Outside-of-the-box premium hatchback finally does Mercedes credit, but this isn’t the definitive version

What is it?

The most expensive version of Mercedes’ new B-class, the first examples of which have just landed in the UK, before the order books officially open next month. This test in the Mercedes B 200 CDi Sport gives us not only our first shot in a B-class on UK roads, but also our first test of the car in Sport specification, which brings with it shorter, higher-rate springs, uprated dampers and a quicker steering rack.

For a £1300 premium over ‘SE’ trim, ‘Sport’ also buys you a reversing camera, tinted windows, sports seats, 18in wheels with Goodyear runflat tyres, bi-xenon headlights and LED daytime running lights.

What’s it like?

An easy car to get in a muddle over – that’s for sure. The obvious competitor set to rate it against would be made up of five-seat people-movers like the VW Golf Plus, Ford C-Max and Renault Scenic. But when you clap eyes on this new B-class, you’ll realize it’s a more complicated prospect than that.

Mercedes calls the B-class a compact sports tourer, which isn’t a great deal of help. It’s more like a crossover hatchback. Measuring 4359mm in length and 1557mm tall, it’s actually less than 100mm taller, and a solitary millimeter longer, than a Ford Focus. And its closest notional rival is without doubt the Audi A3 Sportback.

There are clear MPV conventions inside the cabin. Mercedes has dispensed with the expensive old B-class’ ‘sandwich platform’, choosing instead a more ordinary underbody arrangement for the new car that has liberated low-level cabin space. So you sit fairly snug in the B-class, almost as low as you would in a normal five-door, but in a fairly upright, bent-legged, MPV-like driving position. There’s plenty of surplus headroom.

Rear passengers enjoy a little more space and comfort than they would in a normal five-door hatchback, with particularly impressive footroom available under the front seats. Provision for a fifth occupant is poor, though. There’s no seven-seat option, and even on flagship versions Mercedes will charge you extra for sliding second-row seats, a ski hatch and a folding front passenger seatback, all parts of its £515 Easy-Vario-Plus option.

So you might quibble over the generosity of this car’s standard specification (cruise control’s an extra, too). And yet the B-class’ cabin creates an impression of tangible richness, quality and value-for-money anyway, comprised of tactile and substantial plastics, chunky and expensive-feeling new switchgear, smooth leathers on the primary controls, and metallic trim flourishes like the air vents and interior doorhandles, which are attractive on the eye and cool to the touch.

At last, one of Daimler’s transverse-engined breed has the kind of interior to make it at least feel like a fully-paid-up, invulnerable Mercedes-Benz. This B-class may be no more impervious to use and the passage of time than the last, but it certainly strikes a much clearer and more convincing impression of quality from the get-go.

Cosseting refinement would probably be next on your wishlist for the perfect baby Benz. If it is, don’t buy a B-class Sport. While other versions may be better in this department, our test car was neither quiet-running nor particularly smooth-riding. Its low-profile runflat tyres crashed quite noisily over broken surfaces, and although its ‘amplitude-selective’ dampers brought better compliance over longer-wave crests and through compressions, the B 200 CDi Sport was disappointingly short on basic rolling comfort for any premium-brand family five-door – modern or otherwise.

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Mechanical refinement is better, but still not brilliant. Although well-behaved in the broadest sense, Mercedes’ 1.8-litre turbodiesel engine is a little coarse at low speeds, and under wide throttle openings. Throttle response is good and in-gear performance plentiful, but in our test car it came accompanied by a slightly flatulent whooshing from the far side of the front bulkhead; the kind you’d expect of an aged W124 saloon with a hole in its manifold.

Is the B-class ‘Sport’ fun to drive? Not much. Which isn’t for the want of grip or lateral body control, both of which are as strong as you could wish for. The car’s dynamic shortcomings are buried slightly deeper. Press on down a particularly testing country road and you’ll find that the car’s vertical damping deteriorates, losing control of the movements of its tall body on the rebound stroke. Both a VW Golf and a Ford Focus would be more tied-down.

The bigger problem, however, is that the B-class Sport just isn’t very easy to gel with. The variable-ratio power steering quickens suddenly off-centre after a large ‘stability zone’ at the straight-ahead, which makes carving a smooth, accurate cornering line a bit of a guessing game. There’s also insufficient feedback though the steering wheel rim, and a little too much unpredictability about the car’s damping generally, for a keen driver to find much to really please.

Should I buy one?

Probably not. Which isn’t to say that you shouldn’t buy a B-class. Mercedes has undoubtedly succeeded with the execution of this car at the second attempt, creating a spacious, well-appointed and appealing unconventional upmarket five-door. We just wouldn’t recommend this particular version.

Our earlier continental tests would suggest than an SE-spec B 200 CDi, on smaller wheels and with a more appropriate chassis tune, would make a much more refined, fit-for-purpose luxury family car – something we’ll confirm when we get a chance to test one in the UK.

The Sport-spec car seems a bit incoherent; meticulously fitted out and lavish in some ways, rough and ready in others, and ultimately short on the composure and entertainment value that might redeem it.

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Mercedes B 200 CDi BlueEffiiciency Sport

Price: £24,710; Top speed: 130mph; 0-62mph: 9.5sec; Economy: 64.2mpg; Co2: 121g/km; Kerbweight: 1475kg; Engine type, cc: 4cyls, 1796cc, turbodiesel; Power: 134bhp at 3600-4400rpm; Torque: 221lb ft at 1600-3000rpm; Gearbox: 6spd manual

Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

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giulivo 13 February 2012

Re: Mercedes B200 CDI Sport

catnip wrote:
what really is the point of plenty of surplus headroom?

How about allowing taller drivers to sit and see out properly?

How tall are you if I may ask?

I am 6ft3 and I have the old W245 B-class. Its driving position is awful. If I rack the seat up I can hardly see out (at the front looking up, such as at traffic lights, but especially at the back) because the roof is sloping down both at the front and rear.

I once had a police car follow me for quite a few km, the guy asked "did you not see me signaling at you?" errr no. Even though I do look into the mirror (which takes a fair chunk of visual range up front) and into the tiny letterbox sized rear screen rather often.

If I put the seat down, then I feel like I am sitting on the floor, feet just below the level of my bum, knees up, like a go-kart. Not exactly what you look forward to in a family car.

The decent packaging (better than most hatchbacks in the 4.30 range, but not worthy of a proper MPV) and the interior trim (which I find really really good) are my car's only saving grace. The fact that MB has seen it fit to further improve the materials but do nothing to improve packaging and practicality - yet it seems that many people consider the new model a step ahead - probably means that I'm not the typical Mercedes target client.

Well I won't be a Mercedes client anymore, that's for sure...

il sole 13 February 2012

Re: Mercedes B200 CDI Sport

Fidji wrote:
The engine seems very good - 0-60 in 9.5s and 64mpg in a car this size is pretty good
really does it?? as they say in the review, it is hardly any bigger than a focus or a golf and yet it's performance against those 2 is pretty poor. Surely they can also do 60+mpg and do 0-60 in alot less...AND have a 'proper' third back seat!!

6th.replicant 12 February 2012

Re: Mercedes B200 CDI Sport

Erm, is it April 1st?

Surely this is a startup Chinese manufacturer's attempt to design a Western-type upmarket airport taxi: the rear-end of a Golf Mk6 + an ill-prortioned front-end with randomly applied Mercedes styling cues.

Ah, hang on, it is a Mercedes - the most fugly Mercedes, ever.