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2012 Mercedes B-Class review, road test

18th Sep 2012 12:04 am

With the new B 180, Mercedes-Benz is targeting a whole new demographic in India. Will this new car tempt buyers into trying something different?

  • Make : Mercedes-Benz
  • Model : B-class

Our test car came with low-profile tyres (225/40 R18) and an optional sports suspension, so the ride was pretty stiff. However, the launch version comes with a softer suspension and 225/45 tyres on 17-inch rims, which should make it far more comfortable. Hence, it would be inappropriate to comment on the ride quality, but it is safe to say that though it should be fairly pliant, the small B-class is unlikely to have the majestic ride of the Merc saloons. Also, the way the body shuddered through potholes points to a chassis that is not as stiff as the saloons. However, that’s to be expected from a monocoque MPV.

What is truly impressive is the handling, which certainly has a sporty feel to it. The B-class darts from corner to corner in a way that is incredible for a car with such a long wheelbase. The chassis is brilliantly balanced and there’s a wonderful neutral feel to the handling. The way it puts its power down is very impressive for a front-wheel-drive car too. The turn-in is sharp, the grip is fantastic and the body stays nice and flat, allowing you to push it even harder. The best bit about the B-class’ dynamics is the electric steering, which is quick, accurate and has been tuned to offer the same wonderfully fluidic feel Mercedes owners will know so well. In fact, the steering feel is so good it will make you wonder if Mercedes has secretly hidden a hydraulic steering pump under the bonnet.

Overall refinement is pretty good given the size of this car, but there’s a noticeable amount of wind noise and tyre roar (which should reduce with the India-spec rubber). However, what’s for sure is that the B-class’ big, drum-like cabin doesn’t feel as hushed as a regular Merc’s. 

The B-class gets Merc’s 450-watt ‘Audio 20’ system that includes a CD player, USB and aux-in ports, and plays through 12 speakers. It can play WMA, MP3 and Apple formats. It works in connection with the COMAND system’s colour screen and displays album art if the details are stored on the audio file. It also gets Bluetooth connectivity and audio streaming. It’s pretty comprehensive and quite easy to use. We just wish the interface itself looked fresher; it is showing its age now.  

The test car came with a sports package that includes low-profile tyres on 18-inch rims and a lowered, sports suspension. The launch car comes with what Merc calls a comfort suspension, which offers higher ground clearance, softer suspension settings and more practical 16-inch wheels on the base petrol variant, while the B 180 Sport gets 17-inch wheels.

The sports kit no doubt adds to the ground-hugging looks of the B-class, but look past the eye candy and you’ll see what looks like a shrunken R-class. There’s that low bonnet, steeply raked windshield and high roofline, and despite the unusual shape, it won’t take long for even untrained eyes to tell it’s a Benz. Every current Merc styling cue is present – the oversized grille with the huge three-pointed star in the centre, the clamshell bonnet and the bumper with its integrated LED lamps all point to Stuttgart.

Viewed in profile, your eyes are drawn to the sharp upswept kink that runs along the flanks and the unusually long space between the front and rear axles – yes, the wheelbase is a massive 2699mm. The rear is pure Merc too – it’s the most uncomplicated part of the design. Also impressive is the extremely slippery shape – the B-class’ drag coefficient is a low 0.26.

Under the skin, the new B-class (W246) retains its predecessor’s - the W245’s - front-wheel-drive architecture, but ditches the old car’s complex and expensive ‘sandwich structure’ chassis for a more conventional monocoque. The advantages of the less complicated setup (aside from a cut in manufacturing costs) are a liberation of interior space and lower seats that are easier to slide into.

Not that the B-class is very tall – with its 1557mm height, it fits in somewhere between a soft-roader and a saloon. The suspension is independent all round, with a MacPherson strut, wishbone setup up front and a four-link, wishbone setup at the rear. Brakes are discs all around and the steering is an electrically assisted rack-and-pinion system. The spare wheel is an inflatable space-saver and the B-class comes with an electric tyre inflator. All in all, the B180 weighs a hefty 1425kg.

Watch video review here

What hits you the minute you slip into the easily accessible cabin is the fantastic quality of materials. The fit and finish is comparable to the nearly twice-as-expensive E-class and there’s a genuine luxury feel inside. The black leather interiors feel sporty, and even minute details like the contrasting stitching on the seats and doorpads and the aluminium highlights on the stalks are absolutely top-notch. The dashboard design is smart and we particularly liked the SLS-style air-con vents and the AMG-style steering wheel. But although build quality is impressively ahead of any big hatchback we’ve seen, the B-class doesn’t feel like it has the torsional rigidity of the bigger Merc saloons, but more on that later.

The seating position is, again, somewhere between a tall hatchback and a soft-roader, which means it isn’t too high, but it’s not saloon low. The seats are nicely cushioned and there’s ample room for heads and knees wherever you’re sitting, with particularly good provision for feet in the second row. If there’s a catch to this, it is with the seat base of the rear seats – it is a tad short and the seat-back is a bit upright as well. Still, you won’t complain much when you realise that, even if you’re a six-footer, there truly is enough room to stretch out in here. It’s a practical cabin – storage space is adequate, with big door pockets, two reasonably big cubbyholes on the centre console and a rather big glovebox.

