Canadians love the Mercedes-Benz B-Class. This car speaks to our collective pragmatic soul, yet simultaneously satisfies our need for something considerably better than average ― a taste of the fun-in-the-sun, jet-set lifestyle we see on TV but can’t emulate in a single yearly vacation to Florida or Mexico’s Baja peninsula.
I have a confession to make, though: I didn’t like the B-Class all that much when it was introduced, but Mercedes-Benz addressed most of my complaints the following year and I soon began to appreciate its many merits. The latest iteration? It has so dramatically improved that I’ve become an unabashed fan. From styling to interior quality to the way it drives, the second-generation B 250 4MATIC “sports tourer” I recently tested is a true testament to why Mercedes-Benz is the auto industry’s best-selling luxury make.
A luxury crossover bargain
You can tell a lot about a brand’s core values when spending time with its entry-level value leader. That’s the Mercedes-Benz B-Class’ position in the Canadian market, one step below the stylish and sporty, albeit nowhere near as versatile CLA, and a number of steps up from the tiny little smart fortwo that can be purchased through Mercedes-Benz dealerships.
For 2016, B-Class pricing starts at $31,700 plus freight and dealer fees for the front-wheel drive B 250 and $34,000 for the all-wheel drive B 250 4MATIC, making it one of the most affordable premium-branded cars in Canada. Believe me, this car isn’t just about being the cheapest way to get 3-pointed star bragging rights on the grille; it really lives up to the German automaker’s revered credentials.
Style and luxury befitting its 3-pointed star
It starts with a stylish, tall wagon/crossover shape that’s fronted by a classic SL-inspired grille, intricately detailed, LED-enhanced headlamps, a sporty black mesh lower fascia, scalloped turn signals on each mirror cap, upswept bodyside creases, some elegant LED taillights, tasteful chrome and satin aluminum trim all around, plus 17” alloy wheels at each corner.
The cabin pampers with high-quality, soft-touch materials across the dash top and the entirety of each door panel from top to bottom, while the door inserts are comfortably padded with Artico pleather that matches up to a similar treatment with contrast stitching for the armrests. Metal trim highlights key areas with a thick, engine-turned inlay running across the instrument panel that’s dotted with satin silver-rimmed air vents along the way. High-grade roofliner fabric stretches down to cover the A-pillars, while most of the roof opens up via a dual-pane panoramic sunroof (optional).
All of the switchgear is up to Mercedes’ usual high standard. Ditto for the electronic interfaces starting with a large, multi-information display positioned between the otherwise beautifully detailed analog primary gauges. An extremely high-resolution, full-colour, tablet-style infotainment display juts out from the dash top at centre. Controllable via a rotating dial and quick-access buttons on the lower console, it’s a graphically attractive design within an intuitively laid out interface that you can upgrade to include Apple CarPlay if you order the $1,700 Versatility package or the as-tested $3,800 Premium package. And with the latter, customers are eligible for an upgrade to add Android Auto, as well.
Quality, refinement, and layout are pure Mercedes-Benz, as is the cabin’s overall sense of occasion.
The small B-Class really does come across as special, while it’s ergonomically ideal with a driving position that’s slightly taller than in a traditional car, yet not as lofty as in a regular SUV. It starts with hip-height access via large, wide doors, continues to impress with an easy reach to all controls, is enhanced by superb visibility through all windows, and gets supported by form-fitting, 10-way manually adjustable front seats.
The rear seating area is finished just as nicely and almost as comfortably, offering plenty of space in all directions. I found approximately 4-5” above my head and 6-7” ahead of my knees when the driver’s seat was positioned for my 5’8” frame. The seats themselves are particularly supportive for the lower back. With only two people sitting in the back, you can fold down a wide, padded centre armrest featuring a fancy set of flip-out cup holders that don’t get in the way of resting forearms.
No shortage of cargo space or versatility
After taking in the beautiful, chromed protector plate atop the rear bumper, a large liftgate opens up to a wide, flat, and very spacious cargo area behind the rear seats that can be hidden from prying eyes by a scrolling cover extracted from a super-sturdy, removable crossmember.
