An unexpected star of the 2018 Motor Show, the all all-new B-Class minivan brings sharper styling than its bland predecessor, with a more coupe-like roofline, shorter overhangs and a longer wheelbase. We took the opportunity to drive the BMW 2-Series rival in Spain ahead of its Australian launch to see if performance matches its new-found dynamic look.
Local pricing is not yet set, nor has Mercedes Australia locked in exactly which variants will be available. However, only petrol power will be offered, so we’d surprised if the range varied from the current B180 and B200 selection.
To offset the extra standard equipment, expect small increases over the current prices, which are $44,990 and $49,990 for the B180 and B200 respectively.
The Mercedes-Benz B-Class is covered by the brand’s three year/unlimited kilometre warranty.
Both these models use the same 1.33-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine. In B180 guise it produces 100kW/200Nm, while the more powerful B200 manages 120kW/250Nm. Both variants power the front wheels only, use a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox and have identical fuel economy, claimed to be just 5.4-5.6L/100km, partly thanks to its very slippery shape.
Like the A-Class with which is shares its underpinnings, the B-Class comes with a very healthy standard equipment list, including 18-inch alloy wheels, Merc’s ‘widescreen’ cockpit consisting of two giant 10.25-inch digital displays, the latest MBUX infotainment control system, digital radio, reversing camera, LED headlamps with adaptive high beam, keyless entry and start, nine-speaker stereo, electric tailgate and wireless phone charging.
Rather than present customers with a bewildering list of options, Mercedes groups them into packages for ease of understanding. While the exact options list and pricing is not yet confirmed, the A-Class options list below provides a very good guide as to what to expect:
- Communications Package $2490 - 12-speak Burmester premium sound system, head-up display.
- Vision Package $2490 - adaptive high beam assist plus, multi beam LED headlights, panoramic sunroof, parking package with 360-degree camera.
- Night Package $1990 - tinted glass from B-pillar back, black mirrors, black wheels and gloss black trim.
- Sports Package $1990 - 18-inch AMG wheels, AMG bodykit, lowered suspension, sports seats, shift paddles, sports steering wheel, extensive exterior and interior trim updates.
- Seat Comfort Package $2090 - fully electric front seats with memory function and heated, passenger mirror with reverse parking function.
- Exclusive Package $2990 - Ambient lighting, black open-pore wood trim, heated and ventilated front seats, dual-zone climate control (only in conjunction with Seat Comfort Package).
- AMG Exclusive package $3150 - as per Exclusive but with adaptive dampers and multi-link rear suspension (only in conjunction with Sports Package).
Size is the B-Class’s trump card; it’s likely to be why you’re shopping for one in the first place. Despite being exactly the same length and width as an A-Class, it offers an extra 85 litres of boot space, though its 455-litre figure is 33 less than its predecessor.
Fold the 40:20:40-split rear seats down and this increases to 1100 litres, 35 more than the previous B-Class. Better yet, from mid-2019 production there will be the option of a sliding rear seat with ‘cargo function’ backrests, which basically sit bolt upright to allow large, square objects to fit snugly, and a folding front passenger seat. So equipped, the B-Class can swallow 705 litres with the rear seats shuffled forward 140mm, while in its most accommodating state total space is 1540 litres.
The major dimensional difference compared to an A-class is height. Being 122mm taller allows the driver’s seat to be mounted 90mm higher for a more commanding driving position.
Occupant safety is well catered for with nine airbags, comprising front, pelvis, side and window airbags for the driver and passenger, side bags for rear passengers and a knee bag for the driver.
In addition, there are all manner of active safety systems included as standard, including autonomous emergency braking, blind spot warning, lane keep assist, brake assist, cross wind assist and park assist. These can be boosted by the options Driving Assistance Package, which includes active cruise control, lane change assist and traffic jam assist. That’s a lot of assistance.
The latest generation of Mercedes interiors have serious sex appeal. Practical doesn’t have to mean boring, and the giant digital screens, beautiful air vents, and squishy dash all give the B-Class a luxury aura. Plastics on the lower dash and around the centre console are hard and scratchy, but the upper-dash is so nice that it’s easy to forgive.
There’s a tremendous amount of glass in the B-Class that, when combined with the elevated driving position, provides an excellent view of your surroundings.
The higher roof means headroom is no issue and the raised front seats provide excellent foot room in the back to go with the ample leg and shoulder room. The rear cushion is a tad short, but four adults should travel in comfort and five shouldn’t be too much of a squeeze.
ON THE ROAD
One very important option is likely to make a big difference to the on-road behaviour of the B-Class. Without the fancier multi-link rear suspension and adaptive dampers fitted as part of the AMG Exclusive Package, the A-Class has a brittle ride that’s unbecoming of a Mercedes-Benz.
The fact that every single B-Class at the Spanish launch was fitted with this suspension suggests the B-Class is no different. The good news is that, with this box ticked, it’s a much more comfortable car – almost too comfortable, in fact. The B-Class uses softer suspension than its hatchback sibling, and at highway speeds it can ‘float’ a bit, like you’re bobbing along in a boat.
Selecting Sport for the suspension tightens up these motions, though, and around town the regular Comfort mode soaks up speed bumps and the like without fuss. Despite its sleek aerodynamics, there is a bit of wind noise at speed and the petrol engine is quite vocal when extended.
The drivetrain is the B-Class’s greatest weakness. It’s adequate for its intended role, but with the Euro-spec 140kW/400Nm diesel with the new eight-speed dual-clutch (which, admittedly, would no doubt be more expensive) the B-Class is punchy, responsive and has a pleasing (albeit artificial) growl. In comparison, the petrol versions bound for Australia sound buzzy and lack performance.
Nonetheless, the B-Class is the car many would be wise to consider instead of a small SUV. It’s well packaged with a classy interior and, with the optional multi-link suspension, a comfortable ride. An ideal set of attributes for a young family, for instance.
The lacklustre drivetrain isn’t ideal, but nor is it a deal-breaker for a car in this segment. It should at least be relatively frugal.
The B-Class is likely to remain a niche product in Australia, but those who have fallen for its attributes will do well to investigate the new model when it arrives in mid-2019.