The Mercedes-Benz B-Class isn’t your typical junior SUV. Nor is it an MPV. It straddles an unknown space between being a large hatch and an MPV – so obviously the marketing wonks have created a category for it – they’re calling it a Sports Tourer. No, not to be confused with a certain two-wheeler from Bajaj that falls in the same category! Is the B sporty? Is it a tourer? Read on.
This will be the first car from Mercedes’ new Modular Front Architecture (MFA) platform and there are many relevant ones to follow, but you have read that already in Srini’s story on the A, so I won’t add too much. The earlier A- and B-Class followed the sandwich floor principle, but with MFA, it is cheaper to build new models and it saves a lot of hassle in terms of developing a unique engine and gearbox.
The B-Class model that Mercedes is launching in October in the country will come with a 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol, which could come in both 121 bhp and 154 bhp guise. Diesel? Well, you’ll have wait until some time next year for that. You may call it suicidal, but Mercedes-Benz will have to take it slow until its paint shop at Chakan, Pune gets up and running this December. A lot of its future rests on this massive investment, that is expected to reap dividends in the years to come. So by the time the year closes, Mercedes-Benz hopes to have pushed out 300 completely built units (CBUs) of the B-Class. Come 2013, it will be available in completely knocked down (CKD) guise, though whether Mercedes-Benz will price the CBU at CKD prices remains to be seen. Now, for the car itself.
You may think it looks unusual, but rest assured, it’s a much better looker in person. The ‘dropping line’ seriously makes an otherwise slab-sided, MPV-ish design more pleasing. Helping its cause is the 50 mm lower roof that gets a coupé-ish rake, swept back headlamps and those gorgeous, 18-inch alloy wheels that are some of the most stunning looking wheels on a car in India. Incidentally, our test car came with 255/40 runflat tyres, though we expect standard tubeless to be offered in India, unless M-B India really follow the BMW path! The alloy wheels are part of the Sports package and will be one of two or three trims that will be offered in our market.
Our car was a left-hooker B 200 petrol, equipped with a six-speed manual and while the steering will be on the ‘right’ side, the manual will make way for the new seven-speed, dual-clutch gearbox with paddle shifters behind the steering. The new dash design is youthful, especially the turn-type AC louvres and silver trim across the dash and doors that lend it a lot of freshness on the inside. There’s no dearth of high quality soft black trim, nor has there ever been a reason to complain about the high quality Mercedes-Benz leather. Though it does feel premium on the inside, certain bits are plasticky – like the controls for the door locks, for example. Like with the A-Class, what mars this package is the M-B media unit that continues to feel a generation old, despite a recent update. It just doesn’t make the cut, especially since the B-Class is positioned at the upwardly mobile young lot of today.
They won’t, however, crib about space.It’s comfortable for four, better than the X1 and probably good enough to take the fight to the Q3. It’s a bit of a squeeze for the fifth, yet the ample leg, knee and shoulder room could potentially draw more customers towards it. The boot too is rather large and can easily swallow a few large suitcases. MPV looks or not, practicality certainly can help it score a few brownie points here. So the Tourer bit is sorted – what about the Sports bit, then?
Though I drove it on the BIC at Noida, unfortunately I was driving four-up. So there was not much throwing around to do with the B. The grip was not bad and the steering feel was decent. However, it exhibits body roll while cornering – okay, it may not be your regular hatch, but it’s not a proper MPV either. The turbocharged petrol motor was straining at the leash, especially with the load, and consequently it called for rowing the six-speed manual gear lever. Now Mercedes has always made better automatics than manuals, so the DCT in this application is more than welcome. When you do push the powertrain to perform, the
mid-range is decent but it loses out on the top end. Certainly, it is not suitable for some thrilling mountain driving but more for cruising and trawling around. The preliminary verdict is that it’s more practical than sporty. It definitely needs a good diesel to be a better tourer and the diesel torque will give it a mild performance edge, rather than this hard-pressed 1.6-litre turbo petrol.
The B-Class does not compete with the Audi Q3 or BMW X1, rather it flanks them. It has a utilitarian aspect to it unlike the two SUVs, so Mercedes is side-stepping them. Easily, it would be the turbodiesel to opt for with the 7G-DCT gearbox, though you’ll have to wait for that. However, I wonder whether the Sports Tourer idea will work – M-B India has to sell the concept rather the car itself. At an expected price of Rs 25 lakh, they’ll need to do that.