Mercedes-Benz has fed its chubby B-Class a good dose of pep tablets, sent it to the gym and then handed it over to a team of clever high-tech wizards and make-up artists who between them came up with a much rejuvenated car the German car maker calls a Compact Sport Tourer.
The new B-Class petrol options are due to arrive later this year.
It is also probably the most technologically enhanced road car this brag badge has brought to the market. The B Class, in a strange way, has matured by growing younger. The brand has matured through the jet age, the space age, the clean environment age and is now setting the pace for the connectivity age.
With its big strides into the future it might have advanced so much that it could make its traditional, um, more mature customers, a little jittery. It certainly has enough goodymagaftas to send technophobes running. However, the flipside is the B-Class oozes big time appeal for the trendies of the Facebook generation and it is going to attract customers who would never before even have considered buying a Mercedes-Benz.
A bit of a misnomer, ja?
The description of Compact Sport Tourer, which heralds a whole new compact class era for the brand, could be a bit of a misnomer. Why? Because the new B-Class is actually quite spacious (as opposed to compact), chirpy but not really all that sporty, and it certainly is not an ideal tourer in this country considering it prefers high-grade diesel and it is fitted with run-flat tyres - and neither the high-grade diesel nor the run-flat tyres are readily available in South Africa.... Think Route 62, or the long stretch between Cape Town and Upington or the endless long black ribbon stretching through the Karoo from Slaapstad to Gold City where you will struggle to find high-grade diesel or replacement run-flats, let alone a dealer equipped to fix or change the tyres.
What's more, the new B-Class cars don't come with a spare wheel. If you want a spare you have to pay for it as an optional extra and it will clutter up the luggage space because Mercedes-Benz has not even created the usual cavity for a spare wheel.
However, what the new compact Merc does do very well is look good and offer a remarkably smooth ride and confident handling. Factor in the prestige and snob value of driving a vehicle branded with the prominent three-pointed star on the front grille and the package becomes even more attractive.
There are enough optional extras to satisfy even the most avid 'extras enthusiast'.
Mercedes says it is pushing the new B-Class into the ring against the VW Tiguan, Audi A3 and the VW Golf and although they are all three champion campaigners the suits at Merc reckon they have a serious contender in its young and trendy new campaigner. Maybe so, but potential buyers should test drive and do a careful needs analysis and standard equipment comparison before choosing between the four.
Great reputation, great sales
Certainly the latest B-Class comes to market with a good reputation and an excellent sales history in this country as well as overseas where it sold more than 100 000 in the first five months after its launch... That is enough to give Mercedes-Benz SA bags of confidence that it will also do well locally, particularly as it is competing in the fastest-growing segment of the market.
As is the case with all Teutonic Threesome models the number of variants, options, add-ons, and pay-mores in the new B-Class is vast and this, too, requires particularly careful analysis because costs can rocket very quickly to way above the original purchase price, as I will illustrate further on.
The new B-Class came on to the market last week initially with two diesel variants, a 1.8, and a 2.0, both diesel-powered. Petrol options are due to arrive later this year.
At the Media introduction in KZN I drove both diesel models in cluttered city traffic and on motorways and it didn't take much persuasion to fall for the charm of the new B baby Merc. Inside it exudes a typical classy Mercedes ambience and the only slight distractions are the rather tight and narrow front seats and one or two plasticky console decorations.
Where the new B-Class shows its true colours though is in the way it drives and handles. It feels as solid and as confident as its bigger, more expensive siblings and even when we whipped them through the winding sugar-cane country away from busy motorways it behaved like blue-blooded German aristocrat.
The typical classy Mercedes quality... with a reservation or two.
Although the new B-Class is the same length as the outgoing model it is lower and wider and this definitely plays a key role in this better grip. It certainly feels more planted and even though the steering still has some electro-vagueness about it, it does feel a tad sharper and more responsive.
Have fun with the flappies
The B 180 CDI kicks out 80kW against the B 200 CDI's 100kW output and it is also 50Nm down on the 300Nm of the bigger engine model, yet I actually preferred the 1.8 to the 2.0 model. Its on-paper muscle might well be below that of the more powerful sibling but it felt a bit more agile, a bit lighter in a way, and it had more than enough power to cope with the undulating country-side.
Besides, if drivers want to step things up a bit they have the choice of an auto box which will enable them to also play with the flappies on the steering-wheel, a nice feature, particularly when galloping along twisty country roads. Having said that, the kind of person who is likely to own one of these B-Class vehicles is hardly likely to wear racing shoes or baseball caps the wrong way round and if they opt for the automatic transmission they would generally be quite content with the car's progress in "normal" auto mode.
