Footy fields and skateparks. Since recently enlisting in the CarAdvice Army I’ve been thrust through an SUV boot camp of sorts: everything from Porsche’s large quarter-mil Cayenne Turbo to Renault’s diminutive and funky Captur.
I needed a ceasefire from the high-riding, family-swallowing blitzkrieg. Something low riding and low profile – from its rubber to its conspicuousness – yet high enough in call of dad duty convenience to play runaround for son Campbell’s fifth birthday celebrations, plus where his new scooter and football takes him.
“B-Class,” offered Mercedes-Benz. Done!
Oh, great. An MPV. A ‘Mum Personified Vehicle’.
“He’s driving a van!” I imagined Campbell’s mates’ dads would whisper between mouthfuls of chocolate cake. “And the only tool inside is the one behind the wheel.”
Sat on AMG-style 18-inch wheels with slick black paintwork, it looks rather cool in a plump, cartoonish sort of way: like an A250 that slipped past the Pixar drawing boards in the design studio. So The Boy bonded with it immediately.
What modest measures represented the B-Class’s February facelift – subtle exterior nip and tuck, new ‘floating tablet’ infotainment screen and other detail updates – enhance the already convincing, erm, Mercedes-ness. It was starting to win Dad over, too.
The cabin, in particular, hits all the right premium feel and presentation touch points. Better yet, the nicely bolstered pews and generous height and reach steering adjustments allows quite sporty driver positioning. Ignore the cavernous headroom, squint a little, and it does a decent C-Class impression.
And at $54,200 before options, frankly, it’d want to lay on a gamut of niceties shared with its larger siblings, both actual and merely perceived.
The way it drives. Confession time: I’m a steering junky. I’ll forgive myriad shortcomings if a car’s direction finder is spot on. And this MPV’s front end – Sports Direct Steer as part of a $1490 suite that also adds the 18s and lowered ‘comfort’ suspension – would shame some sportscars.
I hadn’t yet made the crèche car park – and the serious business of child hauling – and Merc-Benz’s self-proclaimed ‘Sports Tourer’ was fast becoming Dad’s Dirty Little Secret. Specifically, 155kW and 350Nm afforded by the ‘250’ badge on its derriere few other commuters got ample opportunity to see beyond a glimpse.
Activate ‘Sport’ and there’s no gap in traffic the MPV didn’t want to own. Plying its all-wheel drive confidently, the top-spec B250 4Matic also marches around the urban jungle swiftly and covertly, without wheelspin histrionics.
The lowered ‘comfort’ suspension is a real highlight, too: impressively compliant, disciplined damping and nice, firm body control. And it loves a sweeping corner with an enthusiasm no MPV rightly should.
In default eco mode, the engine and seven-speed dual-clutch transmission are little lazy in getting their mojo on.
Turning off stop-start after each start-up is tiresome, but that’s hardly exclusive to either the B-Class or the Merc crop.
While impressively grippy, those licorice strip Bridgestones are quite noisy on coarse chip road surfaces. But it’s a rare lowlight in an otherwise fine riding package.
Dad’s Dirty Little Secret - those formable outputs - do come at a cost at the fuel pump. Even with adaptive cruise control pinned at 110km/h for an hour, its best-indicated consumption was mid-eights over a 100-kilometre average.
The headstrong nearly-five-year-old goes nowhere without an entourage of Lego, bikes, Hot Wheels and dinosaurs – his Mum’s Mazda 6 wagon looks like it crashed through Toyworld – and it doesn’t take much effort to fill 488 litres of cargo area with Campbell’s life.
The child? Absolutely. The B250 4Matic? Much less so.
Look, I think I’m a good dad. I try, I really do. But no force known to dad- or mum-kind can stop the lil’ monkey crawling around the cabin of an unexplored test car. The agreed treaty is ‘shoes off’, but the fact that Benz locates the transmission selector on the steering column and the electric handbrake switch well away from the centre console guarantees the MPV wont roll off into the neighbour’s garden in neutral due to young misadventure.
The leather seat and hardy plastic door trims are also resilient against destruction by chocolate/yogurt/Vegemite and easily cleaned to the point of zero evidence. Or, erm, so I’ve been told…
Of course, Lord Muck must be able to open the rear doors and tailgate himself – failure to comply is a deal-breaker – and none are too cumbersome for youthful strength. The fixed 60:40 split-fold rear seat, while hardly class-revolutionising, is adequate for this family unit.
Mini Me loves the convenient fold-down trays in the second row, except when Lego and dinosaurs get strewn around the cabin in the first corner. He asks where the fold-down armrest has gone – his favourite ‘Lego construction area’ of a C-Class – but this feature was left off the B-Class design brief. The rear windows don’t drop completely, much to his displeasure, but in “Daddy’s Car” – by Daddy’s Rules – the glass stays shut on the move anyway.
A close call then, but no deal-breakers to speak of.
While $54,200 is hefty, for my money both the AMG Exclusive Pack (black leather and red stitching) and aforementioned AMG Line options – $1490 apiece - really complete this want-for-little people-moving experience.
I’d be cross-shopping a similarly priced CLA200 CDi before parting cash, that’s for sure.
Nobody buys an MPV for a sporting experience. But if life circumstances require the MPV format, and you’re flush for funds, the B250 4Matic offers a lot of surprise (in performance) and delight (in fulfilling premium expectations.)
For a mini-van that busts, ahem, estrogen-overloaded convention, it’s a tough act to top.