What is it?
The Mercedes-Benz B-class update follows the classic ‘facelift’ rules to the T - new bumpers, re-profiled lamps, a slightly different grille, plus a few changes on the inside to keep things relevant to the rest of the company’s modern range. It’s nowhere near as extensive as the one the company gave to the E-class last year, but as we’ve seen with other facelifts, small changes can often make a big difference to a car’s image, if nothing else. And one could argue that the B-class’ image needed a bit of a shot in the arm, at least in India, where its sensible but unexciting form doesn’t get as much love as its less practical, but much more striking looking sibling, the A-class. We’re in Mallorca, Spain to find out if the changes can make the B-class a little more desirable.
A way to describe the look of the new B-class is ‘more sculpted’. Where the current car was one of the first to adopt Mercedes’ new softer, curvier look, things have evolved since then with the likes of the A-class, S-class and the new C-class. You can see a lot of those cars in the new B, particularly in the headlamps, which have more intricate detail in them now, including LED projector beams, aside from the daytime running lamps. The bumpers have more contours than before, and at the rear, integrate the tailpipes seamlessly. It’s not a huge jump, but it makes a difference, and Mercedes says it deliberately kept the changes minimal to maintain familiarity.
On the inside, there are three major changes. The instrument cluster is brand new and still very sporty to look at, and on our test car came with a nice, high-resolution colour trip computer screen. Then there's the new, three-spoke steering wheel, borrowed from the upcoming Mercedes C-class sedan. It feels nice and chunky in your hands, and its smart and sporty look makes the current car’s wheel look decidedly last-gen. But the most welcome change is the new eight-inch screen for the COMAND infotainment system. We’ve said in the past that the current car’s small screen looks like a bit of an afterthought in an otherwise well-appointed cabin, and this new one is much better. It’s larger, has a higher resolution and works a whole lot smoother than the old one. Additionally, there is now push-button start, and you can choose from a number of colours for the LED ambient lighting in the cabin, much like in the S-class. It’s easy to miss them, but Mercedes has also replaced some of the buttons and controls with higher quality ones, including the new row of metallic buttons underneath the audio system.
There’s also a whole host of tech on this facelifted European new car that was highlighted on this drive. It is all very impressive, but sadly most of it won’t be coming to the Indian car. The most interesting was the latest version of Mercedes’ Collision Prevention Assist (CPA), which is able to partially brake the car if it senses a collision upto certain speeds. Once only available on the likes of an S-class, it’s standard on the European B-class, but sadly, thanks to an archaic Indian legislation that prevents the use of certain radar frequencies (like the one CPA uses), we won’t see it in India.
What is it like to drive?
Unfortunately none of the test cars on this drive were in the exact configuration we will get in India, so we picked the engine that came closest - the B 200 CDI. It uses the same seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox and 2.2-litre motor as our current Indian B 180 CDI, but the engine is in the same tune as you get in the GLA 200 CDI compact SUV - which means 135bhp and 30.5kgm of torque.
The not so good bit is that this engine isn’t very refined. There’s a clatter at start-up, an ever present hum at idle and low revs, and a rather intrusive drawl at higher revs, all the more noticeable if you’re going slowly. The motor has decent punch, but it’s not one to be hurried, so drive in a more relaxed manner and the power delivery will be a lot smoother. It’s a similar story with the gearbox - it’s not the quickest with shifts, particularly downshifts, in manual mode with the paddles, but leave it in auto and don't rush it, and it gets the job done just fine.
The ride is not something we could truly evaluate to Indian standards, and that’s not because the roads in Mallorca are billiards-table smooth; there were a number of rough patches. It’s more because the Indian B-class will have a differently tuned suspension setup that’s raised higher than the European car, and because our test car was running on 18-inch wheels and 40-profile tyres. So, like the current B-class, you can expect the new one to have a slightly firm, but compliant ride when it comes to India.
Should I buy one?
Mercedes currently has four compact cars in India (if you count the bonkers CLA 45 AMG) based on its front-wheel drive MFA platform, and though the commonality is that they all deliver proper luxury in a smaller form, each has a slightly different appeal. The B-class fits into this line-up neatly between the A-class and the GLA-class. It’s the more practical alternative to the A-class, offering more cabin and boot space, without you having to move up to the GLA crossover. It’s clear that the current car doesn’t have quite the same ‘emotional appeal’ as the other two, purely by virtue of its body style, and that’s where this facelift tries to improve things. Sadly the exterior changes don’t seem substantial enough to alter the perception of this car, and you’d have to really be familiar with the look of the old car to spot the differences. On the interior is where all the difference is made, and owners - the ones that actually spend time inside the car - will appreciate the slight improvements, which do well to raise the level of perceived luxury a little bit. We know some of the high-tech safety systems are off the cards, but we do hope Mercedes specs up the car well with equipment when it is launched in India next year - especially that new COMAND screen. All said and done, part of the B-class’s competition in India still comes from its own impressive siblings, and while choosing it over the others is still a matter of your requirements from a compact luxury car, the facelift will certainly make it a more appealing choice.