Like in most new auto-transmission Mercs, the gear selector is on the steering column to free up space on the centre console, and for once the door mirrors are big and convex on both sides, so they are actually usable.

If we had a complaint with the cabin it would be with the control stalks, which are configured in true Merc tradition. The single stalk for the lights and wipers is on the left, the cruise control stalk is just below it and the gearlever stalk is on the right of the steering wheel. It is confusing initially and you tend to knock the gearlever into neutral when you want the indicators. Breaking away from Mercedes tradition is the parking brake; it is no longer foot-operated, but electronically activated with a button on the dashboard. The COMAND system’s screen isn’t particularly well integrated into the dashboard and it looks like a tablet computer has been stuck on to it. Also, the interface itself is now looking a bit dated. 

At 486 litres, the boot is usefully big and you get a huge 1545 litres when you fold the rear seats. Adding to its practical nature is the low boot loading lip that makes it easy to haul luggage in.

Equipment levels are good – there’s climate control, USB and aux-in ports, leather upholstery, a panoramic sunroof and electrically adjustable seats (though our test car didn’t have this last feature). The safety feature list is quite long as well – there are seven airbags, hill-start assist, ABS, ESP, brake assist, traction control and a tyre pressure warning system. The B-class maybe a small Merc, but there’s no stinting on safety equipment or features. 

The engine in the B180 is from an all-new engine family (engine code: M270). It’s an all-aluminium 1.6-litre turbocharged, direct-injection petrol engine that sits transversely over the front axle. The direct-injection system runs a pressure of 200bar and uses piezo injectors that handle upto five injections per cycle. The engine weighs just 137kg and part of this weight saving is down to the hollow crankshaft.

The B-class always starts in Eco mode, and that means the seven-speed auto upshifts early and the quick-acting stop-start system is eager to cut in every time you come to a stop at a red light.

To get the best out of the engine, you need to switch Eco mode off, put the transmission in manual mode and use the well-finished paddles behind the steering wheel. Do so and it will hit 100kph in 10.2sec and will go on to a top speed of 192kph – very impressive figures for a car that weighs over 1.4 tonnes and makes a modest 121bhp.

Around town, the engine is smooth and adequately responsive. The specs say the peak torque of 20.39kgm kicks in at 1250rpm, but the real grunt is only when the engine is spinning closer to 3000rpm. In fact, the mid-range is particularly punchy and the engine pulls strongly all the way to 5000rpm. Rev it past this and it does get a tad vocal, and it isn’t particularly enthusiastic near its 6300rpm redline. You sometimes wish it had a little more low-rev grunt – the transmission doesn’t downshift readily and you have to occasionally force it to do so by hitting the kickdown switch.

This being a Merc, the seven-speed, twin-clutch gearbox doesn’t have the jerkiness usually associated with this kind of transmission. Set the gearbox in Economy mode and it will shift up smoothly and early in the rev range, and will mostly disobey commands from the paddle-shifters. In Sport and Manual modes you get more control through the paddles and it’s fairly responsive and quick acting.

The B-class is a pretty good cruiser too and, again, there’s always sufficient grunt for highway duties. Overtaking is quite easy thanks to the strong mid-range and this makes the B 180 feel even quicker than it actually is.

Fuel Economy

The B-class’ quick-to-cut-in stop-start function and Eco mode help its fuel economy in the city. We got an absolutely decent 9.5kpl. Its slippery shape and low drag coefficient helped it return 14.2kpl on the highway. 

Our test car came with low-profile tyres (225/40 R18) and an optional sports suspension, so the ride was pretty stiff. However, the launch version comes with a softer suspension and 225/45 tyres on 17-inch rims, which should make it far more comfortable. Hence, it would be inappropriate to comment on the ride quality, but it is safe to say that though it should be fairly pliant, the small B-class is unlikely to have the majestic ride of the Merc saloons. Also, the way the body shuddered through potholes points to a chassis that is not as stiff as the saloons. However, that’s to be expected from a monocoque MPV.

What is truly impressive is the handling, which certainly has a sporty feel to it. The B-class darts from corner to corner in a way that is incredible for a car with such a long wheelbase. The chassis is brilliantly balanced and there’s a wonderful neutral feel to the handling. The way it puts its power down is very impressive for a front-wheel-drive car too. The turn-in is sharp, the grip is fantastic and the body stays nice and flat, allowing you to push it even harder. The best bit about the B-class’ dynamics is the electric steering, which is quick, accurate and has been tuned to offer the same wonderfully fluidic feel Mercedes owners will know so well. In fact, the steering feel is so good it will make you wonder if Mercedes has secretly hidden a hydraulic steering pump under the bonnet.

Overall refinement is pretty good given the size of this car, but there’s a noticeable amount of wind noise and tyre roar (which should reduce with the India-spec rubber). However, what’s for sure is that the B-class’ big, drum-like cabin doesn’t feel as hushed as a regular Merc’s. 

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