Mercedes’ all-new B-Class is targeting the best compact MPVs. We test it against two top buys
For the fashionable family about town,there’s no better transport than a compact MPV. With their mix of soacious cabins and neat exterior dimensions, these cars are as comfortable on the school run as they are on the motorway or parked in front of the office.
The latest arrival is the all-new Mercedes B-Class. Its predecessor struggled to make an impact with buyers, but the newcomer is set to change that. It features bold styling, a range of efficient new engines and ai even roomier cabin than before, so it should be fun to drive and cheap to run. The entry-level model starts at L21,290, but we’re testing the range-topping L24,710 B200 CDI Sport version here.
Up against the Merc are two of the class leaders. The Ford C-MAX mixes driving fun with sharp looks and a spacious interior, while the sensible VW Golf Plus delivers dependability, versatility and a badge that almost rivals the Mercedes for car park prestige.
Mercedes B200 CDI Sport
Can stylish second-generation car take on the class leaders?
Despite a roomy cabin and the lure of three-pointed star on the bonnet, the fust-generation Mercedes B-Class failed to make a big dent in the sales charts. Now the company is hoping this all-new version will finally crack the competitive family car class.
Bigger, better equipped and more stylish than its frumpy predecessor, the latest B-Class has set its sights on the cream of the compact MPV crop. So will it be a sales smash, or another forgotten flop like the original?
The new car certainly isn’t short of kerb appeal. At the front, the bold grille features a large Mercedes badge, while at the side, bold, swooping creases have been cut into the flanks. Our Sport-trim test car also benefited from standard LED daytime running lights (DRLs) and a 15mm lower ride height, which helps give it a more purposeful stance.
Eye-catching two-tone 18-inch alloys are included, too – although our test car was fitted with winter tyres and 17-inch wheels from the SE. Yet for most MPV buyers, it’s what’s inside that really counts – and sadly the B-Class proves to be a b t of a mixed bag here.
There’s no shortage of space. Occupants in the back get as much head and legroom as in the Golf Plus and C-MAX, while a wide rangeof seat and wheel adjustment means it’s easy for the driver to get comfortable.
What’s more, there’s plenty of useful storage room, including a neat two-level glovebox, deep door bins and a large cubby between the from seats. The well shaped boot holds 486 litres: 91 litres and 15 litres more than the Golf Plus and C-MAX respectively.
Yet unlike the VW, the B-Class doesn’t benefit from the flexibility of a sliding rear bench as standard. You have to fork out L515 for the Easy-Varic-Plus package, which also adds a centre rear armrest 2nd ski hatch, plus a false toot floor that creates a totally flat load area when the rear bench is folded. We think this should be standard on a compact MPV.
At least the quality of the upmarket cabin is up to scratch, while the stylish dashboard looks great. Neat details include the SLS AMG-inspired ‘eyeball’ air vents and the iPad-like screen for the stereo and optional sat-nav. You also get a decent haul of gadgets, including a Bluetooth phone connection, a reversing camera and a leather-trimmed multifunction steering wheel.
Mercedes’ Collision Prevention Assist system is standard equipment on all B-Class models. It uses radar to monitor the traffic ahead and warns you if it senses you’re about to hit the car in front. Clever technology like this isn’t even available as an option on the Ford and Volkswagen.
The Mercedes also steals a march on its rivals at the test track, where it needed only nine seconds to complete the o-6omph sprint; that’s seven tenths faster than the C-MAX managed. It also proved a match for the responsive Golf Plus in our in-gear tests.
So it’s a shame that the B-Class’ 1.8-litre diesel engine sounds so gruff when worked hard. And while the six-speed gearbox has a short throw, it’s not as slick and precise as the manual boxes available in the Ford and Volkswagen. Further undermining the Merc’s driving dynamics is its steering. Sport models get the company’s Direct Steer set-up. which is meant to improve responses and feedback. Yet it feels odd and forces you to make constant corrections mid-comer.
This is a shame, because the B-Class Sport’s lowered and stiffened suspension delivers great poise and plenty of grip. And while the ride is undoubtedly quite firm, it’s far from uncomfortable. What’s more, there’s very little wind and road noise.
Further adding to the Mercedes’ appeal are low C02 emissions of 121 g/km and strong residuals of 48.4 per cent, which go some way towards offsetting its high L24,710 list price.
Factor in its space, upmarket image and generous kit list, and the B-Class has a lot going for it. But are its strengths enough to make up for a flawed cabin layout, rough engine and unconvincing driving dynamics?
Family favourite will prove difficult to beat
If the new Mercedes B-Class wants to take the compact MPV crown, it has to beat the Ford C-MAX. This five-seat people carrier is a firm Auto Express favourite, thanks to its blend of value, space and entertaining driving dynamics.
Although the C-MAX isn’t as eye-catching as the handsome B-Class, it’s more distinctive than the bland Golf. Range-topping Titanium trim adds 17-inch alloys, while our lest car was given a further visual boost by the Mars Red metallic paint finish (L52$). But the designers have clearly worked hardest on the cabin.
The bold dashboard is fussy compared to the slick Mercedes and sensible VW designs, but it’s well laid-out and solidly built. What’s more, there’s plenty of standard kit to play with, including a Sony DAB radio, Bluetooth, dual-zone climate control and ambient lighting that gives the catin a classy red glow at night. The driving position is excellent and the seats are comfortable on long journeys.
