B-Class an attractive addition for Mercedes-Benz

The B 250 starts at the same price as its predecessor, but with a big jump in power, better driving dynamics and more standard content.

With a lower height than its predecessor

With a lower height than its predecessor

Unlike our American brethren, we Canucks love our hatchbacks. But the B 200 always seemed an odd duck among them.

As the lowest-priced Mercedes-Benz in Canada—just a tick under $30K—it wasn’t a bad vehicle, but was tall and ungainly and just didn’t measure up to the rest of M-B’s lineup.

Fit and finish were good, but this compact front-driver was underpowered (unless you dished out another $2,500 for the B 200 turbo), and didn’t handle particularly well which was no surprise with its tall-box design.

But all that has changed with the new model.

We had to wait a year for it, apparently to get the best of the available engines, and likely to clear out the remainder of the 2011 units, which was the last model year for this vehicle in Canada.

The variant sold here is now the B 250, and at $29,900, it starts at the same price as its predecessor, but with a big jump in power, better driving dynamics and more standard content.

Its increase in number from 200 to 250 doesn’t mean a higher displacement, as the all-new engine is still a two-litre inline four.

But a turbocharger was bolted on, kicking it up to a brawny 208 hp and 258 lb/ft of torque, starting from a low 1,250 rpm.

Compare that with the 2011 B 200’s base 2.0-litre that produced  134 hp and 136 lb/ft of torque, and the turbo model that still only managed 193 and 206.

As you’d expect, the new B 250 enjoys a noticeable boost in acceleration, especially if, like me, you resist the urge to leave the drive mode selector in its default position.

‘Economy’ mode tames the new powertrain by softening the throttle response and modifying the shift pattern for earlier gear changes but to M-B’s credit, it doesn’t entirely trash the driving experience.

‘Sport,’ on the other hand, delivers more fun after some brief turbo lag. Mash the pedal, and  you’ll get a chirp from the front tires and brisk, linear acceleration from the seven-speed, dual-clutch automatic transmission (DCT).

This DCT is reasonably good, but doesn’t fire off the gear changes like some other German manufacturers like VW, Audi and Porsche. Still, the zero to 100 km/h sprint will take only 6.8 seconds, which is pretty good for a family hauler, even one called a ‘Sport Tourer.’

But such silliness will keep you from ever seeing the B 250’s rated fuel economy of 6.8 litres/100 km in combined city/hwy driving. My guess is that most drivers will ignore both Sport and Manual modes—along with the paddle shifters—and opt for Economy.

Ditto for the standard-equipped Eco start/stop function, which, like a golf cart, shuts down the engine while you’re stopped in traffic. All standard functions like radio, lights and air conditioning continue to operate, thanks to a starter that doubles as a generator, but fan speed, for example, automatically slows to conserve energy.

I found the start/stop annoying at first, as it wasn’t as smooth as in the C-Class tested recently. There was a noticeable shudder with each restart, but you quickly get used to it. It can also be disabled with a console-mounted switch.

There are few other distractions in a passenger cabin which, for a compact hatch, is surprisingly roomy.

Engineers wisely ditched the space-wasting ‘sandwich’ floor, which was an otherwise clever way to house some of the mechanicals. Now with a lower floor and seats that have been dropped 8.6 cm, it is easier to get in and out, and your legs now rest at a more comfortable angle—not stretched out in front.

Compact vehicles are not typically known for having much rear legroom, but the B 250, at 976 mm, surpasses both the larger E- and S-Class sedans. And there’s loads of head room front and back.

With all that people-carrying capacity and a stubby footprint, you wouldn’t expect much cargo space, but with all seats in place there’s still 488 litres in back, which is more than many full-size sedans. Rear seats include a pass-through for longer objects, but drop the 67/33 second row and you’ll max out at 1,547 litres.

This is slightly more than the 2011 model, which was five centimetres taller. But the added height made for a less pleasing side profile, as the high roof and relatively small wheel arches created a Suzuki Aerio effect. A look that for both Suzuki and the Mercedes B 250 has thankfully been put to rest.

Indeed, the new B 250 not only sits lower, but with its pronounced wheel arches and side skirts—and optional 18-inch five-twin spoke alloys  looks wider and more firmly planted.

I won’t get into the nitty gritty on sheet metal changes, airflow and the like, but will note that this hatchback, wagon or whatever you want to call it, slips through the air with a drag coefficient of 0.26.

The Porsche 911 has a cd of 0.29.

Inside, the base B 250 is well appointed with man-made Artico leather that looks and feels close to the real thing throughout. The layout of instruments and controls is an improvement over 2011, and includes a long list of standard features: single-zone climate control, 10-way/eight-way manual adjust for driver and front passenger seats, manual tilt/telescopic steering with paddle shifters, ambient lighting, logoed aluminum door sills, two-level adjustable cargo floor, and eight-speaker AM/FM/CD/MP3/WMA audio system with 5.7-inch screen and aux inputs.

And on the outside you get heated power mirrors with integrated turn signals, LED taillights, rain-sensing wipers with heated nozzles, rear wiper and dual exhaust outlets.

Of course, my tester included a pile of extras—like panoramic sunroof, navigation, blind spot and lane keeping assist, heated power seats, bigger wheels and more. But all this stuff drives the price up to $38,500, and you still don’t get pushbutton start.

That’s a minor gripe, and I’ll add another, which is the electronic column shifter that looks and feels like a wiper stalk.

On more than one occasion, I shifted the B 250 into neutral while trying to use the ‘mist’ function to clear a few raindrops from my windscreen. ‘Park’ is where I’d expect to find the washer button, but I thankfully didn’t push it while in motion.

All that aside, and with the improvements in style, power and handling, the B 250 is now a solid competitor and as good a value as any hatchback or wagon in its segment.

And while I’d be hesitant to option the B-Class up to C-Class levels, at around $30K it offers a tempting entry point to the Mercedes-Benz lineup.

Mercedes-Benz B 250 Sports Tourer

Body Style: Compact tall wagon/hatchback

Drive Method: front-engine, front-wheel-drive; seven-speed double-clutch automatic transmission

Engine: Turbocharged DOHC 2.0-litre inline four cylinder (208 hp, 258 lb/ft torque)

Cargo: 488 litres with seats up; 1547 litres with seats folded

Fuel Economy: 7.9/5.5/6.8 L/100 km (city/hwy/comb)

Price: Base $29,900; as tested with Driving Assistance Package ($800), Memory Package ($1,200), Sport Package ($2,000), Premium Package ($2,650) and Comand APS with Nav ($1,950) – $38,500

Website: www.mercedes-benz.ca

 

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