What is it?
A facelifted version of the car that started the luxury hatchback movement in India – the Mercedes-Benz B-class. It’s a car that arguably needed a shot in the arm, what with the wide array of attractive new competition that has sprung up since, in the same price vicinity. We drove this updated B-class in Spain a few months ago, and while that was a Euro-spec car, we’re pleased to report that many of the changes from that car have been brought over here unscathed.
Starting on the inside, you’re greeted by the smart new steering wheel from the C-class which, rather than the dimpled grip of the old car, is wrapped in soft leather. It looks and feels altogether more luxurious. The sporty instrument cluster is also borrowed from the C-class, and it suits this car far better, and between the dials sits a new colour screen for the trip computer. Speaking of screens, the tiny old COMAND screen has been replaced with a nice new, high-res, seven-inch one that looks a lot more upmarket. What’s more, like the CLA, it gets the latest version of Merc’s operating system, and also satellite navigation. Scrutinise the cabin a bit more, and you’ll find a few higher quality bits, like the row of metal buttons and the rich new brushed metallic trim on the dash. It’s still generously equipped, with the likes of Bluetooth, cruise control, two USB ports, an electric driver’s seat, panoramic sunroof, parking sensors, a rear-view camera, seven airbags, and the usual alphabet soup of electronic safety aids as standard on this trim. Still, as expected, the radar and stereo camera-based active safety tech could not make it to the Indian car.
On the outside, the headlights are now attractive full-LED units – Mercedes seems to be bringing this tech closer to the masses with each successive new model launch. There’s a heavily sculpted new front bumper and a new grille too, while at the rear, the tail-lamps have a new internal layout and, like the new C-class, there’s a chrome insert in the lower bumper that mimics twin exhausts (the real exhaust tip is hidden beneath). The whole car, says Mercedes, is 34mm longer than before, but you couldn’t tell by looking at it, and the interior dimensions seem to be unchanged. Not that space on the inside was ever an issue in the B-class – there’s more than enough room for four large adults, and the boot is a cavernous 488 litres (a CLA sedan has 470, for example), though you still have to live with a spare wheel eating up some of that room.
What’s it like to drive?
You will also notice the badge on the tailgate, which on this diesel car, no longer says 180, but 200 instead. That’s right – Mercedes has swapped the weak old 107bhp version of its 2.1-litre diesel engine for the GLA and CLA’s 134bhp one. You should know, however, that the petrol car will continue with its 121bhp 1.6-litre motor.
It’s a lot sprightlier than the old car, that’s for sure. Not only is the power up by 27bhp, the torque has gone up by a solid 5.1kgm too. It definitely feels quicker off the line than the old car, and even in-gear responses are a lot healthier than before. The 7G-DCT dual-clutch gearbox, as before, is smooth and quick when you’re cruising calmly, but can get a bit clunky with its shifts when you’re going flat out. Mercedes also claims to have improved the cabin refinement, and while that might be true, we’d really have to drive it alongside the old one to say how much better it is; a fair bit of engine and road noise still comes into the cabin as you speed up.
The ride is where things get interesting. Mercedes has decided not to offer 17-inch wheels on the B-class in India anymore, and certainly not the 18-inch ones we sampled in Spain, so now it only rides on a set of rather tame looking 16-inch wheels. You may also remember that last year, Mercedes revised the suspension of the A-class and B-class for India, raising the ride height and softening it up a bit. There have been no suspension changes for the facelift, but the ride somehow feels a little better than before. Sure, you can tell that this is still inherently a stiff setup, especially when you go over a sharp bump a little too fast and it crashes through, but over most surfaces, it’s quite pliant. It is, of course, still reassuringly flat on the highway, and though this isn’t meant to be a sporty handler, it takes corners quite cleanly and without drama.
Should I buy one?
The B-class, when it was launched, was not just the only luxury hatchback in India, but also the cheapest way to access a luxury badge. Not a long while after, it was neither of those things. Moreover, all of its competition, including and especially other Mercedes cars, has more appeal to the average Indian buyer. The B-class doesn’t have the styling flair of the A-class and CLA, and the GLA SUV – also very stylish - is more practical for our conditions. Yes, this facelift has added a lot more to the B-class package – it now looks and feels more modern and luxurious, the equipment list has grown, and the more powerful engine gives it the oomph it always needed. But think about how it offers a more spacious cabin and a bigger boot than the A-class or the CLA, and then it starts to make more sense. And though the GLA is a bit more practical, the B-class, priced at Rs 28.95 lakh, ex-showroom, Mumbai (Rs 27.95 lakh for the petrol), is still a bit cheaper than it, even with all the new equipment. Sure, it’s not the most obvious choice for the average Indian compact luxury car buyer, but it’s definitely one of the most sensible, and with the facelift, it’s now a much more attractive proposition.