08/06/2012 12:02 | By Steve Walker, content editor, MSN Cars

Mercedes-Benz B180 CDI BlueEFFICIENCY Sport review (2012 onwards)

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Model: Mercedes-Benz B180 CDI BlueEFFICIENCY Sport
Bodystyle: five-door hatch
Engine: 1.8 CDi turbodiesel
Transmission: six-speed manual
Date of test: May 2012

Read more Mercedes-Benz car reviews

First drive: Mercedes-Benz B-Class

What is it?

Back when the premium German manufacturers first started giving compact hatchback cars a go, Mercedes opted for a daringly innovative approach. It bravely defied convention, brought never-seen-before technology to the table and the buying public largely ignored it.

This was 1997, Audi was already inflating its cash reserves with the Volkswagen Golf-based A3, the BMW 1 Series was still eight years off and Mercedes burst in on the party with its A-Class.

Rather than the posh alternative to a Focus or Astra that Audi was pedalling, the A-Class combined MPV roominess with a clever and flexible 'sandwich floor' design. The same concept would spawn the larger B-Class in 2005 but neither car proved a success for Mercedes in the way that the A3 and 1 Series lines have respectively been for Audi and BMW.

Just like its predecessor, it's a tricky car to pigeonhole

Now Merc is having another go. A new B-Class is here, one that that ditches the old concept and will work in tandem with a forthcoming new A-Class to try and wrest control of the premium hatch market away from Mercedes' rivals.

Where does it fit?

This is the B180 CDI BlueEFFICIENCY, the most affordable diesel-engined model in the latest B-Class range. While the new A-Class is all set to cover the sportier side of this market, a sector where Mercedes hasn't yet maintained a convincing presence in the UK, the B-Class is taking care of business in the family-friendly sphere. It's the same group of buyers on whom the old A and B directed their two-pronged attack but this B-Class is going about things in a different fashion.

Just like its predecessor, it's a tricky car to pigeonhole. Rather than toeing the 'upmarket MPV' line, this B-Class melds elements we'd associate with MPVs together with themes from conventional hatchbacks and, interestingly, crossover 4x4s. It's another original piece of small car thinking from Mercedes-Benz but will it seduce enough customers?

Mercedes-Benz B180 CDI BlueEFFICIENCY Sport (© Microsoft)

Is it for you?

On first inspection you quickly spot the car's MPV-style high roofline but the upright angling of the grille and windscreen adds a hint of crossover 4x4 to the profile. It's not a conventionally pretty car but it looks as if it means business with the oversize three-pointed star on the grill and thick creases along the flanks bringing some character.

There's a well-damped smoothness to much of what the B-Class does

The B180 CDI model opens at £22,000 and you'll pay just over a £1,000 more for the Sport trim that's upping the visual game of our test car. 17" alloy wheels, xenon headlamps, Bluetooth connectivity, climate control and a particularly slick Hill Start Assist system all make the spec sheet.

What does it do well?

There's a well-damped smoothness to much of what the B-Class does. The whole thing is set up to be soft and easy-going from the well-oiled action of the manual gearbox and effortless steering to the syrupy suspension. For a compact car, it does a fine job of putting a feathery buffer between you and any trace of harshness or vibration.

The 1.8-litre engine is particularly refined and better in this regard than many of the installations Mercedes uses in its upscale models. There's a good chance you'll get out of the car assuming it has more about it than the quoted 109hp power output too, although much of the credit for that lies with the 184lb ft maximum torque. Accelerating to 62mph can be done in 10.9s and the top speed is 118mph - not half bad for this chunky little Mercedes.

Mercedes-Benz B180 CDI BlueEFFICIENCY Sport (© Microsoft)

What doesn't it do well?

This B-Class is deliberately configured in a way that won't enthral keen drivers. Even on the sports suspension fitted to our test car, it floats along dispatching speed humps as nonchalantly as a luxury SUV but it also leans through fast corners and can feel less than planted at speed over bumpy roads.

The steering will be too light for some tastes too but it's worth remembering that Mercedes has the new A-Class in reserve to appease those seeking a harder, pointier, feistier drive.

What's it like to live with?

A high seating position gives you a good view out and there's plenty of headroom. In the back, the seats aren't the twirling, flipping miracles of product design you get in top MPVs these days but in terms of raw space, they're pretty good and the mechanism to fold the seat backs down has a reassuring weight about it.

Solidity is theme that runs through the B-Class

Around the back, is a top-class boot with a low loading height and no lip to speak of. You can hoist heavy items onto the ledge and slide them straight into 486 litres of virgin space - compare that with the 420 litres you'll find in BMW's X1 crossover.

Solidity is theme that runs through the B-Class as a whole. The wide plinth of shiny plastic that covers the passenger side of the dash isn't too attractive but the bold jet engine design of the air vents is a talking point.

I continue to have trouble getting to grips with Mercedes' joystick-based COMAND control interface for the sat-nav and stereo (a £2,100 option). Good touchscreen systems just seem far more intuitive and the impressively large 7" display screen isn't well integrated with the rest of the dash. It looks like someone's super-glued their iPad to the facia.

Mercedes-Benz B180 CDI BlueEFFICIENCY Sport (© Microsoft)

How green is it?

The diesel engine continues to collect gold stars on the economy front with official combined cycle returns of 64mpg and 118g/km emissions. We consistently returned economy in the high 40s on our test.

Would we buy it?

There's no doubt that the B-Class feels the premium product its price tag suggests it should be. There's a weighty, robust feel to it both in the cabin and on the road where comfort and refinement are top class for a car of this size.

Its focus is clearly on the family-oriented end of the premium hatch market and as such, the engine in the B180 CDI is a fine fit. It's lively enough, quiet and generally strong enough to raise questions over the need for the more expensive B200 CDI version.

If you're after a family runabout with a bit of class and aren't afraid of paying for the privilege, the B-Class is well worth considering. There's nothing else quite like it and in tandem with the sleek new A-Class it has the talent to revive Mercedes' fortunes in this crucial market sector.

Read more Mercedes-Benz car reviews

Read our first drive of the Mercedes-Benz B-Class

On Bing: see more pictures of the Mercedes-Benz B-Class

Find a used Mercedes-Benz B-Class on Auto Trader

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