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2013 Mercedes-Benz B-Class B250

Posted Jan 4th 2013 11:57AM

All-New B-Class More Conventional, But More Impressive.

Mercedes-Benz's Euro-flavoured entry-level B-Class hatchback is back in Canada after a 14-month hiatus, and no, them gas-swillin', SUV-loving Americans still can't have one. That is, not a gasoline-powered one at least, as the Mercedes Canada folks were careful to point out at the media launch of the all-new B250. This news only confirms what M-B USA has publicly stated in regards to possibly bringing in an electric B-Class, similar to one briefly shown at the Paris Motor Show in the fall.

They also wouldn't confirm whether an electric or fuel cell B-Class was coming to Canada, or when, wanting to keep the focus on the all-new 2013 B250 that started arriving into Benz dealers across the country last month in December.

And there's an interesting value story there, the kind of story that one doesn't often hear from Mercedes-Benz, which is usually very content to offer the most expensive vehicle in each class in which they compete. Though the company tries to suggest that the B-Class is such a unique offering that it has no direct rivals, it admits that its competitors include the Audi A3, BMW X1 and Lexus CT 200h hybrid, vehicles that all start above the B's starting $29,990 price tag – and sometimes significantly higher.

Mercedes-Benz says there's more than seven grand worth of features packed into
the new B-Class... and yet kept the base price exactly the same.

What makes that $29,990 starting price so remarkable is that the company has upgraded the B-Class in more ways than a reality star dating a plastic surgeon, and yet kept the base price exactly the same. The previous B200 Turbo cost thousands more than the base four, and now a more powerful turbo engine is standard. It now also comes with an upgraded seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission (replacing the previous manual or CVT offerings), a start/stop system, upped the airbag count to 11, added an advanced active safety (Collision Prevention Assist) system, and threw in rain-sensing wipers, all on the standard equipment list. Mercedes-Benz says there's more than seven grand worth of features packed into the new B-Class, and it's not hard to find these upgrades.

So how did Mercedes-Benz do this, with a vehicle still built in Germany? It likely helps that the Canadian dollar has been stable at about par with the U.S. dollar for a few years now, and much higher than when the B-Class arrived in Canada in 2005. M-B Canada product planning manager Chris Goczan downplayed the currency value, but noted that this B250 represents the first of various new compact vehicles on Mercedes' new modular platform, which will soon spin off the CLA four-door compact "coupe" that will make it to the U.S., as well as in other vehicles in various forms, along with underpinning the B- and A-Class in Europe and elsewhere.

The platform is natively front-wheel drive, but can accommodate all-wheel drive as well, as future versions reportedly include crossover and coupe variants. Mind you, which derivatives will make it to North America and when could require a Mayan calendar to predict, and be just as reliable.

The new 2.0-litre turbo engine is the only one currently on offer, and puts out
208 hp and a much healthier 258 lb-ft of torque

The previous generation B-Class was built using a unique sandwich floor, which tilted the engine and shoehorned many drivetrain components under the driver and passengers' feet. But it also meant that Mercedes-Benz couldn't easily share drivetrain components of the A- and B-Class with other Mercedes models. With the new platform, the engine is now up front as usual, the B-Class is not quite as tall, and all of these current and future variations on this global platform allow Mercedes-Benz to save on the per unit costs for each version.

Looking closer at that impressive new powertrain in the B250, the new 2.0-litre turbo engine is the only one currently on offer, and puts out 208 hp and a much healthier 258 lb-ft of torque, which is as much low-end oomph as the uplevel 3.5-litre V6 in the larger and pricier C-Class and E-Class sedans. That nicely eclipses even the prior top-line B200 Turbo, which produced 193 hp and 206 lb-ft of torque and started at a price above 32 grand. But when you realize that Mercedes has added 74 horses and a whopping 122 lb-ft of extra torque more than the previous naturally aspirated base engine, and made it a notable 18 per cent more fuel efficient, don't be surprised if prior B-Class owners storm Mercedes-Benz Canada headquarters in protest.

The more powerful B250 doesn't feel mountains peppier than the last Mercedes B200 Turbo on the road, thanks to an Eco mode tuned to favour fuel economy above fun, but it simply blows away the lethargic base model, especially in Sport mode. Mercedes-Benz says the B250 does the 0-100km/h sprint in 6.8 seconds, an incredible 3.4 seconds faster than the B200, and about a second quicker than the B200 Turbo. It's also significantly more powerful than its A3 and CT 200h luxury hatchback rivals.

But there is a noticeable delay before the serious power kicks in, the big turbo taking its time to spool up, which helps it achieve impressive fuel economy numbers, but doesn't combine so well with the increased 120 kg curb weight. Smacking a downshift or two with the new paddle shifters helps move things along swiftly, dispatching that turbo lag nicely in town or on the highway.

A $2,000 Sport package upgrades the wheels to 18-inch summer performance tires,
a lower but still comfortable suspension, the trick LED lights front and back

Unlike some rivals, the B-Class is front-drive only, and Goczan was asked if the B-Class offers all-wheel drive anywhere in the world. "Not right now, no," he said cryptically, perhaps providing at least a ray of hope for potential buyers hoping to see a 4MATIC version of Mercedes-Benz's entry level hatchback.

