Early prototypes of Mercedes’ new B-class have hit the road in Germany at the start a two-year development programme.
The car is among a range of new, compact Mercedes due in late 2011 to replace the current A-class and B-class with models that are cheaper to produce.
Larger and more upright than the existing car, the new B-class will compete against the next VW Touran, Germany’s best-selling MPV since its launch in 2003. At around 4400mm long, the new car will be 130mm longer; it’s also 50mm taller, at 1655mm.
The styling will remain a one-box affair with a high waistline, but the tailgate will be more upright. Mercedes will use the larger dimensions to add an optional third row of seats.
The new B-class is based on a new front-drive platform that dispenses with the flat floor and expensive sandwich construction of the current A and B-class, in favour of a more conventional structure with defined footwells, which will improve interior space.
It also means Mercedes will be able to replace the costly four-cylinder petrol and diesel engines. Used exclusively in the A-class and B-class, they will be replaced by new diesel and direct-injection petrol engines that share their basic architecture and a large percentage of components with the four-pot petrols and diesels used in other Mercedes models.
Alongside standard front-wheel drive, Mercedes-Benz is also planning to launch a four-wheel-drive B-class. This will enable the creation of a new entry-level SUV below the GLK. Codenamed X156, it will rival the BMW X1 and Audi Q3 when it arrives in 2012.