2013 Mercedes-Benz B250: New B-Class was worth the wait
Every now and then on a press launch, things don?t go quite as the car maker planned.
Take the Miami driving route suggested by Mercedes-Benz to show off its new B-Class. Given a map and the new hatchback, the route took me to a park and the beach and past some of the ritzier homes of the very rich. And then it tracked south again to the downtown murals of Historic Overtown.
Except Overtown was closed for a film shoot, and I had to detour a few blocks to the east. There were murals, but there was also broken glass, and hookers, and shady characters watching the smart little red car as it cruised by, windows up and doors locked to protect the pasty Canadian inside.
At a stop sign, two guys in low-rider pants stepped onto the street in front of the Benz, paused, and took a closer look at the car. One of them pulled a hand from his pocket and reached out ? then flashed a thumbs-up with a gold-capped smile.
I grinned back and waved, though the doors stayed locked. The chances were that he?d never seen the B250 before ? and that he probably won?t ever again. Like the old B-Class, Mercedes won?t be selling its new hatchback in the U.S.
Mercedes Canada won?t comment on the reasoning for this. It?s surely because Americans don?t want a hatch when they can buy an SUV, though my new friend clearly liked it. They may also be waiting another year or two for the wagon version of the upcoming entry-level CLA-Class, which shares the same platform. Too bad for them, because this is a great little car.
It costs the same as the previous generation ? $29,900, before you start adding options ? but Mercedes is quick to mention that it now comes with $7,000 worth of standard stuff that wasn?t included before: 17-inch alloy wheels, paddle shifters and a seven-speed transmission, LED daytime running lights, runflat tires ? that sort of thing.
The new transmission is markedly better than the old five-speed box, but then the new engine is considerably improved over the old motor, too. It?s now a far more powerful 208 hp turbo that claims 18 per cent better gas mileage than the previous 134 hp version. Unlike other world markets that get a 1.6 L gas and a 1.8 L diesel version, both of them also available with turbos, we get only the top-of-the-line motor.
?We were waiting for the good engine,? said the Mercedes rep, explaining why there hasn?t been a new B-Class available in Canada for the past 14 months. After a couple of days down here in the driver?s seat, it seems it was worth the wait.
Gone is the old ?sandwich floor? that kept the car compact by stuffing many of the mechanicals under the passengers? feet. It was also designed like that to create battery space for future electric, and maybe even fuel-cell, versions, but drivers complained that the car felt too high up and ungainly. The new model rides lower and feels better for it.
My own experience a couple of years ago was that it seemed unnatural to stretch my legs forward instead of comfortably down, but the B250 is very different from the old B200. If you own one of those underpowered cars, I?m afraid the new B250 just took a big bite out of its resale value. It?s just as well that Mercedes has had a year to clear the sales lots.
There really is no comparison with the previous car. Power is up 74 hp and torque almost doubled at 258 lb.-ft. Zero-to-100 km/h is now a respectable 6.8 seconds, knocking more than three seconds off the previous time. There was a turbo version of the old B200 that was more closely matched but it cost an extra $2,500 and still wasn?t so peppy. So let?s just try to pretend the B200 never existed and think only of the future.
In fact, there?s plenty of future-tech that comes standard in the new B-Class. Forward Collision Warning uses radar to monitor the front of the vehicle and warns if there?s anything to be concerned about.
If it thinks there?s a problem ? and this works at speeds between 30 and the electronically limited top speed of 210 km/h ? then it will flash warning lights at the driver and sound beepers to raise the alarm. The brake pads will be moved closer to the discs, ready for action. If the driver responds by hitting the brakes hard, then the Brake Assist feature will jam on the pads just as hard as possible to avoid a collision.
The Attention Assist feature monitors 72 parameters of the driver?s style ? average speeds, hard or soft braking, steering input, that sort of thing ? to detect if anything changes. If it thinks the driver is getting drowsy, it?ll sound an alert.
Want more? If it?s wet, the rain sensor on the windshield will send a message to the brakes so that the pads will rub lightly on the discs to remove any slippery film of water from the steel. All of this is standard.
None of this, though, shows itself in average use, in which the front-wheel-drive car (Mercedes? only such vehicle in North America) goes from A to B carrying up to five passengers and up to 486 litres of cargo behind the rear seats. Kick out the back passengers, lower the seats and there?s up to 1,545 litres of cargo space available. That?s a lot for such a small car.
Those rear passengers may be reluctant to leave. There?s plenty of space back there for their legs ? more even than the E-Class or S-Class ? and head room is generous.
Most drivers these days are thinking about fuel efficiency, and the B250 claims a combined consumption rate of 6.8 L/100 km ? the exact same number as its zero-to-100 acceleration time.
You won?t see the two figures at the same time, though, since the frugal fuel use only comes when the driver leaves the Eco switch set to Economy, away from its other options of Regular and Sport. The default Eco setting changes the engine mapping and shift response to conserve gas, while the Sport setting quickens everything up.
The B250?s engine makes the most of its fairly high 9.8:1 compression ratio and its need for premium gas to save fuel. It?s the same consumption rating as the Ford Focus hatch and better than the Mazda3 and Toyota Matrix, although all those cars use much cheaper regular gas.
I drove mostly on Sport, in order to have as responsive an engine as possible in Miami?s heavy traffic, and my average fuel consumption over several hundred kilometres was just over 12 L/100 km. Other drivers saw figures closer to 9, but, hey, I was in a dodgy part of town.
My biggest complaint was that the turbo took a while to spool up from a standstill. A couple of times, I pulled out from a sidestreet and stomped on the gas but nothing happened for what seemed an age. I?m sure that owners of the car would get used to this and be better prepared for it, but it was a little disconcerting.
Mercedes says its greatest competition will probably come from the Ford C-Max and the Audi A3, but the Ford doesn?t have that big Benz star on the front, and the Audi is several thousand dollars more.
Of course, it?s easy to option up the B250 to $35,000 or more, but those costly features are mostly luxuries: there?s the useful blind-spot alert that comes with the less-useful lane-keeping alert for $800, as well as a rear-view camera for $480. The base seats are made from an ?Artico? leather-style material, although real leather is also available, and heat for either will cost extra.
The standard 5.8-inch display screen that?s mounted on top of the dash looks as if it?s removable, like an iPad Mini, but it?s fixed in place. Navigation (on a slightly larger screen) will cost extra, as will better sound, a panoramic sunroof, that sort of thing.
However, the base $29,900 Benz is very well-equipped. Mercedes? salespeople will have their work cut out for them to sell additional options.
So why did my friend with the gold-capped smile give me the thumbs-up? Was it because the little red car looked smart against the city?s pastel backdrops? Or was it because he recognized the value of a Benz for less than $30,000?
I?ll never know, but I?m willing to bet it was partly because of the Mercedes three-pointed star on the front. Normally, that brag ability commands a few thousand bucks of extra outlay. Just don?t go boasting about the B250 to owners of the previous generation B-Class ? you won?t get such a big smile out of them.
2013 Mercedes B250
ENGINE: 2.0 L four-cylinder turbo
POWER/TORQUE: 208 hp/258 lb.-ft.
FUEL CONSUMPTION L/100 km: claimed: 7.9 city; 5.5 hwy., 6.8 combined
COMPETITION: Ford C-Max, Audi A3, VW Golf Wagon, Mini Clubman
WHAT?S BEST: Lots of standard features, value for money for a premium car, frugal but powerful.
WHAT?S WORST: Uses premium gas, turbo lag delay, stay clear of B200 owners.