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Road Test

Mercedes-Benz B 200

by Ian Barrett

14th October, 2008

Mercedes-Benz B 200 (copyright image) 
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Back in1997 Daimler Benz stunned the motoring world with the announcement of a radical new concept - for them. For this was an urban hatchback, designated the A-Class. Better know for classy sedans and safety innovations than for totally new packaging ideas, the company was onto a winner in the city commuter stakes. And its tall, relatively narrow dimensions lead to the development of yet another safety feature now considered almost mandatory: electronic stability programme, better known as ESP.

Fast forward 8 years, and wesaw the arrival ofa bigger 'brother' in the guise of the Mercedes-BenzB-Class, termed a 'Compact Sports Tourer' by the company. Initially available here in Australia in B 200 and B 200 Turbo variants, the range was extended in 2007 with the addition of a B 180 CDI diesel model. We recently re-acquainted ourselves with a B 200 automatic kitted out with the optional'Sports Package', arguably one of the sportier-looking mini-people movers currently around.

The beautiful, but optional, Saturn Red metallic paintwork of our test car was perfectly complemented by the lowered sports suspension and 17" 10-spoke alloy wheels wearing purposeful 205/50x17 rubber. Further exterior adornments with this package include the distinctive 3-louvred radiator grille (standard models have four) with chrome highlights and additional chromeonthe door handles and sills. A large oval tailpipe in polished stainless steel and special rear bumper treatment complete the image.

Once inside, we were treated to further sports package enhancements. These include white dial instrument cluster, perforated leather-bound steering wheel, leather trimmed gearshift and handbrake, and brushed stainless sports pedals.As with the regular B 200, the steering wheel is adjustable for tilt and reach, and features multi-function control buttons for audio, phone, and trip computer. The standard Audio 20 radio/CD player features an integrated 6-CD changer. Aninteresting feature we're seeing more of in this type of vehicle is the provision ofairline-style rearpassengerpicnictables, just the thing for kids to snack en-route - if that is in facta healthy option!Heated exterior power mirrorswill also be a welcome touch on cold frosty mornings.

Ian Barrett with the Mercedes-Benz B 200 (copyright image) 

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A number of other desirable options were fitted to our test vehicle. One was the 'Comand APS' with DVD satellite navigation system, always a very useful accessory, while perhaps the highlight of our driving experience was the brilliant new panoramic louvred sunroof, offering unrestricted views of the blue sky above. At the touch of a button the front louvre tilts up to deflect the wind, while the remaining four can slide back to any desired position. Twin roller blinds provide protection for those who don't want full sun.

Brushed aluminium highlights on doors and console add to the sporting ambience, as did the optional full leather trim (was it real, or Mercedes' new 'Artico' man-made look-alike?). Front seats feature a full range of manual adjustment,but withlumbar supportnotably absent. We have to say, and our passengers were in general agreement, that seating overall was a little on the firm side of comfortable, and combined with a somewhat jiggly ride, detracted from occupant comfort on longer trips. It passed our 'cobblestone test', but the car can react sharply to ridges and other road irregularities.

However, it is in the areas of safety, versatility and economy that the B-Class shines. Let's consider the safety aspect, arguably the number one priority,first. The B-Class features the 'Sandwich design' impact absorption system also introduced in the A-Class. In a frontal impact the inclined engine and transmission unit is able to slide back down under the passengercompartment. And because occupants are seatedaround 200 mmhigher than a conventional car, this structure can have significant advantagesin a lateral impact. Certainly occupant safety is up to the standard we've come to expect from Mercedes. Adaptive, dual-stage front airbags, belt tensioners for front, and outer rear seats, adaptive belt force limiters, active head restraints, front side bags and window bagscomplete the standard occupant protection system.

With a wide track, and the longest wheelbase in its class, we found the B-Class handled surprisingly well. Strut-type front suspension, together with a new parabolic rear end,combines withan adaptive damper system which adapts shock absorber response to the current driving situation. Softersettings ensure a high level of ride comfort during normal driving, but switch to maximum damping force when taking bends at speed, to give the B-Class maximum stability. This gives thevehicle a very sure-footed feel on the road.

Mercedes-Benz B 200 (copyright image) 

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Brakes are vented disc up front, with solid units at the rear. Naturally ABS is a feature, as is ESP with Steer Control.In the event of a skid, this new enhancement gives a distinct impulse though the steering wheel which prompts the driver to counter steer in the correct direction.

Space efficiency and better all-round visibility are other important advantages of the 'sandwich' design. Interior space, shoulderand legroomare allquite generous given the compact exterior dimensions. With rear seats occupied, boot space is a useful 544 litres. Versatility is further enhanced by the optionalEasy-Vario system which allows the backrest of the front passenger seat to be folded forwards, or the seat effortlessly removed, in order to provide a load area up to 2,245 litres (2.95 metres long).

We mentioned that our test car was equipped with the optional 'Sports package', so does its performance match its sporty good looks? Well, the B 200 is no fire-breathing super car. With a DOHC 2,034 cc engine developing just 100 kW @ 5,500 rpm and 185 Nm of torque @ 3,500-4,000 rpm, whiplash is not a problem! But equipped with the optional Autotronic continuously variable automatic transmission, the B-Class nevertheless manages the 0-100 km/h dash in a quoted 10.1 seconds, on its way to a top speed of 196 km/h. We didn't put either figure to the test, but one thing we can confirm is the excellent fuel economy. Mercedes quotes a combined figure of 7.2-7.5L/100km and we managed to achieve a mid-6L figure without too much effort on highway cruising. Surprisingly good for a well-equipped 2-litre car with automatic transmission.

Our verdict?Mercedes' Compact Sports Tourer is a car well worthy of the 3-pointed star. We tested the outgoing model, as a new updated edition will be in local dealer's showrooms next week. The outgoing model is priced from $46,200 (RRP) for the regular B 200 model, $48,930 (RRP) for the B 200 with the Sports Pack. It's not cheap, and nor are the options listed, but it offers style, safety, versatility, sporty dynamics and remarkable economy in a roomy, yet compact package. And at the end of its long life,Mercedes-Benzwill take it back for environmentally friendly disposal! But as with all 3-pointed stars, that day lies a long way off.....

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