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Merc like no other

Vikrant Singh | Print Edition: March 17, 2013

It's not the recipe most would have expected Mercedes to cook up. A slightly odd MPV-looking car to take on crossovers (badged as SUVs) from its competitors certainly doesn't come across as a foolproof plan. But then, a lack of options meant Mercedes had to do its innovative best to matter in the segment. Here then, is its new B-class.

SPECS
ENGINE 1.6-litre 4/Inline petrol
POWER 122 hp (B180 BlueEFFICIENCY)
LXWXH 4,270 mm x 1,777 mm x 1,603 mm (with standard accesories)
WEIGHT 1,425 kg
TOP SPEED 190 kmph
0-100 KMPH 10.2 seconds
PRICE Rs 21.5 lakhs to Rs 25.5 lakhs
It has a tall roof line, an almost van-like profile and a wide, hatchback-like rear. It isn't a car one would lust after, however with the unique headlamp treatment, the well defined shoulder, sill lines and the rounded profile of its rear along with the twin pipes, the 'B' does stand out, in a good way. The trick here is to look at it long and hard so that you begin to understand and appreciate the design for what it is.

Mercedes has got one thing absolutely spot on though-the interiors. Unlike entry-level offerings from its competitors, Audi in particular, which look cheaper than the rest of the range, the Bclass feels like any other Mercedes on the inside.

The quality, the look and feel of plastics and the fit and finish is top class. The choice of colours-be it for the wood inserts or the finish for the aluminium outlines-all feel terrifically upmarket.

Mercedes Bclass's interiors
The Bclass's interiors are a notch above the competition and earn it an A-plus for comfort.

The equipment list is long too and there's nearly everything here that you get in the C-class avantgarde model, from electric seats with memory to the COMAND system with bluetooth telephony besides safety aids like ESP. In addition, it gets a reversing camera and a fancier display screen.

The B-class is also more spacious. In fact, it is roomier than even the BMW X1 and the Audi Q3, which are its direct competition. There's more head and shoulder room, and the usable knee room in the rear row is greater inside the B-class as well. The Mercedes does fall behind on the comfort front, though. The seats, particularly at the rear, are flat and offer no under thigh support. The seat squabs are a tad small too.

Then there's the ride quality. You will feel every single bump on everything barring a well-rounded speed breaker. The car jiggles over broken tarmac, crashes quite hard and loudly into all sorts of potholes and if there's even a mildly square profile to a bump--it doesn't even have to be high, mind you-the car thumps into it quite harshly. The ride does improve at higher speeds.

Mercedes engine
The 1.6 liter inline/4 engine is a capable heart for this crossover

The upside to the poor ride is a nice handling car. The 'B' won't leave you grinning after a short burst on a section of twisties, not with the lack of communication from the steering column, but it doesn't feel loose, ponderous or scary when you push it close to the car's limit. The more you drive it, the more you begin trusting its dynamic capabilities. It is also very stable in a straight line under hard braking.

Now the not so good news for high mileage users. The B is currently only available with a petrol engine. This is, thankfully, a very good engine. The four cylinder 1.6-litre is turbocharged and gets direct injection and variable valve timing. As a result it develops a max power output of 122bhp and the peak torque of 200Nm available from a truly low 1250rpm.

Mercedes engine
Paddle shifters make driving easier, although they do not necessarily improve acceleration times
The engine is also butter smooth and loves to be revved. It has a sporty note and along with the paddle shifters to work the seven-speed dual clutch sport automatic box, it is quite enjoyable when driven hard. As we noted earlier however, speed and acceleration are not its forte. It takes more than 10 seconds to go from zero to 100kmph. The upside of this is the decent fuel consumption. The 'B' takes in about 10kmpl in the city and averages more than 15kmpl on the highway.

If only the the B-class was given a more SUV-like form factor, it could well have been a hit. The space utilisation is superb, the quality, the look and feel and even the equipment on board is as good as what you would find on the more expensive Mercedes. And it is certainly better than what the competition offers.

The advantage of course is that it is more compact than its competitors making it a better fit if you live with within cramped city limits. In fact, even in the shape it is now, and given its capable petrol engine, it still makes a great buy for those looking for the snob value of a tristar on your hood, spacious and versatile interiors, pampering equipment but short commutes with an occasional long drive.

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