I took the new 2012 Mercedes B-class (B180 Blue efficiency) out for a review with a bit of skepticism. Smaller, less expensive, front wheel drive – all those things didn’t quite add up too well to make me an enthused prospect. But to Merc’s credit, the B180 Blue efficiency even with its 1.6 liter petrol engine and a rather sober 122bhp of peak power, titillated me enough to leave a smile on my face. Here’s our little story about the time we had with the car.
Engine and transmission
The B-class is powered by an all new 1.6 liter turbocharged, four cylinder petrol power plant with peak power output rated at 122bhp. The impressive peak torque of 200 Nm is thanks to that little turbo unit under the bonnet. All that torque is produced within a band which starts at a ridiculously low 1250 rpm, and going up to 4000 revs. Some diesel engines would be shamed. The direct injection engine employs piezo injectors and advanced technologies for low friction and better combustion.
Now, 122 bhp may not sound like a lot of power for a premium car, but the torquey engine and the brilliant power delivery of the B 180 ensures that driving it is indeed an enjoyable experience. Weighing 1450 kg, with all that engineering and safety aids packed in, the B 18o is a heavy car. It isn’t very enticing at the bottom of its rev-range, but past 2000 rpm, the B-class’s engine begins to sing. It comes to life past 3000 rpm, and manages to accelerate with briskness which is quite uncharacteristic of its engine’s small size. 160 kmph is attained without much ado, 180 takes a bit of time, beyond which the B-class takes some time before it reaches its 190kmph top speed. Being a turbocharged engine, the B-class’ power plant delivers its best slightly below redline, unlike an NA engine. There is a perceptible loss in juice on tap after 5000 revs.
The engine is mated with a dual clutch transmission with seven forward and one reverse gear. The 7G-DCT transmission is the newest of all the transmissions that the Three Pointed Star has to offer on its mainstream cars. Shifts are quick, seamless and well segmented to suit your driving style with three modes to choose from – Eco, Sport and Manual.
Eco mode shifts into a higher gear quickly to save on the precious golden fuel. Shift points do vary based on your pedal inputs, but essentially its primary brief is to save fuel than to enthrall you. Sport mode gets more violent with the rev needle letting go only marginally before the red line. In Manual mode, the gears will hold all the way up to redline, waiting for you to manually shift using the pedals behind the steering wheel until the last moment. The car also comes outfitted with an ECO start/stop function which turns the engine off on detecting a halt, and turns it on automatically. Once turned on after the engine being switch off, the B-class will always choose Eco as the default mode.
The 1.6 liter engine on the B-class may not have the sheer firepower of the bigger Mercs, but it’s quite a revelation in the real world. Combined with the brilliant 7G-DCT tranny, it has enough zing to spice up your drive. We came away amazed.
Ride and handling
What rang a caution bell in our heads at the beginning of our drive explained itself well enough by the end of it. The B-class, we would love to announce here, is an exceptionally good handler before we talk of anything else. It simply surpassed our expectations, and around the twisties of Lonavala, dazzled us with its balance, power delivery and poise.
Back in the beginning, we found the suspension a tad too stiff, especially at low speeds. The thuds were audible within the cabin to an extent more than welcome. The road and wind noise too were a bit more than our expectations. However, the sounds somehow did not translate into any physical inconvenience at the back bench, with the disturbance being more aural than bodily. Part of the problem was that those 17 inch wheels run on thin, 45 profile tyres. We were given the B180 with the Sport package, which increases the wheel size and reduces the profile. The standard B180 should ride much better. However, the dividends you reap for the tradeoff are well worth the small inconvenience.
The B180, as we discovered around the inviting roads leading up to Aamby Valley, has an amazingly well weighted steering wheel for an Electric Power Steering. The feel at the hands is just right – neither too heavy, nor too light. In conjunction with its baffling balance and poise, the B-class takes you by shock – leaving you bamboozled with its manners which are almost incredible for a hatch that borders on being an MPV.
