New B-Class light years ahead of old as Mercedes builds on 'A' hatchback
First drives: Mercedes B-Class, Mercedes A-Class AMG
Mercedes calls its new B-Class hatchback a sports hatch, not a crossover and definitely not an SUV, even though it's a bit higher than a normal five-door.
The interior is largely lifted from the smaller A-Class, so you get those gorgeous twin high-resolution colour screens instead of normal instruments.
The standard size is 7ins, but our cars at launch had the optional 10ins screens, which make all the difference.
Also taken from the A-Class is the latest MBUX voice control, which claims to learn as it goes, although at times it had trouble dealing with my Clare accent.
The B-Class, wider by 33mm, has a generous glasshouse, leading to good visibility all round. There's plenty of headroom and it's quite roomy inside.
The chassis is much improved over the outgoing model and the car settles into an easy rhythm, even on the twisty roads we encountered. The ride was exceptionally comfortable.
We'll get a range of petrol and diesel engines when the car arrives early next year, around February. All comply with the latest Euro 6 emissions regulations.
We had the chance to try both the B220d and B200d diesels. They gave a good account of themselves, but I found the 220d to be a bit smoother and obviously slightly more powerful.
The standard transmission is a 6spd manual, although twin-clutch gearboxes, with either seven or eight speeds, are expected to be a popular option.
The B-Class gets a lot of safety kit that we've only seen previously on the more luxurious S-Class.
It also gets an active cruise control system that uses GPS data to slow down automatically for bends or junctions. It's quite impressive and makes active cruise control useful on normal roads.
Kinetic seats are another innovation, and they make constant micro-adjustments to the angles of the seat back and base in order to reduce backache.
As far as I could tell on a two-hour drive, it seemed to make a difference.
There's also augmented reality satellite navigation. As you approach a junction, the map view switches to a feed from the front camera and the correct road is highlighted with a blue arrow. It's surprisingly effective.
No final prices yet, but expect a B200 petrol to start from around €33,000. In Ireland, the two most popular options are expected to be the B180 petrol with 136bhp and the B180d with 116bhp and 260Nm of torque.
We also had the chance to try the latest AMG, the A35, which sports a 306bhp 2.0 litre engine and four-wheel-drive. In Germany, it's the first AMG under €50,000, but it will be closer to €65,000 when it arrives here in April.
It's a real road rocket with an immensely capable chassis that's almost impossible to unstick.
The platform has been beefed up with a hefty looking aluminium plate bolted to the front, and it results in ultra precise steering.
Performance is top-notch , with the car boasting a 0-100kmh time of just 4.7 seconds - it does feel that fast.
Various driving modes are provided, with the most extreme, Sport+, firming up the chassis considerably, but not to an uncomfortable level. It also opens a valve in the exhaust system letting the car produce the most wonderful exhaust crackle. Honestly, you'd want to drive it everywhere like this.
The interior is based on the standard A-Class, although there are plenty of AMG refinements, including leather bucket seats and an optional suede steering wheel with extra controls.
You get 18ins wheels as standard, with the option of 19ins. An aerodynamic package, which includes a roof spoiler, is also an option.
At launch, there will be an Edition 1 trim, which includes the aero package, exterior black trim pieces, 19ins wheels and the special AMG seats and steering wheel.