With up to seven different body styles from a single platform, you could say one is spoilt for choice when it comes to choosing the right ‘compact-class’ Mercedes-Benz. In the case of the new B-Class, probably the least fancied of the lot, one is also tempted to ask if a pragmatic MPV-like hatchback remains relevant at a time when everyone favours an SUV.
Not surprisingly, the B-Class lives a quiet existence in Malaysia. Since it was never going to win the showroom beauty contest next to the sporty A-Class hatch or the stylish A-Class sedan, only the B200 variant is offered. But decked out in Progressive Line trim, in white, this third-generation sample looks quite fetching for a MPV-like family-centric product.
Those 18-inch alloys filling the wheel arches certainly help, the new B-Class also sits lower (and wider) than before, while its subtle body sculpturing and delicate lines are far neater than the previous generation’s more heavy-handed approach, even if both look similar in profile. Evidently, the challenge remains the same – how to make the best out of a pragmatic shape, and Mercedes-Benz has done its homework.
While choosing a B-Class means prioritising on space and flexibility, satisfying these concerns are only part of the equation given that you can spend much less on a Honda Jazz and still get an equally useful package. The more pertinent matter is whether the B200 lives up to the promise of the three-pointed star, something which the last generation car didn’t quite pull off.
The answer was always going to be how the interior of the new B-Class turned out, and this is where the third-generation car clearly distances itself from its predecessor. From the design to the quality of materials used, this is a smart and sophisticated cabin. It may share similar functionalities to the new A-Class (such as the widescreen cockpit, steering wheel, turbine-style aircon vents, etc.) but the shape and form its dashboard, door cards and seats are unique to the B-Class.
The hip point is noticeably raised compared to the A-Class (by 90mm), making egress and ingress easier for folks with less-than-flexible joints, the higher seating position would also please occupants of shorter statures or even anyone seeking that airy cabin ambiance of an SUV. For a snip under RM240,000, the level of premium trappings and safety kit in the B200 are as complete a family would expect it to be, with a feature set that includes active braking assist, blind spot warning and lane keeping caution, but not the semi-autonomous drive functions you may find in Volvos.
You’ll also get the latest version of MBUX that supports remote access via the Mercedes me smartphone app, and credit where credit’s due, the operating system isn’t just eye-catching but also fun to fiddle with, after familiarisation with the different input options of course. No one really needs 64 shades of ambient illumination, AC vents that glow in the dark or LCD screens with deep, saturated colours, but it is just very cool to have the same set of digital trickery as other Mercedes models costing twice as much.
Even if the B-Class doesn’t represent itself as a sporty hatchback, its impressive cabin does put you in the frame of mind to expect at least some rewards when seated behind the chunky three-spoke steering wheel. In the good-to-drive report card, I would rate the B200 a ‘B’, not so much a pun but a reflection of the areas where the third-generation B-Class can certainly do better.
Ride quality and refinement, not the first-generation’s strongest attributes, have taken a step forward (as with the A-Class models as well), but it is still not what one would describe as comfortable-riding, despite being spec-ed with ‘Comfort’ passive suspension. The firm damping of the B200 means it’ll fidget over poorer surfaces but also resist body roll quite gamely in corners, without imparting much subjective feel when you push on.
And while rolling refinement is good, the 163hp and 250Nm M282 1.3-litre four-pot, jointly developed with Renault, can sound rough over higher revs, the saving grace being that peak torque arrives at a low 1,620rpm and that the 7-speed Getrag dual-clutch transmission responds rather quickly when you need a lower gear. Idle to 100km/h in 8.2 seconds along with a 224km/h top speed place the B200 in the ‘adequately quick’ category.
Ultimately, the appeal of the B200 is unlikely to be blunted by any shortcomings in driving dynamics, nor are there any doubts as to whether the new B-Class is deserving of a three-pointed star – this is a well built, premium hatch that would rival an E-Class for space and tech.
The biggest threat that it faces is the dwindling appetite for utilitarian hatchbacks across the world, brought on by, you’ve guessed it, SUVs and crossovers that offer all the practicalities while sporting a more stylish and robust image. The first ever B-Class of 2005 was a revelation in cabin space with its clever sandwich floor construction, if the B-Class is to make into a fourth generation, Mercedes-Benz would once again have to think beyond A to B.
Price: RM239,888 Engine: 1.33-litre 4-cyl, turbocharged, FWD Output: 163hp and 250Nm Transmission: 7-speed DCT Performance: 0-100km/h in 8.2 seconds; top speed 224km/h Wheels/tyres: 225/45 R18 Safety: 7 airbags, Electronic Stability Control, AEB, Blind Spot & Lane Departure Warning Warranty: 4-year unlimited mileage