MERCEDES-BENZ B-CLASS: SHARPER STYLING AND ENGINES FOR OVERLOOKED BENZ

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JOHN CAREY

IN Europe, the place of the B-Class is obvious. Itís a premium-brand step up the mini-MPV status stairway. The Mercedes-Benz is classier and more costly than the likes of the Ford C-Max, Renault Scenic and Volkswagen Golf Sportsvan, to name but a few of its mainstream competitors.

These five-seaters are a common sight from Spain to Sweden and Portugal to Poland, but no mass-market Euro-brand mini-MPV is sold in Australia. Down here, the role of the rarely seen B-Class, and BMWís almost invisible 2 Series Active Tourer, are as non-conformist alternatives to a small SUV.

Though the current B-Class sells at a rate of around only 1000 a year in Australia, the third-generation of the mini-MPV is scheduled to arrive Down Under around the middle of 2019.

Codenamed W247, the new B-Class is very closely related to the new A-Class. It rolls on exactly the same wheelbase and uses the same engines. Mercedesí main aim was, as one executive put it, ďa more dynamic lookĒ. The exterior design is more aerodynamic than before, but thereís only so much designers can do to beautify a tall but short shape.

Once inside, those proportions make a lot of sense. The B-Class driver sits 90mm higher than an A-Class driver. The elevated seating creates great legroom. Mercedesí designers also found a little more cabin width and height for the new model, even though itís fractionally lower and only slightly wider than before. The feeling of interior spaciousness is enhanced by the new modelís lower beltline and enlarged window area.

Although cargo compartment volume shrinks a little, the new B-Classís 455L boot is usefully large and a three-piece 40:20:40 split backrest is standard.

The B-Class will launch here in B200 form, priced from around $45,000.

It will have the same petrol-burning 1.3-litre turbo four and seven-speed dual-clutch auto drivetrain as the A200. A B250 with a 2.0-litre turbo petrol is expected later, but Mercedes-Benz Australia has decided not to import any diesels.

The new B-Class delivers lush ride comfort and fright-free handling, at least on the multilink rear suspension and adaptive dampers which will be part of an option package here. The standard torsion-beam rear-end is unlikely to be so impressive.

But the new B200ís great weakness is its engine and transmission. As in the A-Class, the little turbo four lacks both muscle and refinement, shortcomings the transmission tries and fails to conceal.

While the new B-Class has the makings of a fine small-SUV alternative, the B200 falls some way short of clinching the argument. But the B250 could, and should, change that.

JOHN CAREY

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