The new B 180 is the little Mercedes-Benz that could. For now it's the entry-level car for the three-pointed star and its sub-$40,000 pricepoint will get plenty interested in the brand who might not have considered it.
Safety, economy and flexibility are among the key attributes of what Mercedes-Benz has called its Sports Tourer. That description would suggest that it is a marriage of a sports car and a touring wagon - it's more of a cruiser.
What the B 180 does have is plenty of gear for its $40,000 pricetag - it is powered by a 1.6-litre direct-injection low-pressure turbo four-cylinder and gets a seven-speed dual-clutch automated manual.
The features list includes 16in alloy wheels, cloth trim, front and rear parking sensors as well as the automated parking system, a 6CD-stacker equipped six-speaker sound system with Bluetooth and iPod integration (a cable thankfully positioned in the centre console), power windows, a leather multi-function steering wheel with phone, audio and information display controls.
Furthormore, you also get single-zone climate control, hill start assist, an automatic electric park brake, cruise control with soft speed limiter, folding tables for rear seat occupants, automatic headlights and rain-sensing wipers, manual front seat height adjustment, The test car had the optional Vision Package - a $2490 extra that includes a sunblind-equipped double sunroof (fixed rear, tilt and slide front), bi-xenon headlights with washers, LED daytime running lights that give the snout an evil look at night.
Also selected from the options list by Benz is the COMAND package, which adds $2990 to the pricelist and ups the centrestack screen size and adds satnav, a 10GB hard-drive, voice control, Bluetooth and internet connectivity (via smartphone), as well as an upgrade to the Harman Kardon Logic 7 surround sound 12-speaker infotainment system and a reversing camera with guide lines.
A big chunk of the cutting edge stuff will come under the Safety heading, but the base B gets a low-pressure turbo 1.6-litre alloy four-cylinder with electronic direct petrol injection with precise piezo injectors that inject up to five times per power stroke for the best combustion.
The seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox has three modes - Economy, Sport and "Manual" using the steering wheel mounted paddles. The shifts are smooth and quick but sometimes the decision making process and implementation can take a bit of time - team that with not a lot of punch from the powerplant until the turbo has spooled up and it can be a little tardy getting away.
The B Class also has an automatic parking system, which takes the steering over from the driver (who still keeps control of the speed). Using the front and rear sensors and controlling the electric power assistance system, the B can park itself in a maximum of five moves, according to the boffins.
The B 180 has an interesting look from the front, which draws attention away from the fundamentally-boxy nature of the design. The lighting package in particular is an attractive element to the snout. It is a little lower than the outgoing car and has plenty of chiselled lines that catch the light, but calling it a sports tourer is optimistic.
The cabin is flexible and comfortable and has a decent amount of room for parents and a couple of offspring, the latter will enjoy the fold-up tables slung from the front-seat backrests. There's storage under the front seats and in the doors, as well as 486 litres of bootspace.
This is the Benz forte and if you're left a bit cold by the drivetrain, the safety features list will compensate. The B 180 has the Presafe accident preparation system, driver fatigue monitoring system, nine airbags (front, side, curtain and a driver's knee airbag), stability and traction control, anti-lock brakes with emergency brake assist, brake drying and hill-start assist, a collision alert and emergency braking system, which calls up the required braking force once the driver hits the pedal. The B also has a tyre pressure loss warning system for the runflat tyres.
The base-model B 180 tries hard but is probably more a price-point car and a little underdone. The little turbo four produces 90kW and 200Nm (from 1250 to 4000rpm) but feels a little mismatched to its transmission.
The gearbox's Economy mode is most certainly effective at working for fuel economy; the Sport mode is too aggressive and only makes the engine sound like it's working hard without a massive improvement in performance. The more powerful 115kW/250Nm petrol model is likely to gather more customers, although the turbodiesel - which offers 100kW and 300Nm - is a better prospect for driveability and economy.
Drivetrain gripes aside, the little B is a comfortable family cruiser - a family of four is easily accommodated within the airy cabin and all-round visibility is good.
Safety features a-plenty and a decent equipment list will have those looking for a three-pointed star on a budget interested, as will a decent cargo area measuring 486 litres. Neat touches like the well-executed ambient cabin lighting, rear-seat fold-up tables and the retro front air vents complete the pleasant in-cabin experience.
As a neat little family hatchback the B 180 is going to fit the bill for some, but anyone expecting it to live up to the Sports Tourer moniker is going to need the uprated petrol engine or even the turbodiesel, either of which would probably be $5000 well spent.
Mercedes-Benz B180 BlueEFFICIENCY
Price: from $39,500
Warranty: 3 years/unlimited km
Resale: 50 per cent (Source: Glass's Guide)
Service interval: 25,000km/12 months
Safety rating: five star
Engine: 1.6-litre turbo four-cylinder, 90kW/200Nm
Transmission: 7-speed twin-clutch automated manual; FWD
Body: 4.4m (L); 1.8m (w); 1.6m (h)
Thirst: 6.11/100km, on test 9.5; 95RON, tank 50 litres; 141g/km CO2
Audi A3 Sportback
Price: from $41,200
Engine: 1.4-litre, direct-injection 4-cyl petrol turbo, 90kW/200Nm
Transmission: 7-speed twin-clutch automated manual, FWD
Thirst: 5.3l/100km, 95RON, CO2 122g/km
BMW 118i hatch
Price: from $45,493 (+$3500 auto)
Engine: 1.6-litre, 4-cyl petrol turbo, 125kW/250Nm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic, rear drive
Thirst: 5.8l/100km, 95RON, CO2 134g/km
Lexus CT200h hybrid
Price: from $39,990
Engine: 1.8-litre, 16-valve 4-cyl petrol, 73kW/142Nm, 60kW/207Nm electric motor drive
Transmission: CVT, front drive
Thirst: 4.1l/100km, 95RON, CO2 95g/km