Even after being a front wheel drive car, the B 180 steers precisely to your command – with no signs of under or over steer. The steering remains delightfully neutral, inviting you to push the machine harder on the next corner. Those 225 / 45 tyres delivered generous volumes of grip. You really have to push this baby hard to make those tyres wail. We have seen far more expensive machines start screeching at half the effort.
And it’s not just about the grip, or the feedback at the steering wheel. The body of the car itself is beautifully balanced with minimal roll as you hurtle it around bends. The fact that the B 180 is powered by a small engine helps its cause. Not being propelled by a monster helps it keep poise, with lesser instances of traction breaking. The B-class, then, is an incredibly fun to drive car – more fun than some of those bigger monsters which, thanks to their big engines are marred by tremendous torque steer.
What was a small fry at the beginning of the drive, managed to bring a big smile on our face by the end of it. The B class is, indeed, one delightful car to drive.
Design and visuals
The letter B, especially for us Indians is evocative of a bearded guy who uses ‘Big’ as a prefix before the syllable. The B-class, however, in contrast, is one of the smaller machines in the fabled Mercedes garage. It’s is indeed the smallest Merc on sale in India as of now, and also the most economical to own. The size of the new car may be diminutive by Mercedes’ own yardstick, but the B-class isn’t a small car when looked upon from an individual standpoint. The B-class is long and wide enough to make its premium pedigree sufficiently clear to any other regulation hatch which may aspire to match up.
There are ample intricate details throughout the 2012 B-class’s surface to make her stand out as a special product. The distinctive headlamps are the flag bearers of Mercedes-Benz’s new design philosophy, exhibited earlier by the new CLS and the C63 AMG. The curvy, swept back headlamp unit comprises of bi-xenon projectors with a white lit boomerang shaped light unit above them. While a sharply styled C-shaped chrome insert within the unit gives those pretty eyes their unusual flair during the day time, the white light from the boomerang unit turns heads as the evening draws.
A twin slat chrome grille with a big three pointed star in the middle completes the face. Bumper comprises of a huge central air dam with slim, horizontally mounted daytime running white LEDs flanking it. The bonnet gets strong creases at the flanks, but the central part is kept rather simple with a very mild rise on the front end subtly enhancing the front-forward look. The grille too, in line with the bonnet’s end is slightly pointed at the center.
In profile the extended length gives you a positive feel about the space within the cabin. Two strong character lines work towards adding some tension and athleticism. The ORVMs seem to have been taken from the E-class sedan. The matters have been kept rather simple at the rear, which cannot ever be a bad thing.
The B-class, in the first glance may not leave you speechless, but look more closely, and the attention to detail will eventually impress you. The car makes it premium pedigree more evident in the dark, with those beautiful headlamps fascinating one and all with their white light.
Cabin quality, comfort and convenience
The B-class features some of the most novel, modern and feature laden interiors you will witness on a Merc. The black theme of the dashboard has been well executed with unique veneered black ash wood inserts. The sporty Ac vents are the same as on the SLS AMG and work as beautifully as they please your eyes. Three of them in the middle of the dash add immensely to the sporty appeal of the interior. The chrome finished accelerator and brake pedals with rubber studs also work toward that end. The 3-spoke steering wheel looks and feels extremely classy. The instrument cluster has four analogue round dials. Digital central readout delivers a whole basket of information too.
Quality abounds across the cabin, and there are no signs of the B-class being given an inattentive treatment for it being a smaller car. The extremely well put together machine has all the bells and whistles that any big Merc boasts, and with some added zing. The center console, however, could have done with a new design, as it is reminiscent of most Merc dashes. The screen above the dashboard also looks as if it’s stuck on the dashboard rather than having been properly thought out.
Most of the things work in typical Mercedes fashion and it wouldn’t be a problem for someone familiar with the C and E-class to feel completely at home with the B-class. The foot-operated parking brake, however, has been replaced by a hand operated unit now. As we have pointed out on earlier occasions as well, the drive select lever behind the steering wheel lets you shift into neutral – since it’s positioned where most cars have their indicator stalk, it could turn into a hazard for new users. We sincerely think this is one issue that M-B needs to address at the earliest.
