Mercedes-Benz B-Class: This time, B stands for 'better', a lot better
The revamped Mercedes-Benz B-Class is a huge improvement on the old model and, writes Campbell Spray, it could be a car for a long life with your family
'This is very smooth" and "it's really roomy" and "there's something about it"... these are the sort of comments I like to hear from my partner on our Sunday afternoon drive, as the dog snoozes on the back seat dreaming of his long mountain walk - and some ham afterwards.
Actually, I would rather have some negative comments to fit my curmudgeonly image so I don't sound like a patsy. Luckily for balance, the cribs did come later and it was easy to add some of my own.
But to be truthful - after some less than happy experiences with Mercedes-Benz because its cars are getting lower, sleeker and more young-appealing - I found that the new B-Class was back with the attributes I liked. Easy to get into and load and, while its looks wouldn't grace a cover of Vogue, it was a really versatile small MPV/five-door hatchback that was very pleasant to live with.
It might be a tad expensive but the well-equipped model I was driving was only a bit more than the level at which some Volkswagen Golf models are pitched but was far more practical as well as being a real premium car. On that point, the car that could really put it up to the Golf, and crossovers like the Nissan Qashqai, is the new Honda HR-V, which Geraldine looks at on the right. Honda has a real winner there.
But back to the Merc, this B-Class is a massive improvement on the old model and takes some of the attributes of the old A-Class and mixes them with the driving abilities of the new one to make for a very comfortable model. It has plenty of room for the family even if sitting in the middle of the back seat shouldn't be encouraged for long periods. Surprisingly aerodynamic, it is a pleasant if not exciting car to drive. The 0-100km of almost 12 seconds and top speed of 190kmh of the 180CDI Urban Automatic I was testing emphasises this. Yet consumption is good and this diesel falls into the €190 road tax bracket. There are four diesel and four petrol options while Natural Gas Drive and electric power are offered elsewhere. The latter will arrive here eventually at a premium.
Both the diesel and the automatic box had their issues; the first was quite noisy while the second had an annoying lag which meant that starts at traffic lights were neither confident nor smooth.
My partner's delight at the performance of the B-Class on the motorway soon changed when it became far too firm and jarring while we were crossing the Wicklow mountains to Clara, about 6km south of Laragh, for our afternoon walk. The village is perhaps the smallest in Ireland with just a wonderful old bridge across the Annamoe River, a church and a couple of houses. There are some lovely trails signposted up the hill a little beyond the river.
The B-Class is packed with safety equipment now trickling down from the S-Class and other top models. Despite the problems with the ride at times, there is great grip, making it feel very secure. Overall specification is pretty good but doesn't have the refined look of some of its more expensive brothers and sisters. Yet it was still definitely Mercedes. There are a number of style options and if you go mad on the extras you could be facing a massive payout.
I liked the roominess of the B-Class and the large opening rear, which was very useful. It is only three years since the B-Class was launched here and this mid-life facelift and very serious tweaking has done wonders for it. The next model will be even better and is the sort of car that a family could grow up with and then down the other side. The model I was driving, complete with Artico Leather and the much-needed reversing camera (as the rear visibility is a bit restricted), was €36,743, although the range starts at around €31k.
Colleagues say that the BMW 2-Series Active-Tourer is more fun, but may not have the longevity.