The Mercedes-Benz B200 is an interesting alternative to a SUV
While it's hard to fall in love with the latest B-Class's looks, its stung-by-a-bee dimensions make it an attractive proposition to those people hamstrung by kids and/or space-intensive hobbies
Maybe it's those egg-shaped proportions or gawky lights, but the B-Class doesn't quite do it for me. You?
The latest B-Class might not carry the same visual gravitas as the sleek A-Class but those stung-by-a-bee dimensions do serve a purpose: one that makes it a more attractive proposition to those people hamstrung by kids and/or space-intensive hobbies. Especially when you fold flat the rear seat backrests and unleash 1,540-litres of stowage space.
According to the press release, one can use it to stash a kayak. Being a stranger to watersports, I cannot confirm or deny this but I can say with certainty that my mountain bike would fit in. Ditto my drum kit and PA system. The B-Class also offers improved passenger comfort with extra head, leg and elbowroom.
Yep, it's all very adult around here. Also, you can glam things up should you have the inclination - and the budget. My test car came trimmed in the optional AMG-Line package (R50,175) that bolts on five-spoke AMG wheels, a sporty single-louvre diamond radiator grille as well as lowered suspension. It adds a slight sense of purpose to an otherwise sensible package.
A nice segue into my next question: what's under the bonnet?
This is where things get a little confusing. Mercedes-Benz has adopted a weird model numbering system that no longer relates to the actual capacity of the engine in the car. Back in the old days it did: when you saw a chrome "200" badge you knew that the machine was being powered by a 2.0-litre engine.
The B200 is fitted with a 1.3-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine that churns out a surprisingly useful amount of both power and torque for its size
Of course, this was far too logical and intuitive a system to keep in place so some teenaged genius in the marketing department was tasked to change it. Consequently, the B200 is actually fitted with a 1.3-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine that churns out a surprisingly useful amount of both power and torque for its size.
Some observations: it doesn't sound particularly nice nor does it want to rev that high - push this mill past 5500rpm and it starts to feel strained. Keep it in the midrange, however, and progress is swift enough to keep you entertained. Driven with care and in Eco Mode, it also returns decent fuel economy.
At the moment your only gearbox option is Merc's 7-speed dual-clutch transmission, which rows through the gears smoothly and as well as anything in its class. Steering wheel shift paddles are fitted as standard kit. A nice touch.
You liked the A-Class when you tested it last year. Do you have similar feelings for the B-Class?
Built on the same underpinnings but sporting a longer wheelbase (+30mm), the B-Class drives pretty much the same as its A-Class sibling. Comfortable and refined around town, an elevated seating position gives excellent visibility, something that helps on tight city streets or inside pokey parking garages.
Equipped with the lowered AMG suspension system, the ride was on the firm side but never felt overly hard, even across choppy surfaces at high speed. Although it's not really designed to be "sporty" per se, I was impressed at how the B200 handled the curves of Franschhoek Pass.
FAST FACTS: Mercedes-Benz B200
• ENGINE: 1332cc four-cylinder turbo
• POWER: 120kW at 5500rpm
• TORQUE: 250Nm at 1620rpm
• TRANSMISSION: 7-speed DCT0-100km/h: 8.2-seconds (claimed)
• TOP SPEED: 223km/h (claimed)
• FUEL: 7.5l/100km (achieved)
• PRICE: From R526,900
Once I got used to the uncommunicative steering, I discovered it could be hustled along with a fair amount of gusto provided your efforts stay within the realm of reason.
Ask too much of the B200 and you'll be met by understeer and brakes that are quick to reach their temperature threshold. Stay at 7/10ths and both you and the car will be happy.
Did you enjoy that contemporary Mercedes-Benz cabin?
I did. Again the B-Class interior is basically the same as the A-Class: a slick, ultra-modern environment that places an emphasis on cutting-edge technology and intricate design details. Indeed, those "turbine" air vents are something you'll never get tired of looking at in traffic jams.
Ditto the ambient lighting. As analogue is now a dirty word, all the main controls are actuated through the MBUX infotainment system operated via touch-sensitive dials on the steering wheel or via the dedicated pad on the centre console.
So you approve of this car's existence then, do you?
While it's hard to fall in love with the B200 from an aesthetic point of view, one has to acknowledge that it blends a fine all-round driving performance with the promise of added space and practicality. This makes it an interesting alternative to the predictable SUV route so many consumers take when looking for something a little bigger than the average hatchback.
It might not be to everybody's taste, but those who do fall for the B-Class recipe will be delighted at what it has to offer.
Do go easy with the options though: there are many tasty add-ons to be had, some of which will send an already steep price tag into the realm of the unreasonable.
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