Friday 13 December 2019

Out with the new, in with the old

RATING 81/100

I was well and truly entrenched in my views on the way they decked out the inside of this. You could almost hear the grrrrrrrrr in my brain as I spat disdain on the awful wood-finish inlay around the cabin. Then the fashionista daughter got in and her wonderful blue eyes lit up. She loved it.

A few hours later my fashionista 'so-called niece' sat in for a drop down home and raved about it.

So you see what's 'old' is 'new' and cool. If only that applied to ould yokes like myself.

Now all of this fits in with what Mercedes say it is trying to do -- attract younger buyers.

In that respect it has made the car look a lot better than the old one. It is lower, more svelte and easily competes with most rivals in the 'first look' test.

It is noticeably lower, less chunky and a lot easier to drive. That has a lot to do with the way the chassis is now set up and the fact it is front-wheel drive.

Mercedes made a good job of the seating but a bit of a hames of the rear accommodation.

It should have been able to take three in reasonable comfort rather than the two-and-a-half it ended up with. The boot was ample, easy to access and had plenty of useable space.

I wasn't that happy with one aspect of the drive. It has this Stop/Start technology which most of the time cuts off the engine when you're idling or stopped. Grand so far.

But I found myself time and again conking out the engine when I made to start off either by picking third gear or the restart possibly not being quick enough for me. I'm not sure which but it doesn't usually happen that often. Maybe I am getting old.

By the same token it was significantly smoother and quieter than the old one when out on the road, especially in the course of a few motorway drives.

Indeed, I'd say it was as good a drive in a smaller Merc that I've had for a long time. And the excellent diesel engine keeps you in the lowest road-tax category.

So what sets it apart?

Well, if we're honest the three-pointed star is a big draw. Especially for a near five-seater nudging under the €30,000 mark. Mercedes claims the entry-price is 11pc lower than before.

But snobbery apart, I'd have to say it is a really solid piece of work. The cabin was decent with good quality plastics and surfaces, the seats were the sort I really like -- roomy, strong and with a good level of adjustment. The car may be lower but there is more headroom.

That's because the seats are pitched lower too -- without the penalty of having to stoop and twist to get in and out.

So I'd say, yes, go and take a really good look at this.

Only . . . there are some excellent alternatives. Not in any particular order -- but the likes of the Ford C-Max (probably nearest to it in terms of cabin space), Audi A3 Sportback and Peugeot 5008 give you an idea of the huge spread of options out there. For a compact Merc to make an impact in that sort of company means it has to be spot-on in several departments.

I can't say it absolutely outshines them in any one area, though to be fair, it has some extraordinary bits of technology that contribute significantly to safety and comfort. This is the sort of stuff that has trickled down from the bigger Mercs and represents perhaps an edge.

Neither is the B-Class outgunned in too many areas. Now it has a different suspension set-up it is a markedly improved driver.

And it is a Merc. You know, I still think deep down, even at a time like this, that means a lot. Especially when Mercedes manages to make the traditional look 'new' and 'cool'. That is a real achievement.

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