Mercedes-Benz B180 CDi SE Autronic - The Verdict

Mercedes has filled a hole in its alphabet, says David Wilkins, but there's something about the brand new B-class that doesn't quite hit the spot

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Indy Lifestyle Online

Price: £20,885
Engine: 2.0-litre turbodiesel
Performance: 0 to 62 mph in 11.8 seconds, 47.9 mpg
CO2: 157g/km
Worth considering: Mitsubishi Grandis, Renault Grand Scenic, Vauxhall Zafira

Over the last few years, Mercedes has used up almost every letter for its ever-expanding model range. We have already seen the A-, C-, E-, G-, M-, R-, S- and V-classes, while 'T' denotes an estate car and other, multi-letter designations - CLS, CLK and so on - cover most of the rest of the alphabet.

Now, to add to the confusion, we have the B-class, which slots between the small A-class hatchback and the C-class saloon in pricing and in length.

It makes an interesting comparison with these other Mercs. In character, the B is very similar to the second generation A-class. Upright styling, space efficiency and front-wheel drive are the defining features of both; the interiors of the cars, including the dashboards, are very similar too.

But in terms of rear seat room and the amount of luggage space available, the B-class is a rival for the C-class; indeed, with its opening hatch it's more practical.

That being so, why would anyone buy the C? This is where we have to put to one side the sorts of things that can be measured - legroom, boot space, horsepower and so on - and enter the realm of the subjective.

The C-class, with its orthodox saloon shape, rear-wheel drive handling and bonnet-mounted three-pointed star, has more of the elements that constitute most people's traditional notion of a "proper" Mercedes. These provide a sense of occasion that is largely absent with the smaller B-class.

But if you don't place any particular value on this sort of thing, the B-class makes a good case for itself. The diesel engine fitted to our test car was smooth and quiet. Most of the time it didn't sound like a diesel at all, and it worked especially well in conjunction with the optional Autotronic continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT).

If the mention of CVT brings to mind memories of whining old DAFs, think again; the version fitted to the B-class is fine and it will even shift manually in an artificially stepped manner through seven "gears" if you are in the mood. The steering isn't bad either, although like other electromechanical systems, it's a touch on the numb side.

If I were grading the B-class like an exam, I'd probably give it a B; a good mark, but not quite the best. B by name B by nature, you might say. So what would it have needed to have to get an A?

A bit more of that Mercedes "feel" to go with the badge - and the price.

Oliver Daniel, 37, marketing consultant from London

"I never really understood why Mercedes would launch a car that seems so similar to the A-class, which I am currently driving. The first thing to note is that this car is significantly bigger than the A-class, especially in the boot/storage area. Driving this automatic diesel version felt very familiar and I was rather impressed with the performance. It felt very reliable, solid and very much German-engineered. However, unlike other Mercedes cars it didn't get my heart racing. So it should be a sensible option for anyone looking for a good family car but personally, I'd rather wait until they also offer a more eco-friendly hybrid version.

Ernest Yankah, 46, and James Yankah, 13, accountant from Mitcham, Surrey

"It's an excellent family car. It felt well built and I liked the soft material used on the dashboard. It has a high driving position which gives great visibility. I had ample head and leg room with a quite good adjustable driving position. It's an excellent car for its type. On the performance side I found it a little underpowered, maybe because I'm used to the power from my Subaru Impreza. Cruising was comfortable. Manoeuvrability is great with nicely weighted steering. On the outside the B-class is a good looking motor and classy. Would I buy one? The 2.0-litre turbo might seem an interesting prospect.

Daran Turner, 40, newspaper production manager from Colchester, Essex

"I would not normally buy a Mercedes, but after having driven this one I could be easily persuaded. The driver's seat had a protective hug about it and the controls are ergonomically placed. I drive a diesel and expected the customary frantic chatter from the engine but this engine purred instead. Having driven an auto transmission vehicle before I expected the tug that announces the shift in the gears. However Mercedes have pioneered a gearbox that makes the change virtually imperceptible. My only gripe afflicts most auto diesels... a lack of quick take off at roundabouts. I could not find much wrong with this car!

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