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Mercedes-Benz B-Class 2012 Review

The B-Class is a compact people and cargo carrier with no direct rivals in Australia.
EXPERT RATING
7
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Buy with confidence; all Mercedes-Benz Certified Pre-Owned vehicles come with a factory backed warranty, 100 point safety check, comprehensive service history and 24hr roadside assistance.

Buying a new Mercedes-Benz badge for Mazda prices is a reality with the launch of the Mercedes B-Class. The five-door hatch brings a new level of safety and sophistication to the small vehicle segment. The question now is how many people will pay range-topping Asian car prices for an entry level Merc.  

The base B-Class is $38,950 plus on-road costs. That makes it cheaper than Mazda's range-topping petrol CX-5, the Grand Touring, which comes in at $43,200. The CX-5 is the most car-like of the compact SUVs and a realistic rival for the Merc.

The B-Class is a compact people and cargo carrier with no direct rivals in Australia, meaning it will attract buyers from both the small SUV and small car ranks - at least until a genuine B-Class SUV arrives late next year.

The all-wheel drive Mazda rides higher than the Merc but it also represents the latest technology from Japan. The 2.0-litre "Skyactiv-G" engine is comparable in terms of power output and the interior features are classy but Mazda can't match Mercedes in the safety stakes.

Mercedes is counting on that fact - and the lure of the three-pointed star - to sign-up empty nesters, middle-class families and Gen X-ers who are climbing the corporate ladder.

FEATURES 

Buy a and standard gear includes a powered driver's seat, adaptive xenon headlamps, front and rear parking sensors, a 10-speaker Bose sound system and 19-inch rims. 

Opt for the B-Class and the wheels drop back to 16 inches, muscles and not motors move the front seats and six speakers are the default setting. The flip side is a bigger satnav display with hi-res graphics set in a piano-black surround that looks like a scaled-down iPad.

The dash itself has air vents borrowed from the $470,000 SLS supercar and the steering wheel is straight out of the $160,000 CLS parts bin. The seats are more comfortable and there's parking assistance software to manoeuvre into those tight spaces. Both models have enough rear leg and head room to comfortably guard basketballers, though the Mazda holds a slight edge here.

COST OF OWNERSHIP

The big issue when buying your first prestige car is whether you can then afford to drive it. Legend has it that running a European-built car costs more than a comparable Japanese or South Korean vehicle. 

Like most legends, there's some historical truth to the tale but the European carmakers have tried hard to extend service intervals and make their vehicles the most fuel-efficient on the road.

That's why the intervals on the Merc are now out to 25,000km or 12 months. That compares with 10,000km/six months before servicing is due on the Mazda range. In theory, then, the Merc can cost twice as much to service and, given those services will happen half as often, owners will be no worse off over the course of a year. 

The battle at the pump is just as close with both vehicles using features such as idle stop/start to improve efficiency. The official fuel use for the 90kW/200Nm 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol engine in the B-Class is 6.1 litres/100km using 95RON fuel.

The Mazda CX-5's 2.0-litre engine uses 6.4 litres of 91RON fuel to cover the same ground on the front-wheel drive models, or 6.9 litres when matched to AWD. Assuming annual travel of 15,000km, 95RON petrol to be $1.60 and 91RON at $1.50, the B-Class will cost $1464 to fuel; the slug on the CX-5 will be $1440 for the FWD model or $1552 for the AWD.

SAFETY

If keeping the family safe is a priority, the B-Class will be a no-brainer. Collision-avoidance alert and "Pre-Safe" are included in the starting price. The first will sound an alarm and pre-arm the brakes if the sensors detect the car is about to rear-end another vehicle; the second system tensions the seatbelts and closes the windows if the G-forces are high enough to convince the software a crash is imminent.