Yet it’s the spaciousness and flexibility of the C-MAX’s interior that stand out. Even taller passengers get plenty of room to stretch out in, while the boot has a low loading lip and a roomy 471 -litre capacity. Although the rear bench doesn’t slide, the three seats fold separately, or can be removed altogether to leave a vast 1,723 litres of luggage space.
There are many more clever touches, such as the aircraft-style fold-out tables on the front seatbacks and the extra rear-view mirror that allows you to keep an eye on kids in the back. There’s also loads of storage, including large door bins that are rubber-lined to prevent items from ratt ing around inside them.
You won’t hear much commotion from under the bonnet, either, as the C-MAX’s 138bhp 2.0-litre TDCi diesel is the most refined here .Sadly, it’s also the slowest: the Ford was outgunned in all our performance tests, needing 9.7 seconds to cover o-6omph, which is three-tenths longer than the VW.
Our test car was fitted with the slick PowerShift twin-clutch gearbox. It’s smooth and effortless, but increases the C-MAX’s CO; emissions to 149g/km. The six-speed manual version will be a better choice for most, as it’s L1,250 cheaperand emits 10g/km less C02.
Whichever you choose, you get the same brilliant balance between ride and handling. Direct, well weighted steering, excellent body control and strong grip mean the Ford is fun on a twisty back road, while the supple, quiet and effective suspension soaks up bumps. Add great refinement, and the C-MAX is the most comfortable long-distance cruiser here.
Even with its optional PowerShift gearbox, the Ford is also the cheapest of our trio. This version will appeal less to company buyers – they’ll pay L210 more a year in tax, at L1,985. than those who choose the B-Class. A manual car would be more cost-effective, but either way, the C-MAX looks hard to beat overall.
Volkswagen Golf Plus
Can quality and practicality make up for anonymous looks?
It’S an often-overlooked member of the compact MPV class, but the VW Golf Plus is worth considering. By combining all the best bits of the company’s famous family hatchback with an even mere spacious and versatile cabin, the big five-door makes a great deal of sense. Yet it doesn’t shout about its talents from the outside.
Unlike its boldly styled rivals, the bland VW doesn’t stand out from the crowd. Dull and unadventurous lines mean it looks very much like a normal Golf to the untrained eye. Even standard 16-inch alloy wheels fail to add glamour to the range-topping SE test car.
This low-key theme continues inside, where it’s clear that VW has chosen function over flair. The upright dashboard has a logical, no-nonsense laycut, which sets it apart from the busy Ford anc glitzy Mercedes interiors.
There’s nothing wrong with the quality, though. All the switchgear operates precisely, plus the fit and finish is first-rate. Even some hard plastics don’t detract from the overall solid feel of the cabin.
So the Golf Plus’ interior isn’t eye-catching, but a lot of thought has gone into making it both practical and comfortable. A sliding and split-folding rear bench allows you to choose either extra legroom for rear passengers or more luggage space.Even in its smallest form, the boot holds a useful 395 ltres of luggage, while a false floor lifts to reveal extra storage space.There’s also a neat elastic net to stop loose items rolling around. What’s more, there are plenty of useful cubbies, induding hidden trays under the front seats, a lidded box in the centre console and a very large air-conditioned glovebox.
While the VW doesn’t match its rivals for standard kit, you do get all the essentials, such as Bluetooth, air-conditioning and a clever Park Assist system, which automatically slots the car into the tightest of spaces.
The Golf Plus put in a strong performance at the test track, where the punchy 138bhp 2.0-litre TDI diesel engine helped it to match the B-C’ass for in-gear acceleration and beat the C-MAX in the sprint frcm o-6omph.
Like the Ford, our VW was fitted with a twin-clutch gearbox, but this DSG set-up isn’t as smooth or predictable as the PowerShift transmission. It also adds a hefty L1.350 to the VW’s price, as well as increasing its C02 emissions from 132g/km to 144g/km.
Away from the track, the Golf Plus isn’t as engaging to drive as the C-MAX, but it trumps the more expensive B-Class. The VW’s well weighted steering feels more natural than the Mercedes’, while its softer suspension does a better job of soaking up bumps and potholes.
The Golf Plus also undercuts the B-Class on price. Even if you go for the DSG box, it costs L23,995 – L715 less than the Merc. With a manual box, the saving increases to L2,080. Factor in a L329 three-year pre-paid service pack and it makes the B-Class look expensive.
SO, has the second-generation Mercedes B-Class done enough to shake off the poor reputation cf its predecessor? Well, it’s certainly more stylish than before, plus it’s very well equipped and cheap to run.
Yet despite these positives, the B-Class finishes last in this test. Even taking its premium image into account, the Mercedes is expensive. And in Sport spec, the steering is flawed and the ride is too firm. But it’s a lack of versatility that hurts the B-Class’ chances the most – the practical Easy-Vario-Plus rear bench should really be included as standard.
That leaves the Volkswagen and Ford fighting it out for victory. The Golf Plus is roomy, very practical and good to drive, but is let down by its dull styling and lack of standard equipment.
So the Ford C-MAX takes the spoils. With its spacious, well thought-out cabin, sparkling chassis and distinctive design, it’s all the family car youH ever need. However, as with the Golf Plus, we would recommend going for the cheaper and greener manual version.