16 February 2005

Mercedes-Benz is aiming to snare a sizeable share of Europe’s growing midi-MPV market with its latest model, the B-class. Appearing in public for the first time at the Geneva Motor Show next month, with UK sales set to begin later this year, the production version of the German car maker’s new five-seater is little changed from the Vision B concept car wheeled out at last year’s Paris Motor Show. The only modifications are slight changes to the tail light lenses and a toning down of the interior trim. Based around a modified front-wheel-drive platform from the new A-class, the B-class is clothed in its own bodywork. The interior shares many features with its smaller sibling, but gets a unique four-spoke steering wheel and upgraded seats, as well as new instruments. The new car has been designed to be more versatile than the A-class. It has 110 litres more boot space, at a nominal 544 litres. This can be extended to an enormous 2245 litres with the rear seats folded and the front passenger seat removed. Maximum stowage length is 2950mm.

Power comes from a range of four-cylinder petrol and diesel engines, all but one of which is currently offered in the A-class. They include a 93bhp 1.5-litre in the B150, a 114bhp 1.7-litre in the B170 and a 134bhp 2.0-litre in the B200. Topping the line-up is a new 190bhp turbocharged 2.0-litre in the B200 Turbo, with a 0-62mph time of 7.6sec and a top speed of 140mph with a six-speed manual transmission.

Diesel buyers will be able to choose from two 2.0-litre common-rail units producing 107bhp in the B180 CDI and 138bhp in the B200 CDI – both available with a particulate filter as an option. The B-class will be produced alongside the A-class at Mercedes-Benz’s Rastatt plant in southern Germany. Earlier plans to export the new car to the US have now officially been placed on hold due to the continued weakness of the dollar against the euro. ‘At the current levels our profit margins in North America are wafer thin,’ an insider told Autocar, adding ‘we are now going to play a wait-and-see game with the B-class.’

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