Of all the models spun off Mercedes-Benz's compact car platform, it's a little ironic the B-Class is the least popular in Australia.
After all, it's the closest the three-pointed star has come to replicating the high-roof, compact-footprint formula it laid out with the first- and second-generation A-Classes before diverting down a sportier path.
That approach has won the B-Class favour with an, ahem, more mature audience. Company executives have confirmed between 70 and 80 per cent of global sales are to people aged over 60, making it the closest thing Mercedes-Benz offers to a retirement special.
Launched in October last year, the new B-Wagen (as I've decided it should be called) wades into the crowded compact car sphere burnishing the same old-person-friendly credentials as its predecessor, blended with an exterior and high-tech cabin aimed at wooing a younger cohort.
A single variant is offered in Australia: the B180 powered by a 1.33-litre petrol engine making 100kW and 200Nm. It's mated exclusively to a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission sending power to the front wheels.
It's generously specced considering the $46,490 before on-road-costs starting price. Lane-keeping assist, autonomous emergency braking, parking sensors, a reversing camera, folding mirrors and keyless go are all standard on Australian cars, along with a hands-free tailgate.
The car gets a five-star ANCAP rating, with strong scores for both its physical and active safety credentials.
Our 2019 Mercedes-Benz B180 tester cost $52,560 before on-road costs, however, thanks to its Iridium Silver paint ($1190), the Seat Comfort Package ($1290, electric/heated front seats), the Vision Package ($2490, front/side cameras, swivelling headlamps, sunroof), and 18-inch alloy wheels ($1190).
Perhaps the biggest spec-sheet draw, however, is the widescreen MBUX infotainment system. It blends two 10.25-inch displays in one dash-mounted plank, and can be customised to within an inch of its life.
Natural voice inputs ('Hey Mercedes, play Triple J radio') are supported, but you're also able to scroll through its menus with a transmission-tunnel-mounted touchpad, or two capacitive pads on the steering wheel.
It's not the most intuitive system on first acquaintance – there are a few too many ways to accidentally skip songs – but it doesn't take long to learn what each combination of swipes, scrolls and pinches does. Mercedes-Benz is constantly adding commands, and says the system learns your habits.
Often call your partner on the way home from work? MBUX will automatically put their contact front-and-centre to make life easier, for example.
Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard, but the choice to run with USB-C ports in place of conventional USB-A plugs necessitates an adapter for most people.
MBUX is impressive, then, but there's also plenty of real-world usefulness on board to match the high-tech showroom sizzle.
The fundamentals are good, with comfortable front seats and brilliant all-around visibility afforded by the car's large glasshouse and a seating position 90mm higher than that of the A-Class.
Rear leg room is impressive for such a compact car, and head room is plentiful. Plus, the jacked-up front seats create a huge amount of foot room for rear-seat passengers.
Boot space is 455L with the rear bench in place, or 1100L with the 40/20/40 seats folded flat – 1540L if you load it all the way to the roof. That's way up on the 370L offered in the A-Class.
There are spacious pockets in the doors, a useful cup holder and storage spot at the base of the dashboard, and a decently sized centre bin under the armrest, too.
But it's not all good news. The matte-black plastic door pulls, steering wheel spokes, and transmission tunnel edges all feel cheap, and the all-in-one indicator/headlight/windscreen wiper stalk is too clever by half. Although the gloss-black dash and transmission tunnel look brilliant in some conditions, they both magnetically attract dust and fingerprints.
Flick the B180's column shifter into drive and two things are immediately clear: it's a car with a small engine, and it has a dual-clutch transmission.
The transmission feels a bit inconsistent off the line, sometimes delivering doughy throttle response and sluggish takeoffs, others dumping the clutch aggressively for a lurching, wheel-spinning launch. And it hates low-speed manoeuvres, especially when there are hills involved.
Edging up the CarAdvice driveway really flummoxed it, too, revealing an occasional tendency to roll backwards rather than creeping like a torque converter. With all of this noted, it's quick to shift and intelligent when you're up and rolling.
Different transmissions require different driving styles, sure, but there are better dual-clutch set-ups out there.
The seven-speed transmission isn't helped by the leggy 1.33-litre engine (known internally as M282, engine code nerds). It has enough punch around town, no doubt thanks to the fact peak torque comes on tap at 1460rpm, and hums along happily enough at highway speeds.
Mercedes-Benz claims 5.7L/100km on the combined cycle, but we saw 7.9L/100km over a mix of highway and city driving.
Vibrations are impressively suppressed when you're up and running, with barely a hint of engine noise sneaking into the cabin at constant speeds. Coupled with the B-Wagen's impressive aerodynamics and noise-suppression measures, it makes for a surprisingly serene highway cruiser, save for some tyre roar on coarse-chip highways.
But the engine quickly becomes breathless when you dip into the throttle travel, feeling every bit the low-capacity entry-level engine it is. It's also surprisingly vocal under load, contrasting with the car's refined demeanour on the highway.
A more powerful tune is offered in the B200 abroad (120kW/250Nm), we only get the B180 in Australia – and Mercedes-Benz has no plans to bring a torquier diesel (or the B250e plug-in hybrid) to our shores for buyers who want more grunt.
Even though performance isn't the goal here, a bit more oomph would go a long way to elevating the B-Class experience.
Where the B-Class really stands out is the ride, albeit with one caveat. Unlike the A-Class, which gets a firm ride in search of sportiness, the B180 has a languid feel a lot of the time. Even on 18-inch alloy wheels it floats around happily, with one notable exception.
Sharp expansion joints or potholes make their presence felt in the cabin with a loud thud, revealing the comfortable ride comes at the cost of body control. We can handle a bit of body roll, but the B180 can feel under-damped, which isn't really in keeping with the three-pointed star's premium billing.
A multi-link rear suspension is available in combination with the AMG-Line package and 19-inch alloy wheels. Based on our experience at the international launch, it's worth taking one for a test drive to see if the ride improves over the torsion-beam setup standard on the B180.
As you'd expect of a city-focused runabout, the B180's steering is effortlessly light at low speeds, although it does weight up on the highway for a greater feeling of stability. The turning circle is excellent, making tight reverse parks and underground garages a breeze, while the clear surround-view camera is also on hand to protect against low-speed bumps and scrapes.
The B-Wagen is most at home tooling around town, no doubt about it.
Mercedes-Benz offers a three-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty, and servicing takes place every 12 months or 25,000km. Pre-paid servicing costs $2050 for three years, $2950 for four and $3500 for five years.
Capped-price servicing limits the pay-as-you-go cost of the first three services to $550, $750 and $1250 respectively if you'd prefer not to pay upfront.
If past form can be trusted as an indicator of future performance, the B180 isn't likely to sell in huge numbers. Just 844 found a home in 2018 and 1330 were registered in 2017, compared to the 4175 and 4768 A-Classes shifted in the same respective years.
Even the niche CLA four-door coupe outsold it comfortably, notching more than 3000 sales in both ’17 and ’18.
As our very own Rob Margeit said on the B-Class's international launch, then, it operates in the "nichest of niche segments" where space and comfort are paramount.
Judged on those criteria, the B180 delivers. It's easy to drive and practical, while the updated exterior is unquestionably more handsome than before. The addition of MBUX will no doubt woo some buyers with its glossy interface and clever voice commands.
It's not inspiring or exceptional, but the B-Class is perfectly fit for purpose.