15 September 2004

Mercedes-Benz will launch two spacious models next year, the midi-MPV B-class and segment-busting R-class estate, both to be unveiled at the Paris Motor Show later this month. Billed as ‘concepts’, both are thinly-disguised production cars. The B-class takes Benz into new territory where it will battle the Renault Scénic and Vauxhall Zafira, while the R-class will pioneer a new ‘cross-over’ segment of high-roofed estate cars.

First on sale in the UK is the B-class, slated for an autumn 2005 launch. A re-bodied long-wheelbase version of the new A-class, the crisply-styled B-class is 4.32m long and sits on a 2778mm wheelbase. Both the wheelbase and rear overhang are stretched compared to the A-class, giving the B-class similar dimensions to Renault’s Scénic.

But where the Zafira has seven seats, the B-class makes do with five, albeit with a flexible tilt/fold operation like the A-class. Cabin space should be excellent, and Mercedes claims ‘the interior space of larger saloons and estates’.

The B-class is clothed in particularly sharp sheet metal, with a more pronounced bonnet than the one-box A-class, muscular wheelarches and a more defined crease along the sides.

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A new interior (right) features details such as a new four-spoke steering wheel, instrument panel and a revised centre console. Insiders report that ‘only detailed features such as the colour of the tail lamps and certain interior trims will be changed for production.’

Five four-cylinder engines will be shared with the A-class, including 115bhp 1.7-, 136bhp 2.0- and 193bhp 2.0-litre petrols, plus 109bhp and 140bhp 2.0-litre common-rail diesels. Prices are likely to start at the top of the segment, suggesting an entry level of £18,000.

In a bigger and different class altogether is the R-class, a new vehicle type to the UK, and on sale in the UK in early 2006. Based on the next-generation M-class, which uses unitary construction, the R-class mixes an interior that’s more exec than MPV and the ability to seat six in three rows of seats.

Two versions of the R-class will enter production – the 4922mm-long version to be previewed at Paris and a long-wheelbase model with an extra 235mm. Both will be sold in the UK.

The six-seat interior is trimmed with high-quality plastic and leather and features a column-mounted change for the new seven-speed auto ’box. Engines include 2.8-litre 185bhp, 3.0-litre 215bhp and 3.2-litre 228bhp common-rail V6 diesels. The 3.0-litre has a hefty 376lb ft at just 1800rpm. Top of the range will be a 4.4-litre V8 CDI with 300bhp and 516lb ft.

Other engines will be V6 and V8 petrols and possibly a V12 flagship. Expect prices to start from around £45,000.

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