Introduced to the Canadian market in 2005, the Mercedes-Benz B-Class is one of those cars Canadians get but Americans don’t – like the Acura CSX, VW City Golf and, if you go way back, the Ford Frontenac and McLaughlin Buick.
It’s hard to understand why, as the B-Class is arguably one of the strongest models in Mercedes’ lineup and much more relevant to today’s market than, say, a G-Class or E-Class. As a compact people-mover it does everything you could ask, and has a reasonable – all things considered – price tag. I think it would sell like gangbusters down south.
The latest iteration – the B250 – is also much faster than it used to be, thanks to a turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine, and Mercedes’ seven-speed automatic transmission, which I have misgivings about. More on that later. Unfortunately, this engine also requires premium gas.
Power output for this slick little urban runabout is set at 208 horsepower, with an impressive 258 lb-ft of torque. This is enough to whip it from a standing start to freeway speed in about seven seconds. Compared to some other similarly conceived models – Mazda5, Kia Rondo, Mini Cooper Clubman, Fiat 500L – it’s a road-rocket.
But what is most appealing is its practicality. This is an everyday vehicle that is inviting to drive, reasonably thrifty and as comfortable as, well, a Mercedes-Benz. Usually, when I’m driving a Mercedes product, I’m conscious of that fact every step of the way – but with the B250, I was more impressed with its useability than its lineage. It was a nicely engineered econobox, with no bad habits.
Well, maybe a couple. For starters, Mercedes’ toilet-handle Direct Select gearshift lever is pointless and silly. I fail to see how this is a better arrangement than the usual floor- or dash-mounted lever, and I have yet to adjust to it, despite having driven numerous Mercedes models over the years. That said, there are steering-wheel-mounted shift paddles that offset this somewhat, and I used these on a regular basis during my time with this one.
Which leads to the transmission. My tester had a heck of a time deciding which gear it should be in, randomly shifting itself up and down and staying too long in one gear when it should have moved on to another – and vice-versa. The problem was particularly acute in the morning, after cold starts. Maybe seven speeds are just too much for a car of this type?
And lastly, Mercedes’ Eco Start/stop function. This shuts the vehicle off when you’re stopped – at a light, for example – and restarts itself when you take your foot off the brake. Pretty standard fare, but in this case, crudely executed. Other manufacturers, like Honda, have engineered this feature so that it’s virtually unobtrusive and you hardly even notice it. That’s not the case here. For what it’s worth, BMW’s version is equally rough around the edges, and I hasten to add that this is more along the lines of an observation than a complaint, and you can de-activate it via a dash-mounted switch.
Being Mercedes, the B250 does have a high equipment level. Standard kit includes cruise control, the shift paddles, a huge sunroof, heated front seats, anti-pinch front windows, hill start assist and an electronic parking brake. Most of these features are welcome, but the electronic parking brake is not. Don’t need it, don’t want it.
My tester came with the Premium Package, driving assistance package, sport package and various other odds and sods, including a navi system ($1,950), parking assist ($900) and back-up camera ($480). As an aside, when I was first introduced to Mercedes’ navi system, about 10 years ago, it was in Stuttgart, and if I’d followed it to the letter, I would have wound up in the Baltic Sea. Things have improved since then.
Mercedes has never come up short when it comes to ergonomics and comfort, and the B250 is no exception. Possibly the most comfortable seats I’ve parked myself in lately, with all kinds of head/elbow room. Fold the back seats down and you get 1,500 litres of cargo room which, unless you carry large objects around on a regular basis, is plenty. Four adults will fit comfortably. I like Mercedes’ blurb on the interior of the B250: “Order is restored to the unpredictability of life in the new B-class.”
From a starting price of less than $30,000, the B250 climbs up into the big leagues rapidly. With all the extras, packages and goodies mentioned, you’re looking at almost $40,000. More after taxes and levies. All things considered, this car’s value is found in the base model, with none of the above.
2013 Mercedes-Benz B250
Base Price: $29,900; as tested: $38,680
Engine: 2.0-litre, turbocharged, four-cylinder
Horsepower/torque: 208 hp/258 lb-ft
Transmission: Seven-speed automatic with manual shift feature
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 7.9 city/ 5.5 highway; premium gas
Alternatives: Kia Rondo, Mazda5, Toyota Matrix, Mini Cooper Clubman, Fiat 500L, Chevrolet Orlando, Honda Crosstour, Toyota Prius v, Ford C-Max, Hyundai Elantra Touring, Lexus CT200h
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