The new Mercedes B-class, the first Benz to be powered by Renault petrol engines, has been spied in winter testing for the first time ahead of its launch at next year’s Frankfurt show.
These hand-built prototypes show for the first time the evolutionary dimensions and proportions of the next B-class, one of five key models based on an all-new front-drive platform, dubbed MFA. The five-seat MPV will be the first model off the MFA, followed in 2012 by the new A-class, and then a junior SUV and a small saloon.
The MFA is a conventional unibody and replaces the expensive sandwich structure used on today’s A and B-classes. Because of the switch to conventional body engineering, Mercedes will drop its own front-drive engines, which were designed as part of the sandwich platform crash structure.
In their place will be a combination of existing in-house and small-capacity Renault engines. Over time the engine range will eventually include turbocharged 1.2-litre, 1.4-litre and 1.8-litre petrols, a 1.6-litre diesel from Renault and Mercedes’ 2.2-litre diesel.
Initially, however, sales will centre on larger-capacity Mercedes units, according to Stuttgart insiders. Gearboxes will be a six-speed manual and a six-speed dual-clutch auto in place of today’s CVT, both with stop-start.
The MFA is also being engineered to accommodate three alternative powertrains: plug-in electric (E-Cell), petrol-electric range-extender (E-Cell Plus) and fuel cell (F-Cell).
The basic dimensions of the new B-class are largely unchanged, as is the elevated driving position, but cabin space is better, thanks to a lower floor. There’s more flair in the styling, with tauter surfacing and more defined shoulder treatment, as previewed on the F800 Style concept at this year’s Geneva motor show.
The adoption of LED head and tail-lamps is an important exterior upgrade. The B-class also sticks with conventional doors all round, despite Mercedes experimenting with a sliding rear pair. Merc is also moving the B-class interior up a notch in quality with higher-grade plastics, trim, switchgear and controls from the C-class.Greg Kable