WHAT IS IT?
A-Class with altitude. Built on the same platform as Mercedes-Benz's new small hatch, the B-Class has the same wheelbase and uses identical core technologies, drivetrains included. While the B-Class's extra height increases roominess and flexibility, its proportions provide a tough challenge for the design department....
WHY WE'RE TESTING IT
The international launch of the B-Class in Spain was a chance to sample it well ahead of an Australian arrival scheduled for the middle of 2019.
THE WHEELS REVIEW
In Europe, the place of the B-Class is obvious. It's a premium-brand step up the mini-MPV status stairway. The Mercedes-Benz is classier and more costly than the likes of the Ford C-Max, Renault Scenic and Volkswagen Golf Sportsvan, to name but a few.
These five-seaters are a common sight from Spain to Sweden and Portugal to Poland, but no mass-market Euro-brand mini-MPV is sold in Australia. Down here the role of the rarely seen B-Class, and BMW's almost invisible 2 Series Active Tourer, is as non-conformist alternatives to a small SUV.
Though the current B-Class sells at a rate around only 1000 a year in Australia, the third-generation of the mini-MPV is scheduled to arrive in Australia in mid-2019.
Codenamed W247, the new B-Class is very closely related to the new A-Class. It rolls on exactly the same wheelbase and uses the same engines. Mercedes' main aim was, as one exec put it, "a more dynamic look". The exterior design is more aerodynamic than before, but there's only so much designers can do to beautify a tall but short shape.
Once inside, those proportions make a lot of sense. The B-Class driver sits 90mm higher than an A-Class driver. The elevated seating creates great legroom. Mercedes' designers also found a little more cabin width and height for the new model, even though it's fractionally lower and only slightly wider than before. The feeling of interior spaciousness is enhanced by the new model's lower beltline and enlarged window area.
Although cargo compartment volume shrinks a little, the new B-Class's 455-litre boot is usefully large and a three-piece 40:20:40 split backrest is standard.
The B-Class will launch here in B200 form, priced from around $45,000. It will have the same petrol-burning 1.3-litre turbo four and seven-speed dual-clutch auto drivetrain as the A200. A B250 with 2.0-litre turbo petrol is expected later, but Mercedes-Benz Australia has decided not to import any diesels.
At least on the multilink rear suspension and adaptive dampers which will be part of an option package here, the new B-Class delivers lush ride comfort and fright-free handling. The standard torsion-beam rear-end is unlikely be so impressive.
But the new B200's great weakness is its engine and transmission. As in the A-Class, the little turbo four lacks both muscle and refinement, shortcomings the transmission tries and fails to conceal.
While the new B-Class has the makings of a fine small-SUV alternative, the B200 falls some way short of clinching the argument. But the B250 could, and should, change that...
WHAT FEATURES CAN WE EXPECT?
For Australia, the B-Class's instrument panel will feature the same luscious widescreen instrument and infotainment system display as the A-Class. Standard equipment will likewise imitate A-Class, including the new MBUX user interface with Hey Mercedes voice control. Keyless start, sat nav, reversing camera, nine-speaker audio system and nine airbags will also be standard.
THE WHEELS VERDICT
The new Mercedes-Benz B-Class has the makings of a winning small SUV alternative, packing a spacious interior with the brand's latest and best infotainment, driver assist and safety tech. But the B200's feeble drivetrain is a fatal flaw.
Plus: Slick ride (with IRS); space; all-round vision; interior design and tech
Minus: Weak, unrefined engine and poorly calibrated auto (B200); price
2019 MERCEDES-BENZ B200 SPECIFICATIONS
Engine: 1332cc 4-cyl, dohc, 16v, turbo
Max power: 120kW @ 5500rpm
Max torque: 250Nm @ 1620rpm
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch
Weight: 1410kg (EC kerb)
0-100km/h: 8.2sec (claimed)
Fuel economy: 5.6L/100km
Price: $45,000 (estimated)
On sale: Mid 2019
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