What is it?
The B-class is bit of an oddity, frankly. It’s a compact five-door car that makes a rather uncomfortable compromise between the company’s bigger Viano and Vaneo MPVs, and its mainstream saloon/estate ranges. Neither an all-out people carrier nor a Golf-style small family car, it’s a bit of a halfway hatchback – think shrink-wrapped R-class.
That said, the second-generation model launched in mid-2012 is more appealing than the bulbous-bodied bore that sold between 2005 and 2012. Although still front-wheel drive, it is built on a new platform and has a conventional car-body structure rather than the “sandwich floor” construction of its predecessor, which is costly to produce. Its handling is consequently improved, although it’s still no hot hatch despite a lower roofline and centre of gravity, and the slightly sportier styling.
The B 180’s latest CDI diesel engines are very efficient and return 64.2mpg on the combined cycle while emitting only 115g/km of carbon dioxide (116g/km with the optional seven-speed automated manual gearbox). The B 180 BlueEfficiency, which has a 1.6-litre petrol engine, manages a respectable 47.9mpg and 138g/km, is cheaper to buy and has lower running costs if you don’t do many miles per year.
B200 models – higher-powered versions of the same petrol and diesel engines – are a step up, but neither is particularly lively, so you may as well stick with one of the punchy, flexible B 180s, which the majority of everyday drivers will find perfectly capable. In the earlier B-class line-up, the B200 Turbo model is worthy of mention for being quite a fun car to drive, despite having over-assisted steering and stodgy suspension.
The new B-class scores well for practicality, at least as a four-seater. But if you’re five to drive you’ll find piggy in the middle of the back seat has a raw deal due to its narrowness and legroom eaten into by a big exhaust tunnel. Otherwise there’s plenty of space for four adults to stretch out, providing they don’t mind being rather upright. The boot is large – 666 litres with the optional Easy Vario Plus system, which includes sliding rear seats, and 488 litres without – and the rear seats fold flat to make a van-like load space of 1545 litres
Soundproofing and refinement were improved for the Mk2 B-class, as were cabin quality and ride comfort; while the ride is much less fidgety, it still isn’t great when combined with the stiffer Sport suspension and larger alloy wheels. The B-class remains one of the more mundane Mercs, and a costly one with it.
The Volkswagen Touran (which can seat seven), Ford C-Max and smart new Mazda5 are more accomplished all-rounders with more attractive prices. However, none of these wears the Mercedes-Benz badge, and the Mk2 B-class becomes a better-value proposition once it dips below the £20,000 threshold. First-generation models are worth a look if cheap, well-maintained and of low mileage; many have been owned and rigorously-serviced by older, more caring motorists.
What to look out for
Small numbers of first-generation B-classes were recalled in the UK for faulty seatbelt buckles, a potential fuel-tank leak and, later, for an issue with the optional CVT gearbox, which has been a bit problematic. Apart from these, general reliability has been good, bar a few electrical issues and water leaks that can afflict many makes of car, and excepting some minor defects in the door locks and handles of the very earliest cars. Mercedes-Benz is picking itself up again after a period of poor performance in reliability and customer satisfaction surveys, and this bodes well for the Mk2 B-class.
The one to buy
- 1595cc, four cylinders
- 120bhp @ 5000rpm
- 147 lb ft @ 1250-4000rpm
- 6-speed manual
- 0-62mph in 10.4sec
- Top Speed:
- 47.9mpg combined
- Road Tax Band:
- L 4359mm W 1786mm H 1557mm
Mercedes-Benz B-class rivals
- Ford C-Max
- Volkswagen Touran
- Kia Carens