Star role for new Mercedes B-Class

Mercedes-Benz has made its new B-Class more stylish, more upmarket and much more of a class act, says motoring editor Andy Russell.

It was one of those weeks where I had a lot to do – a lot of miles to cover and a lot of lugging around of both people and loads – so it was going to be a great way to get to know Mercedes-Benz's new B-Class.

While I can appreciate why the German giant created the B-Class, and for that matter the A-Class, to offer something different in the range and woo new customers to the brand it had never really made a great impact with me.

But that has all changed with the second-generation model which is sportier, stylish and far more eye-catching, sitting nearly 5cm lower on the road, and I wouldn't mind having one sitting on my driveway. It looks much more dynamic, especially in Sport trim with the dark alloy wheels, and the more I drove the B-Class the more I came to appreciate the all-round ability of this multi-talented multi-purpose vehicle.

The B-Class sees the introduction of two new direct injection 1.6-litre petrol engines – 122hp B180 and 156hp B200 – which produce strong low-down pulling power but the sensible money will buy one of the new turbo diesels. Both are now 1.8-litre engines, producing 109hp in the B180 CDI and 136hp in the B200 CDI.

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Given its relatively low power output, the powerplant in the B180 CDI does a good job of hauling the B-Class about as it is no lightweight and that is down to healthy low-down pulling power from just 1,400rpm to 2,800rpm. Accept there isn't a lot of top-end urgency and keep the revs low, where the engine is well muted and refined, and it still makes decent progress and pays dividends at the fuel pump – I regularly returned 54-55mpg with a best of 69mpg.

There's also a new compact seven-speed dual clutch automatic transmission which changes up readily and kicks down quickly. With economy, sport and manual modes and shift paddles behind the steering wheel you can let the gearbox go about its business unobtrusively or take control.

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The B-Class drives well, feeling very content whipping along twisty roads with good grip and stability, making it surefooted and predictable which is just what most owners will want. The downside is that the ride, especially on Sport models, is noticeably firm and sensitive to road defects with rather too much tyre noise and the back of the cabin is rather boomy at speed when travelling light, although after a while you are not so aware of it.

When it comes to style and quality, it's a similar story inside with the cabin looking and feeling more upmarket than its predecessor and, unusually for me, the optional man-made hazelnut brown leather seats and door panels worked well with the black interior, set off by the optional burr walnut trim panel across the fascia – you have to see it to believe it.

Despite the stylish new looks and lower height, the new B-Class has more space inside. The more upright seating position to meet customer demand and lowered floor in the back means class-leading rear legroom – even more than the E and S-Class.

Go for the �515 sliding adjustment option for the 60/40 split rear seats and you have limousine-like legroom and can vary boot space. With the standard fixed back seats the B-Class has a decent 488 litres of space, rising to 1,547 litres with the seats folded flat, but a raised beam across the boot floor creates a step. With the sliding rear seats pushed forward boot space rises to 666 litres but you can really only carry children in the back.

The dashboard is logical and precise with well-placed controls and clear dials while five large round air vents add to the modern feel. It is also uncluttered with the electronic parking brake on the fascia and the automatic gear lever on the right of the steering column and many functions operated via a screen and central controller. Cabin storage is important in an MPV and the B-Class is not lacking in this department.

The driving position has good adjustment and the seats are comfortable but rear visibility is hindered by chunky rear pillars so I appreciated a reversing camera which is standard on Sport.

The B-Class is offered in entry-level SE and Sport trim levels with decent standard equipment. Mercedes is known for its safety kit and the B-Class is well endowed as standard, even including a system to detect if the driver is getting tired and another that warns of potential collision. As you would expect there is a huge list of desirable options that can really hike the price.

I felt the original B-Class was just another multi-purpose vehicle made attractive by the Mercedes badge. Now it is a true Mercedes and a very worthy MPV with better looks, practicality and image that deserves to wear that three-pointed star.

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