. However, the steering is commendably weighted, with direct response if not masses of feel. Likewise, the suspension offers good control and tidy bump suppression, making the B-Class a comfortable companion.
Optionally fitted with the 7G-DCT (seven-speed, dual-clutch transmission) and mated to a 108hp, four-cylinder 1.8-litre turbodiesel engine, the B 180 CDI isn't hugely rapid, with a 10.8-second 0-100km/h time, but it's a smooth, flexible unit. The gears shift imperceptibly and if you want there's the ability to control them via wheel-mounted paddles.
Refinement is good, with the 1.8-litre turbodiesel remaining hushed even when pushed; wind and road noise also impressively suppressed. Overtakes might require planning, but economy is very impressive, the B 180 CDI model returning an official combined consumption figure of 4.4 litres/100km (64.2mpg) - and emissions of just 116g/km so it's in road tax Band A.
What you get for your Money:
Along with the greatly improved economy and quality the Mercedes B-Class promises greater standard equipment. All versions come with air conditioning and 16-inch alloy wheels. Safety equipment features highly, so all variants of the B-Class are fitted with a collision prevention system, driver's knee airbag and driver drowsiness monitoring Attention Assist.
The initial Irish line-up consists of the B 180 CDI as tested, a more powerful B 200 CDI and two petrol models, the B 180 and B 200. Just a single specification is offered across the range.
It may be less radical in its engineering but the new Mercedes-Benz B-Class is better for it. While not quite as practical as similarly sized and priced mainstream rivals, the weight of the three-pointed star badge and interior quality will appeal to many when it arrives in Ireland in March.