Dip in to the options and the B-Class can have a safety suite to rival any car in the Mercedes range, be it adaptive cruise control and headlights, blind spot warning or software to keep the car in its lane. There are nine airbags on the Merc against six in the Mazda and both vehicles have the latest versions of stability and traction control software. The Mazda also has a reversing camera across the range, while it's an option on the B-Blass

OPTIONS

Imitation is the greatest form of flattery and Mazda has taken a leaf from the Mercedes' manual to option software-based safety improvements as part of packaged upgrades. The "tech pack" is for now only sold with the Grand Touring model.

The $1990 spend adds blind spot and lane departure warning systems and a headlight high beam control system that automatically dims the light for approaching drivers. 

Mercedes has six options packages for the B-Class. Load a top-spec model up with them all and the cost can top $60,000. Individually the prices run from $1490-$2990. Two of the more useful are the Comand pack at $2990 for a 12-speaker Harman Kardon sound system with 10GB hard drive, a seven-inch satnav screen and reversing camera, and the Driving Assistance pack that adds lane departure and blind spot warning systems along with adaptive cruise control for $2490.

DRIVING

If the Merc earns an A for packaging, the drive is a definite B. Efficiency ahead of excitement is the motto here and the B Class feels underpowered with a chassis that can unquestionably cope with a lot more ground. And it will need to, with four more variants to be spun off the same MFA (modular front architecture) platform in the next few years, including a youth-focused A-Class range topped by a 200kW AMG model. 

The seven-speed automated manual transmission is so slick that the occasional glitch - it can hunt for a gear when accelerating from a near stop - really stands out. Thankfully, it doesn't occur in stop-start traffic, so most owners won't notice it. The run-flat rubber moans a bit on coarse chip surfaces but it isn't horrible and is noticeable mainly because there is zero wind noise off the bodywork at legal highway speeds. 

The steering has been dialled-in for families - it is light and precise without giving a huge amount of feedback. The power figures mightn't be huge but base engine is more than capable of lugging four adults, if not at breakneck speed.

Claimed 0-100km/h time is 10.4 seconds, but that drops by two seconds if buyers part with another $4000 to buy the B200 petrol model with 115kW/250Nm yet still the same 6.1L/100km fuel use. The diesel engine's 300Nm of torque and 4.7L/100km fuel use  make it the pick of the litter if the B is going to cover a lot of kays.

VERDICT

The last B-Class led the compact prestige segment and this is a better car in every area for less cash.  It is a hugely practical load lugger and Mercedes is already predicting short-term supply problems as it struggles to satisfy global demand.

PAYING A PREMIUM

All three major prestige brands are moving to claim a bigger share of the small car market. Audi has its A3 hatch and just launched Q3 SUV, BMW has the 1 Series and X1 crossover and Mercedes has the B-Class.

Merc won the sales race in this segment last year, but a two-month gap between the old model and the arrival of this one means the company will struggle to stay on top again in 2012, despite predicting at last 2500 sales. Audi's A3 starts at $41,200 while BMW's base price for a 1 Series is $39,593.

Mercedes-Benz B-Class 

Price: from $38,950
Engine: 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol engine. 90kW/200Nm
Performance: 0-100km/h time is 10.4 seconds.
Transmission: 7 speeds automated manual 
Economy: 6.1 litres/100km using 95RON fuel.

Pricing guides

$16,990
Based on 34 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
Lowest Price
$12,680
Highest Price
$24,990

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
B200 2.0L, PULP, CVT AUTO $10,890 – 14,850 2012 Mercedes-Benz B-Class 2012 B200 Pricing and Specs
B180 BE 1.6L, PULP, 7 SP AUTO $12,680 – 18,263 2012 Mercedes-Benz B-Class 2012 B180 BE Pricing and Specs
B180 CDI 2.0L, Diesel, 6 SP MAN $15,840 – 20,350 2012 Mercedes-Benz B-Class 2012 B180 CDI Pricing and Specs
B200 CDI BE 1.8L, Diesel, 7 SP AUTO $15,950 – 18,990 2012 Mercedes-Benz B-Class 2012 B200 CDI BE Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
7