Canadian fuel efficiency figures suggest the B250 consumes 7.9 L/100km in the city, and a thrifty 5.5 on the highway, for a 6.8 combined rating – yes, the same figure as its official 0-100km/h time. Mercedes-Benz proudly noted that this combined efficiency figure suggests an overall thirst less than even budget-minded hatchbacks such as the Toyota Matrix, the Chevrolet Sonic, and the Mazda3 Sport, although the B250 takes premium fuel, which would still make the new B-Class more expensive to fill up overall than those cars.

Our onboard readout suggested an overall average closer to 9.0 L/100km, and we were not driving hard. Though we did crawl through busy and scenic stretches of South Beach traffic.
The B250 still can't compete with the even lower efficiency numbers of hybrid competitors such as the Ford C-Max and the Lexus CT 200h, nor the diesel A3 TDI. Mercedes-Benz is reportedly planning to one-up such cars in the planet-friendly stakes with a couple of zero-local emissions options: a full-on plug-in electric B-Class, as it unveiled at the Paris auto show, or a hydrogen fuel cell, with a powertrain that will be designed and built in Burnaby, B.C. Mercedes-Benz officially opened the facility in June 2012, using some of the human and research resources from the old Ballard fuel cell company, calling it the world's first facility "dedicated to the production and production technology development of fuel cell stacks."

Mercedes-Benz has stated it will offer a production fuel cell vehicle for sale in 2015, and underlined that intention by launching a high-profile 30,000km global media drive of fuel cell B-Class development cars on multiple continents in 2011. The plug-in battery electric B-Class will reportedly go on sale in Europe at some point in 2013, with the North American B-Class BEV coming to the U.S. – and hopefully Canada – after that. As for the fuel cell version, all automakers are limited to selling the vehicles where there are hydrogen refueling stations, and so far, none have been made publicly available in Canada, though there are at least two in Vancouver.

Regarding either of these B variants, Goczan would only say that they're "looking into a lot of things in the future." So the Canadian plans may not be official yet, but all signs are pointing to us receiving at least a plug-in version of the B, not least of which is BMW's plan to market an i3 plug-in hatchback here in 2013, with the fuel cell B – offering similar refueling times and range to the gas powered version, with the only emission being pure water – looking like more of a long shot now, until some refueling infrastructure is established. But right now, it's traditional gas only.

Various option packages help dress up the interior, and for the most part,
are reasonably priced.

We managed to sample a few B250s in a couple of days of driving around Miami, from fully loaded Sport models, to base versions with few options. Stepping into a base B250, one is met by a convincing leatherette that has replaced cloth on all models, and a small tablet-like display screen that protrudes from the dash on a stand that looks like it could be removable, but isn't. The overall dash and layout is recognizably Mercedes-Benz, with a column-mount shifter similar to the S-Class and Tesla Model S, but base versions do look very black and a touch spartan, with no heated seats, nor a backup camera, and features like a stiff round dial that adjusts the back tilt angle a reminder that Benz doesn't do manual seats very often.

Various option packages help dress up the interior, and for the most part, are reasonably priced. A $1,700 Exclusive package moves leatherette to the dash, and real leather to the seats, as well as your choice of three wood trims, which helps the interior feel like a luxurious Mercedes again, and costs less than just the leather upgrade in the C-Class. And luckily, useful options like heated seats, a backup camera, navi system, and a ghostly self-steering automatic parking function are all available on their own.

But you'll want to avoid the pricy $2,400 Distronic Plus option, which only adds automatic slow-down-and-speed-up functions to the standard cruise control, since the other safety systems that typically come with this package are all standard in the new B-Class.
This includes Collision Prevention Assist, which gives the driver a red-flashing visual in the windscreen and beep to alert the driver that they're about to plow into the back of someone. Once the driver hits the brakes, the system's radar sensors read how close the object is, speed, and how much brake force is applied, and if that's insufficient pressure to stop in time, it will boost the brake pressure to the level needed, even if it means bringing the car to a complete stop. We luckily didn't sample this on the road, but it's a high-tech piece of safety technology that has filtered down to the (Mercedes) masses, so kudos to them for making it standard.

A $2,000 Sport package upgrades the wheels to 18-inch summer performance tires, a lower but still comfortable suspension, the trick LED lights front and back that cost $750 on their own and help give the B-Class a more upscale look, and a quicker steering ratio. It frankly didn't feel much different on the road to a non-Sport B250, at least on the largely arrow-straight roads around here. Neither version could conceivably be called a hot hatch, even with a hot-hatch-worthy engine, though it does a good impression of one with the transmission in Sport mode, even if it'll cost you in fuel consumption. But the lower roof provides dramatically better handling than the high-riding tippiness of the previous version, and still preserves a slightly higher seating position than most small cars, if not some of its more SUV-ish competitors.

Mercedes-Benz is now within financial reach of more younger but upwardly
mobile buyers than perhaps any Benz before

Overall, the 2013 B-Class is an impressive effort by Mercedes-Benz to bring some serious value and safety to mainstream buyers. Sure, there are some upscale features on the new B-Class that can be had on less expensive vehicles. But the overall sophistication and usability of the surprisingly large interior, combined with the superior drivetrain and advanced safety equipment in the B250, make a convincing case that a worthy Mercedes-Benz is now within financial reach of more younger but upwardly mobile buyers than perhaps any Benz before.

2013 Mercedes Benz B-Class Natural Gas at Bologna Motor Show 2012

Image Credit: Copyright 2013 Miguel Costa / AOL

Category: Hatchback, Mercedes-Benz, Reviews, New-Car-Guide

Tags: 2013, 2013 mercedes-benz b250, b-class, b250, mecedes, mercedes-benz, review, test drive


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