Under the cargo floor is a large, carpeted storage compartment where a spare tire could be housed, although the 2016 Mercedes-Benz B-Class rides on runflats. Just above, more luxurious carpeting flows up the sidewalls and seatbacks, while a handy emergency kit is contained in the right side of two cargo wall compartments.
Expanding its 488 litres to a maximum of 1,547 litres comes via 60/40-split rear seatbacks. Alternatively, you can keep rear passengers in the outboard seats and use the narrow centre pass-through for loading long items such as skis (I must admit that 40/20/40-split seatbacks would prove much more accommodating).
Surprising performance and a pampering ride
The leather-like upholstery on the seats (available in grey or beige) feels genuine, while the cushions are unusually soft like a pillow, yet still manage to support in all the right places. The B 250’s suspension is even more comforting, the words “floating on air” actually escaping my lips when describing it to my partner who was riding shotgun at the time. This is a Mercedes trademark unless opting for an AMG model. Speaking of which, the B is one of few Classes that can’t be upgraded to supercar levels of performance, although don’t be too quick to judge it as slow.
Only one state of tune is available in our market, namely a 2.0L turbo engine with 208 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque, the latter accessible from just 1,200 rpm. This, combined with a 7-speed automatic transmission featuring with steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters, results in spirited performance off the line and plenty of passing power at highway speeds.
My B 250 4MATIC tester attacked fast-paced corners with verve, too, its wide track and relatively long wheelbase making for smooth, stable, and predictably composed handling, while the ride continued to provide a level of compliance few small cars can match. The turning circle isn’t close to the smart’s, but maneuvering around tight parking garages is certainly easy enough. Large mirrors, a rear-view camera with active guidelines, and available front and rear parking sensors enable total dimensional awareness.
Thrifty for a 5-passenger CUV
When coming to a halt, you’ll likely notice the auto start/stop system shutting down the engine. This standard feature joins other fuel-saving technologies to help the 2016 Mercedes-Benz B-Class achieve a commendable 9.2L/100km city and 6.6L/100km highway rating in FWD guise or 10.0 and 7.5 respectively with AWD.
Fuel economy in mind, our friends to the south can’t get the gas-powered B 250, but I wouldn’t gloat too quickly because they have access to the fully electric B 250e instead. As for when we might get that ultra-clean model in Canada, no announcement has been made.
A good assortment of standard and optional features
Of note, the Versatility package includes a power driver’s seat with power lumbar support, auto-dimming rear-view and side mirrors, a universal garage door opener, and a rear storage system dubbed Easy Vario Plus that adds a flat-folding front passenger seat, sliding rear seats, a height-adjustable cargo floor, and more.
A $1,500 Sport package is also on the menu consisting in an AMG styling package, 18” AMG alloys, sport brakes, a lowered suspension, direct steering, AMG floor mats, black leather upholstery, and carbon-look trim. Standalone options include partial LED headlamps for $900, keyless proximity access for $700, satellite radio for $475, and parking assist for $900.
The standard equipment list includes items already mentioned as well as auto on/off headlamps, power heated side mirrors, an electromechanical parking brake, push-button ignition, a particularly attractive, Nappa leather-trimmed steering wheel, rain-sensing wipers, tire pressure monitoring, the usual active and passive safety features, along with attention assist, collision prevention assist plus, adaptive brake with a hold function, and airbags for both front occupants’ knees.
Not perfect, but still very good
While all of this is good, I would have liked to see a number of options made available that are already offered by its luxury peers, not to mention some lesser brands’ fully equipped compact models. I’m thinking about adaptive cruise control, head-up display, cooled front seats, heated rear seats, rear heating controls, a power liftgate, etc.
Still, I can’t help but really like the 2016 Mercedes-Benz B-Class just as it is. The car speaks clearly to the practical side of my brain while delivering nearly all the luxury and refinement my heart wants. That’s a rare combination in the compact class, and certainly worthy of your full attention.