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Mercedes-Benz B200 CDI BlueEfficiency Sport review (2012 onwards)
Model: Mercedes-Benz B200 CDI BlueEfficiency Sport, £24,710 (£28,555 as tested)
Bodystyle: Compact MPV, five-door hatchback
Engine: 1.8-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel, 136hp @3,600 - 4,400rpm, 221lb ft @ 1,600 - 3,000rpm
Transmission: Six-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Date of test: March 2012
What is it?
The Mercedes-Benz B-Class was always pitched - as nomenclature naturally suggests - a step up from the firm's entry-level A-Class. The first generation B-Class was meant to give the same qualities as Merc's smallest offering, just in a bigger and roomier package, improving practicality.
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But inheriting the A-Class' "sandwich" floor construction meant compromised comfort and legs at odd angles - outstretched in front of you unlike a conventional chair normally associated with a hatchback.
Where does it fit?
The A-Class offered an affordable way to get into a vehicle adorned with a three-pointed star when it was first launched, and Merc has tried to take that concept and run with it for the B-Class.
That means although similar in concept to its competition, the B-Class is pretty much the only premium or luxury (call it what you will) compact MPV on sale in the UK.
Surprisingly, BMW and Audi don't offer an equivalent model
Surprising, then, that BMW and Audi don't offer an equivalent, given the scope to capture the family looking for practicality but executive quality at the same time.
You'd be forgiven for thinking the B-Class is a small car - it's actually only one millimetre longer than a Focus hatchback. However, the car's height gives it away as a vehicle packing a good deal more room than your average family hatch.
Is it for you?
Boot space is fairly good, but only on a par with the competition - at 486 litres with the seats up and 1,545 litres with the seats down, it will easily take an average family's luggage.
With a clever sliding rear-seat system as standard to balance boot space and passenger legroom, the B-Class makes a good fist of using its cabin and boot space to best effect as well.
The options list is wide-ranging, so there's plenty of scope to spec your B-Class to the level of an executive saloon if you should so wish.
That means if you want a car that offers decent levels of space with a refined, cossetting ambience, the B-Class is definitely up your street. There is a price to pay, however, and that price is, well, the price - more on that later.
What does it do well?
The top-spec B-Class makes you feel a bit special, which is an admirable quality.
The car's steering is fairly light but precise and makes the Merc a nice implement to steer. In conjunction with a sweet gearbox and smooth engine - even if some odd grumbles do make themselves heard from under the bonnet - it's a rewarding car to drive.
Although the motor is smooth, offerings from BMW and Audi yield as much as 30% more power - in a car weighing 1,475kg, 136hp and 221lb ft doesn't feel enough. Maybe it's because how the engine has been tuned for refinement, but that customary turbocharged diesel urge never materialises.
Everything is just nicely integrated and cohesive
Inside, everything is just nicely integrated and cohesive - from the iPad-like sat-nav display to the air vents in the dash, there's togetherness to the B-Class, which creates a pretty desirable ownership proposition. They have a knack of doing that, those Germans.
It is a comfortable environment to be in though, and the interior gives the idea of the B being a much smaller car than it is - but in a good way. Everything in direct sight feels high quality, soft to touch yet solidly built.
What doesn't it do well?
However, out of eye line, go to adjust your seat position for example, and your palms will be met by hard, scratchy fibres. As tested, our B200 CDI BlueEfficiency Sport would set you back £28,555 - a lot of money for a small MPV.
The base-spec car costs £24,710 and comes equipped with a reversing camera (though oddly no parking sensors), start-stop system, air conditioning, retro-looking 18-inch two-tone alloy wheels, Bluetooth connectivity, and Merc's clever Collision Prevention Assist system as standard.
Your palms will be met by hard, scratchy fibres
With only five optional extras taking the price up to £28,555 - including telephone pre-wiring, a media interface for iPods, DAB digital radio, metallic paint and Merc's Comand multimedia system with sat-nav, voice control, MP3-compatible stereo and 10GB hard drive - the B starts to get expensive.
It might not be in the same class of vehicle, but a new BMW 3 Series 320d EffecientDynamics will be more economical, £500 cheaper, a more engaging drive and cope with 99 per cent of tasks that the Merc would, with only six litres less boot space.
What is it like to live with?
We mainly drove the B180 in Vienna last October and were impressed with the way the new chassis drove and rode - but forays with the B200 CDI Sport, complete with stiffer chassis and riding on 18-inch alloy wheels, revealed a much firmer ride.
On UK roads the Sport is worse. The car seems to crash over even the smallest tarmac cavities in a jarring way - the firmer ride does help reduce body roll when the pace is a bit swifter, but for everyday use, in Sport guise the Merc is just too stiff.
And the creaks and groans from the trim in the rear - possibly in part to do with the uncompromising set-up - would drive you mad they really were that vocal, even if it were a problem that only beset our test car.
How green is it?
Better than average would be a fair assessment. The 1.8-litre turbodiesel motor in the B200 CDI is claimed to return 64.2mpg combined with 121g/km CO2 emissions. That equates to road tax of £95 every year.
We struggled to break the magic 50mpg mark
Throughout a week with the car, taking in at least 350 miles of motorways and enough A- and B-roads to make it a real-world test, we struggled to break the magic 50mpg mark though.
Given that a similarly powerful 138bhp Ford Focus C-MAX would cost you the same in road tax - if its claimed combined fuel economy is lower at 55.4mpg - the Merc's effort at efficiency is a fair one.
The similar spec Renault Scenic will return the same fuel economy assertions as the Merc, but with only 114g/km CO2 emissions it drops into the next CO2-based band, meaning just £30 road tax per year.
Would we buy it?
It's an expensive car, there's no doubt about it. But the B-Class does deliver on quality, even if there are a few areas where Mercedes could brush up on.
It's not the cheapest, most efficient or most practical car in its class, and to look at it might put some off, too. But once you get behind the wheel - especially of the top-spec B200 CDI Sport - and spend a bit of time with the B-Class, you realise its merits.
It won't be to everyone's' taste in many areas of assessment looked at when buying a new car - not least budget - but if you choose the B-Class, you won't be disappointed by its typically reserved yet open German magnetism.
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