INITIAL impressions might suggest that Mercedes is looking to fill a niche that doesn’t quite exist with its totally new B-Class.
The German firm confidently talks about a ‘compact sports tourer’ and there are aspects of family hatchback, MPV and small estate in this reinvention of one of its previously less appealing models.
perhaps, though, the best way to appreciate the new B-Class is to first of all shun the motor industry’s overriding need to pigeon-hole everything and look at it with a totally open mind.
That way you are more likely to appreciate what it has to offer than notice what it doesn’t and conclude, as I did, that this is a stylish compact family car offering some decent space, nippy performace and an identity that, although undeniably Mercedes, is also quite individual.
Redesigned from the ground up the B-Class is the first of a whole new family of front-wheel drive compact Mercs, which will also include the revamped A-Class.
First impressions are good, with the B-Class cutting a surprisingly impressive figure. It is much sleeker and sportier-looking than the model it replaces, with some clever design touches doing a great job of disguising the inherent ‘boxiness’ of a motor with MPV leanings.
For a start, it is wider, longer and lower than it’s predecessor – factors which automatically lend it a more athletic profile. A more prominent grille, dramatic sideskirts, a rear spoiler and a distintive rising signature line along the flanks all help to create a more muscly feel too.
For all these sleek touches though, it is still a surprise to discover that the B-Class is now the most aerodynamic car in its class with a drag coefficient of just 0.26.
Such slipperiness through the air is an obvious factor in the improved fuel economy, with even the higher powered 156ps version of the 1.6 litre petrol engine on my test car offering more than 45 miles per gallon on average.
This unit proves surprisingly perky off the mark, with a 0-62 sprint time of 8.4 seconds, while there is plenty of pull throughout the rev range with maximum torque being reached at just 1,250rpm and maintained right up to 4,000.
My test car had this engine coupled with Merc’s super smooth seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission which provides three slick shift programmes.
In economy, gearshifts are fully automatic, but take place at the lowest possible revs for the most fuel-efficient motoring.
In sport the gear changes are also automatic but are quicker, providing a noticeably more urgent response to the throttle, while manual mode hands full control to the driver using steering-wheel mounted paddles.
All of which means that you can choose to have as relaxing or engaging a drive as you like – and if you’re in the mood for the latter then the B-Class can really be quite good fun.
Helped by that longer, wider and lower stance, road holding is excellent and handling sharp with surprisingly little body lean in bends. The stiffer suspension and 18-inch alloys on the Sport version do, however, mean a firm ride at times.
Mercedes’ suite of BlueEFFICIENCY technologies, including an automatic start/stop function, are featured across the range and help to keep down emissions as well as fuel consumption.
And while the cabin space may not be as versatile as some compact MPVs a lower floor – Mercedes having abandoned the ‘sandwich floor’ of the original B-Class – means that headroom has actually improved despite the lower roofline. Legroom is good too and the tourer style rear end means you get plenty of boot, with a conveniently low lip for loading.
Fixtures and fittings are up to Mercedes’ usual standards, with plush, soft touch platics and crome trim all around, and an impressive list of kit includes alloys, air-conditioning, electric windows, a stereo with USB port, Bluetooth, an automatic parking assist system and a reversing camera.
Good safety levels are also a given with seven airbags, stability control and a driver fatigue detector as standard, as well as a collison warning system that alerts you if you’re getting too close to the car – or any other obstacle – in front.
Mechanical: 156ps, 1,595cc petrol engine driving front wheels via 7-speed automatic transmission.
Max Speed: 137mph
0-62mph: 8.4 seconds
Combined mpg: 45.6
Insurance group: 23
CO2 emissions: 145g/km
BiK rating: 18%
Warranty: 3 years/unlimited miles