A pragmatic Mercedes designed to maximise the safe transport for the most important people in your life… as opposed to a Mercedes that looks like you are the most important person in other peoples' lives…
When my wife was pregnant with our first child, we had just returned to Melbourne in the summer of 2014 from a stint working overseas. The need for a new car was immediate. I wanted a VF SS Wagon, but as this was going to be her ride… the Commo' was out of the equation.
Enter the German
Wifey liked good quality things in her life (me included, I hope), Mazda's, Toyota's, Honda's and the other 'mainstreamers' we looked at did not motivate us to part with good money for something that was generic and somewhat boring.
She loved the A-class Merc, but upon entering the Dealership of dreams at Mercedes Melbourne, our savvy salesman noticed the sizeable bump in the boss' outfit and promptly steered us towards a plum-coloured B-Class 250 that was ripe for the picking.
I can honestly say that this car was never in my equation for our next purchase. Wifey on the other hand loved the style and attitude of this inflated German Honda Jazz. Once I had accepted its unique curves and bulbous proportions I could see some coolness in this pimped-up baby hauler.
Headroom was SUV-like, egress was effortless, interior appointments were luxurious and performance almost matched the hot hatch brigade. The B-Class was winning me over with its showroom appeal and abundant features per dollar. After performing some quick online research, I discovered this car had more kit than I could mention in one breath. It had ample room for a pram, as well as a baby seat and was compact enough to manage daily chores with ease.
The badge allure was impressive, as were the croissants, food and beverages available in the waiting area of this showroom. This dealership knew how to give the 5-star treatment without the stiff upper lip. As usual, I haggled politely and achieved a figure that had the 'boss' happy.
At $46K drive away, I was beaming. It was 6 months old, had around 6000km and it came fully loaded. Once the afterglow had settled it became apparent that his car, despite its elegant design and strong engineering had a few chinks in its armour.
For me, the car rode too firm. The 18-inch low-profile run-flat tyres were partially at fault, as their strong side walls lacked flex. When I finally sold this car and fitted some 'normal' tyres, the ride became miles better – bugger… wish I had done this earlier.
The driving modes of this model B-class were Economy – (no performance at all, saving every drop of petrol as if it was your last tank of fuel), Comfort – (some performance available, but a huge stomp on the loud pedal is needed to make some speedy progress), and Sport mode, (a gear dragging nuisance that was always too eager and trying too hard)… Argh… where was 'Normal' mode?
I can understand that the demographic for this vehicle may have a predisposition for these modes. Economy suits Walter Featherfoot, Comfort suits Gerry Attrick and Sport was for Ernest Wannabie.
I wanted unrestricted access to all of its performance all of the time. I wanted the gear shift program to change up when you backed off the pedal like every other car I had ever owned. It would also make sense for the auto to kick back a ratio with around a third to half throttle – as opposed to needing a very forceful prod. Fortunately when the car struggled to decide a gear, the paddles behind the wheel could be tapped to restore some sensibility to forward progress and ratio selection.
When I helped a friend at work purchase her new 2016 B250 I noticed these issues were not present, and the car drove more like a C-Class in the way the engine/transmission combination behaved. Did someone at Mercedes hear my whining?
Conversely, my wife hardly noticed these issues. She did not care and was happy with it. Was I expecting too much?
On the positive side this car had lots going for it. It was supremely comfortable, cruised at highway speeds effortlessly and hung on really well through corners at speed. When you planted this car off the line, the steering wheel did not jump out of your hands despite having 155 raging kilowatts at your disposal. It had an impressive lack of torque steer for a front driver.
The radar adaptive cruise was seamless and amazing. You even had the choice of distance you wanted to keep from the car ahead. Infotainment included a Harman Kardon sound system that left me wanting more when you pumped up the volume. Our standard 2014 Comfortline Polo walloped this unit for volume, bass and sound quality. The service boys were alerted of this shortfall and swapped the speakers for me as well as gave the unit a software update. I could not detect much change…
Other cool features included the drop down tables behind the front seats to rest oddments upon, the huge panoramic sunroof, and heated memory seats that were amazingly comfy and useful every day. The rear doors were huge, the rear seat and legroom space was also generous and had to be class-leading to my eyes for a car of these diminutive proportions. It even had a voice-activated command package that I struggled to make work effectively. The auto park feature was fun, the stylish air vents were almost artwork, and the abundance of buttons had me exploring functions when bored in heavy traffic.
The lane-keep assist annoyed me, as it buzzed and vibrated the steering wheel every time you went over a line to pass someone. The stop-start function had me flinching when it shut the car down and then fired it up relentless in stop-go traffic. I wondered how many stress cycles were possible before the starter motor and turbo just failed from this rudimentary attempt at saving some hydrocarbons. Early on I learned to just switch this nonsense off when I started the car as I did not have the heart to keep hammering the battery and mechanicals for the sake of saving very little fuel.
Whilst I had high expectations of this brand, it did meet most of them. It was great to drive when you had no one around and could explore some of its talents. The brakes were strong and could handle some mild abuse as you flung it around in attack mode. When using the paddles with vigour the car still had control over the shifts despite making your think you had options. The headlights were great, the mirrors were big and the visibility was excellent. The reverse camera was also very clear and I liked the host of sensors and LED displays to support you when parking.
The B-Class is certainly a capable, reliable and entertaining vehicle to own. It suited our needs for a few years and I grew to like its external appearance, despite the negative comments from my peers. Where this car really shone was when you were inside it. It had lots of glass, and a light and an airy ambience of elegant practicality. I miss this car and will most likely get another one in the future when my body struggles to get into anything else. Well done to Mercedes for building a car that fits daily duties better than most, whilst allowing ordinary folks a price point to own Euro brand stardom.