The facelifted version of the Mercedes-Benz B-Class was launched this past week. Stuart Johnston was there.
It was obviously no co-incidence that Mercedes-Benz just happened to launch its updated B-Class crossover contender a day after BMW had held the media launch of the new 2-Series Active Tourer, a car built to go head-to-head with the Merc. I wrote a few days ago that it would be interesting to see whether the facelifted B-Class had a revised ride package, after being of the opinion that, like the A-Class, the ride was too stiff, at the expense of comfort.
Ride and HandlingWell, although Mercedes-Benz isn't officially stating that there is a shift towards a more compliant, more traditional softer ride in the uprated B-Class, I can state that in my opinion this is exactly what has happened. The new, uprated B-Class now rides like a proper Mercedes. By that I mean that it is solid, almost to the point of being stolid in the way it tracks and reacts to steering inputs, but that ride quality, which I had missed in the first rendition of this second-gen B-Class, is definitely back.
The situation we now have in this particular crossover segment is that the BMW is a typical, pointy, reactive player with a very good ride quality except when its suspension is affected by bad road ripples. The B-Class, while still not perfect, is slower to react, but this can be a good thing when traversing some of the typically bad roads that we as South Africans are forced to contended with.
Why harp on and on about ride comfort? Because this is where Mercedes has traditionally been so good, and it is only in recent years that it has lost some of this quality in its more sportier models, due to a certain faction in upper management deciding that stiff equals sporty.
So, welcome back, Merc Ride Quality. The B-Class can now, once again join the C-Class in exhibiting the kind of magic-carpet ride that we have come to expect from this iconic brand.
Sporty Demeanor and EnginesThis is not to say that Mercedes-Benz has ignored the trend towards vibey, fun-filled motoring with the B-Class update. In fact the facelift is quite radical in terms of it grafting on a lower nose section that is very A 45 orientated, with gaping air intakes below the bumper line and a new wider main grille.
New wheel options also give the B-Class an extremely crisp, sporty overall stance in its latest guise, and in this respect it is more overtly sporty than its main rival’s new 2-Series Active Tourer offering. As for mechanical spec, this remains the same, with the model range kicking off with the B 200, a rather modestly-powered 115 kW 1.6-litre four-cylinder, rated at 8.6 seconds for the 0-100 kph dash. This one costs R388 300.
Next up is the B200 CDI, with 100 kW and 300 Nm of torque from its 2.143 cc diesel, and a price of R404 200. The B 220 CDI uses an uprated version of this same diesel to produce 125 kW, 350 Nm and an 8.3 second 0-100, with a top speed of 224kph. This one costs R448 000
And the range-topper remains the B 250 AMG Line, with a two-litre four-cylinder petrol motor rated at 155 kW, with a claimed 6.8-second zero to 100 and a price of R464 800. A six-speed manual transmission is standard in the B200 and B 200 CDI. A seven-speed dual-clutch transmission is standard in the B220 CDI and B250 AMG LINE, but optional in the two cheaper models. The prices quoted are base figures, and much of the equipment fitted to a typical B-Class that rolls off the showroom floor comes as extra-cost options.
Launch DrivesThe 250 we tried on the launch, which was impressive, comes standard with the AMG Line trim (optional for the three lower-cost models). The AMG line employs 18-inch alloy wheels, a dual-pipe exhaust system, and perforated disc brakes up front. Inside, the multi-function steering wheel is a highly attractive piece of equipment.
The uprated interior trim levels employed in the B-Class vary quite widely according to various options a customer can choose, these being named Style, Urban and AMG Line. I preferred the car we drove fitted with the smoked surrounds on the ventilation ducts, which are very efficient, by the way, enjoying a full-swivel design that makes them very effective in directing needed air exactly where you want it. And the new bigger central information screen has wonderfully visible graphics, particularly useful when coupled with the Command Navigation system an extra-cost item on all models at about R22 000.
Standard on the B-Class is Collision Prevention Assist , which gives distance warning in relation to stationary or slow-moving objects up ahead and braking assistance. The optional PLUs function now available on the B-Class offers autonomous partial braking, in other words the car will brake without any input on your part, handy when you have taken your eyes off the traffic ahead for whatever reason.
B-Class SummaryOverall, I was impressed with the facelifted B-Class. It is interesting to note than in the European arena, the B-Class is second only to the C-Class in terms of overall sales, within the Mercedes group. Of course this isn’t the case here, where more SUV-based offerings outgun MPV or cross-over people movers by a considerable margin. And the Mercedes-Benz A-Class has been going great guns on the sales front in SA.
It is worth mentioning that due to a new head office directive from Germany, Mercedes Benz SA is no longer disclosing individual sales figures for their model ranges, due to strict anti-competition laws in the home regions. Pity, as it would be interesting to see how this Stuttgart-shaped people-mover shapes up against the new challenger from Munich in terms of sales.