Tuesday, 27 May 2014

REVIEW : 2014 MERCEDES-BENZ B-CLASS 



The test car came with a sports package that includes low-profile tyres on 18-inch rims and a lowered, sports suspension. The launch car comes with what Merc calls a comfort suspension, which offers higher ground clearance, softer suspension settings and more practical 16-inch wheels on the base petrol variant, while the B 180 Sport gets 17-inch wheels.


The sports kit no doubt adds to the ground-hugging looks of the B-class, but look past the eye candy and you’ll see what looks like a shrunken R-class. There’s that low bonnet, steeply raked windshield and high roofline, and despite the unusual shape, it won’t take long for even untrained eyes to tell it’s a Benz. Every current Merc styling cue is present – the oversized grille with the huge three-pointed star in the centre, the clamshell bonnet and the bumper with its integrated LED lamps all point to Stuttgart.

Viewed in profile, your eyes are drawn to the sharp upswept kink that runs along the flanks and the unusually long space between the front and rear axles – yes, the wheelbase is a massive 2699mm. The rear is pure Merc too – it’s the most uncomplicated part of the design. Also impressive is the extremely slippery shape – the B-class’ drag coefficient is a low 0.26.



Under the skin, the new B-class (W246) retains its predecessor’s - the W245’s - front-wheel-drive architecture, but ditches the old car’s complex and expensive ‘sandwich structure’ chassis for a more conventional monocoque. The advantages of the less complicated setup (aside from a cut in manufacturing costs) are a liberation of interior space and lower seats that are easier to slide into.

Not that the B-class is very tall – with its 1557mm height, it fits in somewhere between a soft-roader and a saloon. The suspension is independent all round, with a MacPherson strut, wishbone setup up front and a four-link, wishbone setup at the rear. Brakes are discs all around and the steering is an electrically assisted rack-and-pinion system. The spare wheel is an inflatable space-saver and the B-class comes with an electric tyre inflator. All in all, the B180 weighs a hefty 1425kg.

INTERIORS :

What hits you the minute you slip into the easily accessible cabin is the fantastic quality of materials. The fit and finish is comparable to the nearly twice-as-expensive E-class and there’s a genuine luxury feel inside. The black leather interiors feel sporty, and even minute details like the contrasting stitching on the seats and doorpads and the aluminium highlights on the stalks are absolutely top-notch. The dashboard design is smart and we particularly liked the SLS-style air-con vents and the AMG-style steering wheel. But although build quality is impressively ahead of any big hatchback we’ve seen, the B-class doesn’t feel like it has the torsional rigidity of the bigger Merc saloons, but more on that later.

The seating position is, again, somewhere between a tall hatchback and a soft-roader, which means it isn’t too high, but it’s not saloon low. The seats are nicely cushioned and there’s ample room for heads and knees wherever you’re sitting, with particularly good provision for feet in the second row. If there’s a catch to this, it is with the seat base of the rear seats – it is a tad short and the seat-back is a bit upright as well. Still, you won’t complain much when you realise that, even if you’re a six-footer, there truly is enough room to stretch out in here. It’s a practical cabin – storage space is adequate, with big door pockets, two reasonably big cubbyholes on the centre console and a rather big glovebox.

Like in most new auto-transmission Mercs, the gear selector is on the steering column to free up space on the centre console, and for once the door mirrors are big and convex on both sides, so they are actually usable.

If we had a complaint with the cabin it would be with the control stalks, which are configured in true Merc tradition. The single stalk for the lights and wipers is on the left, the cruise control stalk is just below it and the gearlever stalk is on the right of the steering wheel. It is confusing initially and you tend to knock the gearlever into neutral when you want the indicators. Breaking away from Mercedes tradition is the parking brake; it is no longer foot-operated, but electronically activated with a button on the dashboard. The COMAND system’s screen isn’t particularly well integrated into the dashboard and it looks like a tablet computer has been stuck on to it. Also, the interface itself is now looking a bit dated. 
At 486 litres, the boot is usefully big and you get a huge 1545 litres when you fold the rear seats. Adding to its practical nature is the low boot loading lip that makes it easy to haul luggage in.

Equipment levels are good – there’s climate control, USB and aux-in ports, leather upholstery, a panoramic sunroof and electrically adjustable seats (though our test car didn’t have this last feature). The safety feature list is quite long as well – there are seven airbags, hill-start assist, ABS, ESP, brake assist, traction control and a tyre pressure warning system. The B-class maybe a small Merc, but there’s no stinting on safety equipment or features. 


