Road test: Mercedes’ Plan B

B 200 CDI (W 246) 2011
B 200 CDI (W 246) 2011

The omens certainly look promising for the latest Mercedes B-Class. The first generation car was on sale for seven years, which is quite some duration for a vehicle most perceive as a swing and a miss. Whilst it certainly improved during that period, it needed a radical revision and that’s exactly what has happened now, Mercedes finally bringing out the car we all knew the B-Class should be.

This version of the B-Class is certainly a vehicle that expresses its own identity more convincingly. The signature styling detail is a scalloped flank with intricate swage lines but the real genius lies in the car’s packaging. See if you can figure this one out. This B-Class sits almost five centimetres lower than the old car and the seats are more upright yet it boasts more headroom. The key is that the seat height is 8.6cm lower than in the old car. This lowering of the vehicle’s floor helps with rear legroom too. With 976mm of legroom in the back, the B-Class aces even the S-Class luxury saloon. Build quality seems massively improved over the rather plasticky interior of the old car. The dashboard is worthy of particular note with a number of different finishes available for the main crossmember. Four equipment packages (Chrome, Sports, Exclusive and Night package) enable individualisation according to personal tastes. The inset metallic air vents with their cruciform detailing is reminiscent of Mercedes sports models like the SLS and SLK.

The old B-Class struggled to assert itself in a very talented marketplace that was stuffed with bigger and more cost-effective rivals. This latest version isn’t going to diverge too much from the pricing model but it now goes some way to justifying those prices by bringing a properly grown-up Mercedes-Benz look and feel to the party. Equipment levels are a good deal more agreeable too, with plenty of standard kit and some very interesting options. Mercedes usually leads the market when it comes to tech but it has found itself playing catch-up when it comes to mobile technology convergence.

Of course, much will depend on the finer details of pricing, UK-market equipment provision and economy and emissions but Mercedes seems determined not to drop the ball again. I have a sneaking suspicion that this time round, the B-Class is going to come good.

* review by Julia Graham