The new engines come mated to a standard six-speed manual gearbox. Buyers can also specify an optional six-speed double clutch transmission. Offering both manual and automatic modes, it replaces the unloved continuously variable transmission.
Another crucial change is the chassis. It retains a Macpherson strut front suspension but the rear torsion beam arrangement of old has been replaced by a more contemporary multi-link set-up. The steering also follows the recent trend, eschewing hydraulic-mechanical for electro-mechanical actuation as part of a series of fuel saving measures that also includes automatic stop/start and brake energy recuperation on all new B-class models.
What’s it like?
Great in some areas, disappointing in others. Climb aboard and the first impression is that you now sit in the B-class, not on it. Due to the floor changes, the front seats have been made considerably more upright and the steering wheel less vertical. It means a more relaxed driving position than the oddly sporting set-up of old. Knee height up front is considerably lower than before.
The front seats, which offer greater cushioning and a more substantial construction than the thin backed pews used in the previous B-class, are mounted 86mm lower. It all adds up to a greater level of perceived comfort even before you’ve turned the key.
Performance wise there’s little to distinguish the new B 200 CDI from its predecessor. The new engine feels very similar to the old B 200 CDI unit in terms of overall response, although a new front axle with altered driveshafts now manages to place its power to the road in a tidier fashion.
There’s enough low-end torque to haul you smartly away from the lights and sufficient mid-range punch to allow you to confidently exploit spaces in traffic. The B-class also cruises at typical motorway speeds without any undue mechanical harshness. In fact, overall refinement levels are now very impressive.
The official 0-62mph time is 9.5sec – 0.1sec faster than the old B 200 CDI. In real world terms it feels faster, owing to the flexible nature of the engine. Mercedes-Benz claims economy of 64.2mpg on the combined cycle – an improvement of over 10.0mpg.
The new gearbox offers a trio of modes: eco, sport and manual – the former being the most comfort orientated as well as the most frugal of the three. It is not quite as smooth as rival gearboxes in automatic mode when placed in eco and sport modes – especially on downshifts. But the double clutch unit responds well to manual shifting, which is performed via steering wheel mounted paddles.
The new B-class offers greater agility than the old model, some 32,000 out of a total of 700,000 of which have found their way into the hands of UK buyers since its introduction in 2005. It’s hardly sporting, but there’s added willingness to the way the new model handles.
The electro-mechanical steering, geared at 3.0 turns lock-to-lock, is one of the better systems we’ve come across in recent times, offering good response and progressive weighting across the wide range of lock. Around town, the new B-class is highly maneuverable thanks to the direct nature of its steering and a reduced turning circle.
On more open roads, there’s greater eagerness upon turn in and, thanks in part to the reduction in height - and with it a significant lowering in the crucial centre of gravity and less body roll during cornering. The front tyres hang on with greater defiance than before, resisting understeer at cornering speeds that would have worried the old B-class. There’s also a big improvement in cruising ability with greater straightline stability at high speed.