PERFORMANCE :


The engine in the B180 is from an all-new engine family (engine code: M270). It’s an all-aluminium 1.6-litre turbocharged, direct-injection petrol engine that sits transversely over the front axle. The direct-injection system runs a pressure of 200bar and uses piezo injectors that handle upto five injections per cycle. The engine weighs just 137kg and part of this weight saving is down to the hollow crankshaft.

The B-class always starts in Eco mode, and that means the seven-speed auto upshifts early and the quick-acting stop-start system is eager to cut in every time you come to a stop at a red light.
The B-class always starts in Eco mode, and that means the seven-speed auto upshifts early and the quick-acting stop-start system is eager to cut in every time you come to a stop at a red light.
To get the best out of the engine, you need to switch Eco mode off, put the transmission in manual mode and use the well-finished paddles behind the steering wheel. Do so and it will hit 100kph in 10.2sec and will go on to a top speed of 192kph – very impressive figures for a car that weighs over 1.4 tonnes and makes a modest 121bhp.

The B-class is a pretty good cruiser too and, again, there’s always sufficient grunt for highway duties. Overtaking is quite easy thanks to the strong mid-range and this makes the B 180 feel even quicker than it actually is
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Fuel Economy :

The B-class’ quick-to-cut-in stop-start function and Eco mode help its fuel economy in the city. We got an absolutely decent 9.5kpl. Its slippery shape and low drag coefficient helped it return 14.2kpl on the highway. 

ENTERTAINMENT :

The B-class gets Merc’s 450-watt ‘Audio 20’ system that includes a CD player, USB and aux-in ports, and plays through 12 speakers. It can play WMA, MP3 and Apple formats. It works in connection with the COMAND system’s colour screen and displays album art if the details are stored on the audio file. It also gets Bluetooth connectivity and audio streaming. It’s pretty comprehensive and quite easy to use. We just wish the interface itself looked fresher; it is showing its age now.  

VERDICT :

Mercedes has launched the B 180 base petrol at Rs 21.49 lakh going up to Rs 24.87 lakh for the Sport model, making it the most affordable Mercedes yet, but is that enough to make customers bite? The thing is, this is a car that can split opinion because it's so wrong and yet so right. The biggest problem with the B-class is not with the car itself, but with the Indian customer mindset that expects a Merc to look very upmarket. And the B-class, with its hatchback-like shape, does not. A petrol engine is another deal-breaker for many these days, but a diesel option is coming in a year's time. However, look at the B-class on sheer merit and it's got a lot going for it. Clever packaging gives it compact dimensions, which is great for city driving, and yet the cabin is surprisingly roomy. There's no compromise on quality, both inside and out, and the driving dynamics are very impressive too. It's really easy to drive and hence should find favour with lady drivers. We've seen how accomplished the B-class is, but are people willing enough to try something different? We think they should be.

TECH SPECS :

Fact File


What it costs
Ex-showroom (Delhi)Rs 21.49 - 24.87 lakhs
Engine
FuelPetrol
InstallationFront, transverse
Type4 cyls in-line, 1595cc
Bore/stroke83/73.7mm
Compression ratio10.3:1
Valve gear4 valves per cyl, DOHC
Power121bhp @ 5000rpm
Torque20.39kgm @ 1250-4000
Power to weight84.91bhp per tonne
Torque to weight14.3kgm per tonne
Transmission
TypeAutomatic
GearboxSeven-speed
Dimensions
Length4359mm
Width1786mm
Height1557mm
Wheel base2699mm
Boot volume486 - 1545 litres
Chassis & Body
ConstructionFive-door, monocoque, hatchback
Weight1425kg
Tyres205/55 R16, 225/45 R17
SpareSpace saver
Suspension
FrontIndependent, MacPherson struts. wishbone
RearIndependent, multi-link, wishbone
Steering
TypeRack and Pinion
Type of power assistElectric
Turning circle11.0m
Brakes
FrontVentilated Discs
RearSolid Discs
Anti-lockYes
Performance
0-201.20
0-402.54
0-604.53
0-807.08
0-10010.2
0-12014.48
0-14019.80
0-16028.02
0-18039.55
Economy
City9.5kpl
Highway14.2kpl
Tank size50 litres
Range at a glance - Engines
Petrol1.6-litre petrol, 121bhp