Mercedes B-Class (B180 CDI Sport) - iDrive

'A chilly fault is enough to set me against the B-Class'

Mercedes B-Class (B180 CDI Sport)
Price: from £21,290 (£33,190 as tested)
Engine capacity: 1.8 litre
Top speed (mph): 118
0-60mph (seconds): 10.9
Fuel economy (mpg): 64.2
CO2 emissions (g/km): 118

Mercedes calls its new B-Class a “Compact Sports Tourer”. Compact for small and sports tourer as motoring-industry slang for the traditional family estate. See the contradiction? Never mind, because the German firm claims no other model in its 126-year history has seen so many new developments introduced in one fell swoop.

Not only does it come with a funny name, but with two new high-performing engines boasting lower CO2 emissions, huge amounts of leg- and headroom, a massive boot and some of the highest-standard safety features as standard in its class. It may be the second-smallest Mercedes available, but the B-Class still smacks of style with streamline looks, a smart cabin packed with soft-to-touch plastics and distinctive air vents borrowed from the classy SLK sports car.

Climbing in for an initial four-hour run, the seating position is easy to adjust for comfort, the satnav menu simple and the space and visibility excellent. I click on the heated seats as the fine leather upholstery is a little chilly on my delicate behind. Nothing.

The adaptive beam assist, active park assist and all manner of other devices are working smoothly, but a simple bit of kit first fitted to cars back in the 1960s fails to perform. I'm precious I know, but a frosty derriere is a cold blow with snow on the ground (my B-Class was a test model so it's a fault unlikely in a car you'd collect from a dealer). And even a little niggle can set you off on a bad train of thought about a car...

Thankfully, the B-Class is a comfortable and refined drive. The new four-cylinder engine on my diesel model is powerful but frugal. Its handling – aided by electrically assisted steering – is direct and impressive for a car its size and height. But it lacks some of the ride refinement of other Mercedes models – I'd ditch the Sport trim and opt for the more comfortable (and cheaper) SE package – and is loud at motorway speeds. And as the miles go by there are more and more little things to take issue with. The collision-warning system is overly quick to sound its klaxon even when there's no danger, the parcel shelf rattles, the satnav and iPod controls are too near the gearstick, while the temperature ones are too far away, hidden away behind the gearstick.

These are small things I know, and it's not that the B-Class is a bad car – it has acres of space, a great pair of engines, a commanding driving position and is very safe. It's just that it lacks Mercedes' usual attention to detail.

The Competition

Essentially the B-Class is a five-door hatchback with a prestigious badge and plenty of space. If space isn't so important try the VW Golf; if it is, try the Ford C-Max.

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<b>Kathryn Williams</b>
When I was supporting Ray La Montagne I was six months pregnant. He had been touring for a year and he was exhausted and full of the cold. I was feeling motherly, so I would leave presents for him and his band: Tunnock's Tea Cakes, cold remedies and proper tea. Ray seemed painfully shy. He hardly spoke, hardly looked at you in the face. I felt like a dick speaking to him, but said "hi" every day. </p>
He was being courted by the same record company who had signed me and subsequently let me go, and I wanted him to know that there were people around who didn't want anything from him. At the Shepherds Bush Empire in London, on the last night of the tour, Ray stopped in his set to thank me for doing the support. He said I was a really good songwriter and people should buy my stuff. I was taken aback and felt emotionally overwhelmed. Later that year, just before I had my boy Louis, I was l asleep in bed with Radio 4 on when Louis moved around in my belly and woke me up. Ray was doing a session on the World Service. </p>
I really believe that Louis recognised the music from the tour, and when I gave birth to him at home I played Ray's record as something that he would recognise to come into the world with. </p>
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