For a lot of people the B-Class is the most misunderstood of all the Mercedes-Benz vehicles (along with the bigger R-Class). It competes in its own little niche by combining the general on-road dynamics and exterior size of a typical C-segment hatchback with the interior packaging of a compact MPV. Well, that was always the idea… In the end the B-Class’s lofty driving position, packing space and relaxed demeanour saw it appeal mostly to older buyers or well-to-do moms on the school run, which may not quite be what Mercedes had in mind originally. Now the second-generation B-Class has arrived, and it attempts to lure younger, sportier customers to the fold. Does it succeed? We take a closer look at the Mercedes-Benz B180 to find out.
Identity crisis?Mercedes’s attempts to up the B-Class’s sex appeal are very evident on the outside. Ultimately the level of sportiness depends on which of the three trim packages you settle on, but even in its most conservative form it is still a far more dynamic-looking vehicle. The roofline is 50 mm lower, the consequence of Mercedes finally dropping the much hyped sandwich-floor design of the first-generation model – this double-floor design was supposedly developed to cater for the fitment of future alternative energy engines that never quite materialised. With its long wheelbase, squat body and dramatic side panel sculpting, the B-Class is certainly now less mom’s taxi, and more quasi sports hatch, if only just.
The cabin is even more dramatic. Forget for a moment the big boot, clever, sliding rear seats (by 140 mm) and vast load area when the seats are folded down, and concentrate instead on the SLS AMG-like facia design. Again, various trim options are offered, but even in its most “conservative” iteration you still get a sweeping facia peppered with round ventilation outlets that seem to come straight from Mercedes’s hardcore roadsters. There’s also a nifty, free-standing TFT (thin-film transistor) display screen (various sizes offered) that does a lot to lift the level of perceived sophistication in the cabin.
Overall, the driving position is a world removed from the previous-generation car. The seating position is more than 80 mm lower and the driver grips a sporty steering wheel that wouldn’t look out of place in a more performance-oriented model. Other stand-out features include attractive, deep-set instrumentation and a clutter-free transmission tunnel due to the gearlever being fitted to the steering column.
So, the Mercedes-Benz B180 is certainly sportier. And yet the brand has also maintained its superb interior packaging. While the roofline may be lower, actual headroom has been improved. People wearing large hats (or perms) can therefore still be comfortably accommodated. The rear seats are split 33/66 and when they are folded flat the floor is flat and vast.
Excellent economyPowering this Mercedes-Benz B180 is the company’s 1,8-litre, four-cylinder turbodiesel engine. As the BlueEfficiency moniker indicates, the focus is very much on lowering consumption. This, of course, is somewhat at odds with the B-Class’s supposed sportier persona, and certainly the 0-100 km/h time of 10,7 seconds is not really going to set anyone’s pulse racing. That being said, the B-Class feels a bit sprightlier than the figures suggest, with the slick and fast-acting seven-speed dual-clutch transmission doing a good job of accessing the maximum torque (250 Nm) in the 1 400 to 1 800 rpm rev range. But yes, the economy is outstanding, with the claimed figure of 4,7 L/100 km not being entirely ridiculous.
Mercedes has worked hard to endow the B-Class with improved dynamic ability compared with its somewhat dull predecessor. The ride is lower and firmer, with a stabiliser at both ends. A sports suspension pack is also offered, which lowers and stiffens the ride even further, but perhaps by too much. The standard set-up strikes a better compromise between comfort and sharpness. But, while the driving experience is certainly a bit more “fun”, the Mercedes-Benz B180 remains a vehicle that prioritises safety. As such, it features not on an ESP (electronic stability system) as standard, but also hill-start assist and even attention assist which monitors the driver’s alertness. Also included in the extensive safety package are seven airbags.
Mercedes-Benz B180 - VerdictThe Mercedes-Benz B180 (B-Class) remains a unique competitor in the local market with few (if any) direct rivals. The price is reasonable given the quality of the vehicle, its interior packaging and especially the Mercedes badge on the nose. Even the standard features list is fairly comprehensive, and the prices of most options are not too outrageous – including leather, for less than R3 000 extra.
In the final analysis, the B-Class is likely to continue to appeal primarily because of its badge, but some younger families may be swayed by its new-found sportiness and particularly the appealing interior design. Think of it, in fact, as a premium-finished, bigger Honda Jazz and you’re not too far off the mark. And that’s nothing but a compliment…
- More personality than before
- Exceptional economy
- Striking and practical interior
- Mercedes badge
- Pick your options carefully
Fast factsEngine: 1,8-litre, four-cylinder, turbodiesel Power: 80 kW @ 3 200 rpm Torque: 250 Nm @ 1 400 – 1 800 rpm Transmission: Seven-speed dual-clutch Wheels: 18-inch alloy Top speed: 190 km/h 0-100 km/h: 10,7 seconds Fuel economy: 4,7 L/100 km
- Volkswagen Golf 1,6 TDI Comfortline DSG: Cheaper than the Mercedes, and obviously can’t quite match its packaging, but the Golf is an excellent all-rounder that offers similar performance and economy.
- Audi A3 Sportback 2,0 TDI Ambition S-tronic: A very hard car to fault, even though the Mercedes offers superior interior space. If you don’t need the quasi-MPV practicality of the B-Class, then the A3 is arguably superior in most areas.
- Kia Sportage 2,0 CRDi 4x2 Auto: For similar money you can get a very nicely sorted soft-roader such as Kia’s popular and highly rated Sportage 2,0 CRDi. The Kia can’t match the B-Class in terms of refinement and on-road manners, but is a practical, comfortable family hold-all that can go more places…