Mercedes-Benz has extended its new B-Class range of compacts with the addition of two new petrol-powered versions - a move which will be welcomed by dealers and buyers alike after the initial order of diesel-only B-Class cars were sold out shortly after they hit local dealer showrooms.
The major difference is under the bonnet.
From the minute the latest B-class was unveiled in Europe it became clear that it was trumpeting a new dawn for Mercedes. Gone were the frumpish Mister Plod looks, average ride and so-so mummy's taxi appeal and in its place strolled something refreshingly zesty, smart and likeable.
The Europeans loved it from the start, so much so that more than 100 000 units were snatched up within the first five months. The local market has clearly also fallen for its magic spell and the petrol versions have been eagerly awaited by those who have no particular affinity for oil-burners.
At this stage only two petrol models have been introduced but both versions are available with either a standard six-speed manual transmission or a considerably more expensive optional seven-speed auto box.
A little more change in your pocket with the petrol version
The main advantage the petrol models have over the diesels is that they are considerably less expensive than the oil burners with the B180 coming in at R299 600 compared to the B180 CDi's R325 000, whilst the B200 is priced at R319 600 against the B200 CDI's price tag of R358 000.
In terms of performance the petrol models have a bit more power but less torque. The B180 pushes out 90kW compared to the diesel's 80kW and the B200 produces 115kW compared to the B200 diesel's 100kW. But on the torque front the diesels have the upper hand with 250Nm and 300Nm compared to the petrol models' 200Nm and 250Nm.
Both the petrol and diesel models are considerably more environmentally friendly than their predecessors with lower fuel consumption and lower emissions which should please the polar bears and the greenies.
Just to clarify one issue which is still causing confusion in the minds of consumers - Merc's branding, which is bit misleading. Normally a 180 badge on the boot of any car would indicate a 1,8-litre engine and a 200 badge would indicate a 2-litre engine. Not so in the case of the B-Class where both the B180 and the B200 are powered by a 1.6-litre engine and the diesel models are both powered by the same 1.8-litre engine.
It's got the B-whizz factor for those who like all the gadgets and goodies.
While we are on the subject of confusion, Mercedes-Benz calls its new B-Class range Sports Tourers which has a nice sound to it because it intimates that the B-Class is a nippy, sporty vehicle which it is not. It's a very pleasant, handsomely attired and richly specced fine chunk of German machinery but it really doesn't have any aspirations of pushing up your heart beat or making your palms sweat.
Quite understandably so, because the typical B-Class driver will probably have a small, young family, or will be a fairly conservative young professional, a trendy individual who gets high on high-tech wizardry but drives like a tortoise, a retired anorak who likes to talk about cars and their oily bits, or a last time new car buyer.... certainly not anybody likely to go in for robot to robot racing or wearing their caps on backwards.
To please this market the rejuvenated B-Class wears some snazzy make-up and its cabin space, comfortable ride and classy finish project all the upmarket ambience one would expect from the three-pointed star brand.
The only major difference is under the bonnet
At the recent media introduction to the new petrol versions I only got to drive the B180 as there weren't enough B200's to go around but I drove both diesel models when they were unwrapped in South Africa for the first time a few months ago and there is not much to choose between the petrol and diesel because other than the engines, the cars are almost identical in terms of luxury and safety features, fancy kit and expensive optional extras.
Like the diesel version, the power and performance differences between the 180 and 200 petrol models is mainly due to engine management tweaks for like the diesel, the petrol models also have identical engines.
In the case of the petrol models, the turbocharged B180 will do the 0 to 100km/h sprint in 10.4 seconds and has a claimed top speed of 190km/h while Mercedes claims the B200 will do the sprint in 8.6 seconds and reach 220km/h.
The living quarters are typically Mercedes quality - very, very good.
A feature of the new B-Class, which by now is standard across the range of all cars in the Mercedes, Audi and BMW stables, is the long list of available optional extras. But although they are extensive and costly, the choices to individualise cars is a must-have for South Africans who, according to the marketing suits at Mercedes, are more than willing to spend considerably more money to kit their cars out in a boutique format to suit their own taste.
It's the 'little' things that add up
For example, the less expensive petrol model I drove at the media launch had the following optional extras: Polar silver metallic paint (R2000), leather upholstery (R2500), active park assist R5 000), memory package (R5500), Harman/Kardon sound system (R6000), 7G Dual Clutch Auto Transmission (R10 000) and COMAND Online (R20 000) which would push its retail price of R299 600 up by a whopping R51 000!
Like the diesel models, the petrol model I drove felt solid on the road, even across the neglected, pot-holed badlands of the KZN interior which we crossed between King Shaka Airport and the little town of Wartburg.
In the undulating country-side we occasionally had to pedal quite hard, particularly when overtaking and the engine noise did become a tad intrusive, but at normal cruising speed the baby Merc is quiet and comfortable. The steering still feels a little cotton-wool wrapped, but the car clings well in the corners, the stopping power is good and the cog-swapping happens smoothly and fairly quickly.
The fancy auto transmission offers three driving mode choices: Economy (when the transmission selects the best gear for optimum economy), Sport (when the shifts remain fully automatic but they just happen quicker) and Manual (when the driver plays with the flappies on the steering wheel and things happen even quicker).
In terms of performance the petrol models have a bit more power but less torque.
The cabin space and the general lay-out is impressive, although a little daunting to start off with, like most luxury brands these days. The seating is comfortable and the general ambience in the living quarters is not unlike that of bigger, more expensive Mercs.
Particularly attractive to families will be the flexible seating which offers a number of options. Not so appealing is the fact that this car doesn't come with a standard spare wheel and if you opt for real rubber wrapping as an optional extra you sacrifice loading space.
G-whizz? No, B-whizz
Run-flat tyres also have a relatively small fan club in this country and oil-burner fans should also take note that the diesel models prefer high grade diesel which, just like single malt whisky, is not always available, in the more rural regions of this country.
Besides it pretty new make-up (and its 16 optional extras), the small Mercedes B-Class is strong on safety features which include an NCAP 5 safety rating, Electronic Stability Programme (ESP), Emergency Brake Assist (BAS), Anti-Lock brakes (ABS) a host of airbags, flashing brake lights, a tyre pressure warning system, Collision Prevention Assist and more.
Standard equipment across the entire range include cruise control, a multi-function steering wheel, radio and 6-CD change, Media interface, aircon... the list just goes on and on. There are also choices of 13 optional packages such as the Sports Package which is made up of sports suspension, alloy wheels, a more direct steering system and some fancy chrome trim.
The Europeans loved it from the start, so much so that more than 100 000 units were snatched up within the first five months.
The B also shows off with a full dose of plugs, plays, interfaces, sockets and connectivity features to make geeks dribble and to freak out electro-connecto Luddites. In fact, as a total package the new B-Class is probably one of the most (if not THE most) whizz-clever car the generally conservative German brand has ever produced. But, as underlined by local and international car sales which already total well over 100 000 units, the new B Class certainly has got what the market wants and what it is willing to pay for.
Mercedes-Benz no longer disclose individual model sales so it's impossible to extract a figure of how many of the new models have been sold locally or how many more they are still hoping to sell, but whatever story the figures tell, the Mercedes sales people are likely to keep smiling as long as stock lasts,
If one weighs up the snob value of the Mercedes-Benz badge, the new compact's stylish features, its cool styling and bang-on connectivity appeal, plus its price-inclusive six-year/120 000km maintenance plan, the new B-Class is a classy addition to the brand.
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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