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Lessons we - and Mercedes - can learn from B-Class

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Intrusive: The tyre/road noise while testing the revised B-Class spoilt the drive

Intrusive: The tyre/road noise while testing the revised B-Class spoilt the drive

The cabin: Improved, but room for more

The cabin: Improved, but room for more

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Intrusive: The tyre/road noise while testing the revised B-Class spoilt the drive

I was looking forward to driving the Mercedes B-Class. It had been a while since I traversed Irish roads in one. Mercedes call it a Sports Tourer.

I was looking forward to driving the Mercedes B-Class. It had been a while since I traversed Irish roads in one. Mercedes call it a Sports Tourer.

Let's call it a compact but roomy people carrier.

Sorry, no. Let's call it a compact, roomy and sometimes noisy people carrier.

It has been quite a while since I encountered such tyre/road noise in a car of this size.

I know the B-Class is better, much better than that (I've driven it abroad and had no such complaints). And, for all its tyre/road noise blemish I can see how you'd like it.

But such intrusions tend to stick in the mind long after the better elements have done their work. That's how things work. And that would be a pity in many ways.

It has several, less obvious, good points, that emerged over the course of my drive.

I'll admit, however, that the B-Class is not a name that has immediately leapt to mind when discussing smaller prestige people carriers, or Sports Tourers for that matter.

Of course, with that three-pointed star out front, it is no ordinary people mover.

Yet it undoubtedly embraces far more function than form because it majors on space and practicality.

And it has a fine allocation of accessible space at the rear in particular - so important for families.

This is a point I like to make every so often.

There are cars with 'lots of space' but much of it is wasted by the design of the seats or boot angles.

To look at the capacity figures, in the round, some cars beat others in those departments.

But when it comes to putting bums on seats or luggage in boots, they fall sort of their totality.

The B-Class makes no world-beating boasts in either department but we found the rear seats to be among the most accommodating for a car of this size. The boot is fair, no more, but is of such design that you can squeeze a lot of stuff into it.

These are areas people often overlook when they are buying a car, especially for a family.

In saying all that, I'm disregarding a certain lack of panache and subtlety in the car.

The cabin is, despite improvements and a tasty inclusion of leather and wood inserts, still some way off class leadership when it comes to 'appealing'.

There is too functional a look, and dare I say, feel to it.

Yet I kept coming back to how good a service it offered us over a week of myriad small journeys - exactly the likely fare for such a motor.

I suppose we can call this version a second generation B-Class after a recent overhaul that was marked more by the inclusion of an electric version (minimal interest here, I'd say) than any radical technical or design departure.

As I've said, the cabin benefits from some renovation, and a larger infotainment screen. The Style pack on my entry-level motor adds 10-spoke alloys, radiator trim with chrome body detailing and better upholstery but mid-spec Urban trim (there is also AMG) is the one that looks best all-round.

My version, the B180CDI Style, had a 1,461cc diesel with 108bhp and has a €200 road tax rating. There is a 90bhp version of the same engine with €190 road tax.

I think those figures, on their own, send out the clear message: that this is a car to give you posh and practicality.

It also made another impression on me - how great it is to have an automatic gearbox for city traffic. I'm not going to say the one in my test car was a world beater for slickness and unobtrusive up/down shift. It was average or a little better, I'd say.

But in heavy traffic (have you noticed how many more cars there are on the roads on a consistent basis these days?) and under a lot of stop-go conditions, it was a real boon. Or am I just getting lazy?

Automatics are no longer the fuel-sapping liabilities they were. Indeed, in many an instance now, they outperform manuals on miles-per-gallon and emissions.

Like gearboxes, tyres too can play a role in fuel consumption and it can be the case that elements such as noise and comfort can be affected.

I'm not saying that was the case with the B-Class but let it serve as a pointer and a lesson of how small things can influence one's perceptions of a car.

Mercedes B-Class: Facts and figures

Five-seat MPV (people carrier).

B180 CDI Style automatic; 1,461cc diesel engine, 109bhp; fuel consumption 4-4.2litres depending on version. 111g/km means €200 road tax; 7spd automatic transmission.

Standard equipment includes a big range of safety and comfort items as well as air con, stop/start, Bluetooth, collision prevention assist, attention assist, automatic headlights, multi-function steering wheel, USB connectivity, etc.

Options on my test car included ARTICO leather, reversing camera, black-ash wood trim, LED headlamps and a night package. They added more than €4,000 to the cost of the test car, and that brought the overall price to €39,738.

Prices for the B-Class range start at €31,585, ex-works.

Remember delivery and related charges are extra.

My side of the road

So, drivers will be left to their own assessment of how fast they should drive on minor local roads with 80kmh limits. The thinking behind the plan is admirable; I salute the spirit of the initiative.

But from my experience of driving on such roads, I fear it may take more than sentiment to change people's mindset. Most drivers see things differently, I think. When they are confronted with an 80kmh limit, they subliminally feel it is alright to travel at that speed. Of course, that is not the case. The limit is indicative of the absolute fastest you should drive under perfect conditions on some stretches. It is not a licence to drive like that all the time.

Maybe, just maybe, the new guidelines will help change that mindset. That would be great.

But I think it will need enforcement and there's little hope of that. Gardai can hardly manage the busy roads. When was the last time you saw one monitoring a boreen?

Indo Review