Luxury usually comes at a steep price, but there are exceptions to the rule.
You don't have to spend a fortune to drive the entry-level Mercedes-Benz B-Class, which starts at just under $30,000 - at $29,900, to be precise - the same price as last year's B200 base model. My tester, a B200 Turbo, costs slightly more at $32,400.
The B-Class debuted in Canada in the summer of 2005 as a 2006 model; it was revamped in 2009 with new technology, exterior and interior design changes and more standard equipment. For 2010, it remains basically the same with a few changes to paint, wheels and some optional packages.
The B200 is a practical, yet luxurious hatchback that's well-equipped for the price. It comes with standard items such as rain-sensing windshield wipers, 16-inch five-spoke alloy wheels, cruise control, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, an MP3-compatible six-disc CD changer with AM/FM and Bluetooth connectivity, six airbags, power windows, a smart key remote system, electronic stability program, ABS and traction control. Besides the power boost, the B200 Turbo adds bigger 17-inch five-twin-spoke alloy wheels and a six-speed manual transmission.
Even though it's the baby Benz, it isn't small. Thanks to its tall narrow body, it's spacious with plenty of room for five people and cargo. The front seats move eight ways, but you'll have to use some elbow grease to find the ideal seating position. The seats have manual height, angle and lumbar adjustments - nothing is power operated. If you want 10-way power-adjustable front seats you'll have to add the power seating package, which costs $750.
From the driver's seat, you have a commanding view of the road ahead; in general, all-around visibility is good. The rear seats are supportive with excellent leg and head room. The cargo area offers 544 litres of space. But if you need more room, fold down the 60/40 rear seats for 1,530 litres of space. The rear seat cushions also have a flip-forward design so you can squeeze in awkward shaped items. A retractable cargo cover also keeps items hidden from curious eyes.
A hatchback is much cooler to drive than a boring old station wagon, especially if it carries the cache of a Mercedes-Benz. From the front end, a broad silver grille with a three-pointed star takes centre stage. Chrome trim adorns the exterior with its nice flowing lines. I'd skip the boring shade of mountain grey metallic on my tester and go for something with more pizzazz like jupiter red or delta green metallic.
Inside, the cabin feels like a more expensive C-Class. There are attractive touches including chrome-ringed instrumentation and aluminum trim surrounding the driver. My tester has a premium package, which adds heated front seats and a funky panoramic lamella sunroof; it costs $1,850.
The huge sun roof is a welcome addition that makes the cabin feel airy and light inside. The front louver tilts upwards while the other four louvers slide back. You can also open the sunroof and all windows with the key fob. Just push and hold a button and all the windows and sunroof open to cool down the car before you step inside - that's a nice bonus on hot, humid summer days.
There are plenty of useful compartments including storage nets on the front seatbacks and bottle holders in the doors. For the most part, the cabin is well-laid out. But the turn signal stalk and the cruise control stalk are too close together on the steering wheel column; it's easy to accidentally engage the cruise control when you're intending to turn. A rear wiper also keeps the view clear out the back.
Powering my tester is a 2.0-litre turbocharged inline-four-cylinder that delivers 193 horsepower and 206 lb-ft of torque. The base B200 model gets a 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine that pumps out 134 horsepower and 136 lb-ft of torque. My tester has an optional continuously variable transmission, which costs $1,500. But I'm not fond of it - it tends to drone under hard acceleration. There's no 4MATIC all-wheel-drive available offered on the B-Class. Another option you can't get is a built-in GPS navigation system.
The B200 Turbo is easy to drive and park. It has a nice tight turning radius, too. Plus, it has sufficient get up and go. When merging on to the highway or passing slower moving vehicles, the turbo has plenty of power. But its tall body creates some body lean when cornering. It's also thirsty relative to its official fuel economy numbers. The B200 Turbo with a CVT is rated at 9.5 L/100 km in the city and 7.4 on the highway. I averaged much higher during my week-long test drive - 9.6 L/100 km combined city and highway driving. Another added expense: it takes premium fuel. But that's the price you pay for a luxury nameplate.
If you want the bragging rights of owning a tri-star badge you might want to consider the baby B-Class Benz. But just be careful with the options - you don't want to push the price up into C-Class territory.
2010 Mercedes-Benz B200 Turbo Sports Tourer
Type: Premium compact hatchback
Base Price: $32,400; as tested, $37,015
Engine: 2.0-litre, SOHC, inline-four
Horsepower/torque: 193 hp/206 lb-ft
Fuel economy (litres/ 100 km): 9.5 city/7.4 highway; premium gas
Alternatives: Audi A3, Mini Cooper Clubman, Volvo C30, Toyota Matrix, Mazda 3 Sport, Dodge Caliber