The B-class may be a hatchback, but it’s quite big in size. Dimension wise, it would be longer, wider than some of the MPVs available in the Indian market. The backseat is surprisingly roomy for a hatchback. Mercedes are claiming to have broken new ground in space optimization with the new B-class, and they seem to have some substance in their claims. There is plenty of legroom in the backseat, matching up with some of the bigger sedans. Under thigh support could have been a bit better in our honest opinion, but the legroom is sufficient to accommodate even 6 footers without any problem. There is ample headroom too, both up front and at the back bench. Even with its black tones the interior of the B-class feels like a big spacious place to be.
Add to the equation a massive panoramic sunroof, ample storage bins across the cabin and a huge 480 liter boot, and you have a hatchback which can match most sedans as regards space and comfort. The B-class really has the capability to let a family of four escape away on a week-long trip.
The B-class has to be one the most feature packed Mercs around. While it’s not a big machine, it doesn’t leave any boxes unchecked on the features and equipment list. In fact, the features on the B-class outclass some of its bigger siblings. While the standard B180 is also loaded to the brim with features, there is an additional Sports package which adds some more goodies such as sexier 17 inch wheels, leather inserts in certain sections and some more enhancements. Here’s a detailed list.
Like comfort and convenience features, the B-class is packed tight with active and passive safety features as well. While Attention Assist and seventh knee-airbag make headlines in the list of the interesting new safety features in this category of cars, there are plenty of other safety aids to marvel about. Here’s a detailed list.
• PRE-SAFE : The system activates a host of preventive measures to protect the occupants if it senses that an accident is about to happen.
• ATTENTION ASSIST : Warns the driver upon detecting certain signs of fatigue based on steering inputs which are constantly monitored via advanced sensors.
• ADAPTIVE BRAKE. Alongside ABS and EBD, the system prepares the brakes for better traction, handling safety and operating comfort. The “dry braking” function removes the film of water from the discs. “Priming” ensures that the brake pads are placed against the brake discs as soon as the driver takes their foot off the accelerator pedal quickly for quicker initiation of braking.
• Hill Hold : Unintended rolling back is prevented while shifting foot from brake to accelerator. If you press the brake twice, brake are applied automatically, and are released as soon as you press the accele\rator.
• ESP By braking specific individual wheels, ESP reduces the tendency to either over or understeer, thus improving driving.
• Acceleration Skid Control (ASR). The acceleration skid control (ASR) ensures that the wheels do not skid when accelerating. Acceleration skid control prevents individual wheels from spinning and the vehicle from breaking out to the side.
• Brake Assist (BAS). Brake Assist detects the speed with which the brake pedal is pressed, and assists the driver by increasing the brake pressure
• Tyre pressure loss warning system: Monitors and warns driver about low tyre pressure
• 3-point seat belts
• Belt force load limiters
• Seven standard-fit airbags including an innovative knee-airbag which can further reduce the forces exerted on the driver during an accident.
• Automatic engine shut-off
• Activation of hazard lights
• Auto emergency interior lighting
• Auto central locking unlock
The B-Class is more car than it appears to be. It’s packed tight with features, features sophisticated technology, drives well, has loads of space inside and drives like a dream. The only thing that goes against it is the fact that it’s a hatchback – body type that doesn’t go well with us Indians who relate value with body types and size for some reason. True, it doesn’t have the street presence of a sedan or an SUV, but for the discerning who merit solid engineering and features more than looks, the B-class presents a strong case for itself.
Price: Rs 21.5 – 25 lakh ex-Delhi
Most economical luxury car to own
No diesel option yet
Road and wind noise within cabin
Engine : 1595cc , in-line four, tubocharged, direct injection
Power: 122bhp @ 5000 rpm
Torque: 200 Nm@ 1250-4000
Acceleration 0-100 km/h: 10.2s
Top speed (km/h) :190
Tank capacity/with reserve (l) :50/6.0
Front tyres/wheels: 225/45 R17
Rear tyres/wheels: 225/45 R17
Kerb weight: 1425kg
Boot capacity: 486-1545liters