It less powerful of the two certainly didn't run out of uphill steam during the launch drive although up in Gautrain County it could be a different story.
Smooth ride, smooth looks.
Impressively the new B-Class undercuts its predecessor by up to 21% on fuel consumption. Both diesel models now run on 4.4 litres/100km - their predecessors required 5.2 litres/100km. The B 180 CDI BlueEFFICIENCY attains a CO2 value of 116g/km with automatic transmission which is an improvement of 20% on its predecessor (146g/km).
My first stint was at the wheel of the bigger-engined and more expensive B200 CDI and this is where I can illustrate how quickly costs can mount if you become enchanted and a little carried away with optional extras...
Bring out zur chequebook
Over and above all the impressive standard kit that this model is equipped with you can jazz it up with a sports package (R10 000), Exclusive package R12 500), 4-way lumbar support (R1500), Active Park Chassis (R5000), Memory package (R5000), Panoramic sunroof (R10 000), 7G Dual Clutch Auto Transmission R10 000), Command NAVIGATION (R20 000), Intelligent light system (R12 500) and Harman/Kardon sound system (R6000) to total an eye-watering R93 000!
Extra kit is not necessarily required to make the new B all that more desirable. In the looks department it already is streets ahead of the outgoing version with sharper, more accentuated curves and lines, a wider, larger and more prominent grille emblazoned with a bigger Mercedes-Benz chrome star, smarter headlamp wraparound clusters, a sporty tapering roofline and back windows, cheeky two-piece tail lights, prominent wheel arches, side skirts, roof spoiler and classy alloy rims.
The new B-Class is exceptionally well-specced but be warned, it offers features and choices enough to baffle anybody, even a dedicated Mercedes-Benz fan, so homework and discussion time at the dealership should be a prerequisite for all prospective buyers. For example, there are 12 different interior trims alone, 19 optional items, 10 different colours, four different wheel options, 13 different so-called packages including a Sports Package, Exclusive package and Night package, plus lots more.
This could leave you feeling a little flat... The new B-Class cars don’t come with a spare wheel. If you want a spare you have to pay for it as an optional extra - and it will clutter up the luggage space.
What's more, it would take the average motorist a month of swotting to get to grips with the functions and usage of all the standard trim. Think I'm joking? Try the multi-function steering wheel, the climate control air conditioning with manual airflow control, dust filter, air articulation button with convenience factor that closes the windows automatically, the flexible seating adjustments, the auto 20 CD radio with dual toner, colour display, MP3/WMA/AAC-compatiable CD player, USB interface including CD cover display and Aux-in socket, Bluetooth interface with hands-free function and audio streaming for music transfer and telephone keypad.
Had enough? Need assistance already? How about Attention Assist, Brake Assist, Collision prevention Assist, Hill-start Assist...? So you see, when Eckart Mayer, vice president, Sales and Marketing, Mercedes-Benz South Africa says, and I quote: ''The new-generation is the first model in the history of Mercedes-Benz to have ever seen so many new developments introduced at any one time," he means every word he says.
Little wonder then that the B-Class projects itself as a stylish, safe, techno advanced, high quality package in up-to-the-minute wrapping - even without all the optional extras.
The prices and models are: B 180 CDI: R325 000 B 200 CDI: R358 000
Bizcommunity.com motoring editor Henrie Geyser () has worked as a journalist in Cape Town, London and Windhoek for the Argus Company (now Independent Newspapers) and spent 12 years at The Cape Argus in Cape Town. He then owned and ran a public relations consultancy for 13 years. He joined the online publishing industry through iafrica.com, where he worked for five years as news editor and editor. He now freelances for a variety of print and online publications, on the subjects of cars, food and travel, among others; and is a member of the South African Guild of Motoring Journalists.
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I think the fact that the new B-class does not have a cavity for a spare wheel should be forgiven because it really does justice to its name, Compact Sport Tourer. It focuses more on speed and adventure instead of comfort and luxurious space. Thus, those drivers who are looking to stuff an entire weekend's worth of camping tools in the trunk, would probably have to look elsewhere for a family car that promotes storage space above everything else. That is why it is important to list out our priorities before making a purchase, be it while shopping for a vehicle or anything at all. Being well-prepared beforehand is much safer to avoid unnecessary spending over something that is not even important in our lives.