By introducing the range at £16,995 for the B150, Mercedes is hoping to tempt company car drivers to trade in their current set of mainstream wheels to upgrade to a large hatch bearing the coveted three-pointed star.
It expects to move 1,500 units during the remainder of this year, and 6,000 to 7,000 in 2006. At least 75% of these will be conquest sales, it predicts. The fleet market is expected to account for a third of total volume.
The B-class’s target audience is the young and well-educated, and Mercedes-Benz expects 65% of its customers to be aged under 40. Unlike its smaller A-class sibling, mostly bought as the second car of the household, this model is designed to be the customer’s main transport.
Mari Dyson, product executive for the B-class, says this new market is of huge importance to the premium marque. Consequently the B-class’s arrival has been backed by an innovative marketing campaign. This has seen the creation of 44 individual 20-second TV adverts – one for every day of its launch campaign – each designed to demonstrate the car’s versatility.
This is supported by print and online advertising, and WAP downloads to customers mobile phones. The marketing bill alone comes to £4 million.
Dyson said: ‘A lot of the onus is on us to drive the user- choosers to our dealers. ‘There’s a lot of direct marketing going out, and the website has been very busy. In fact more people have actively registered their details for this car than any other car we have launched.’
Residual values will differentiate it from the volume fare. CAP predicts prices after three years/60,000 miles in the high 30s for the diesel, which is five to six percentage points higher than volume MPVs such as the Vauxhall Zafira and Volks-wagen Touran, while it is at similar levels to the Golf Plus, which has nowhere near the adaptability.
Six powerplants are available, comprising two turbodiesels (B180 CDI and B200 CDI) and four petrols (B150, B170, B200 and B200 Turbo), all of which are offered in the A-class.
The B150 won’t be here until November, but all other versions are launched on September 15.
The range has two trim levels, standard and SE. Buyers will be underwhelmed by the standard trim, which includes steel wheels and black exterior details, so many people are expected to spend £950 upgrading to the more generous SE.
At this level the B-class has a more eye-catching appearance, gaining 16-inch alloy wheels, chrome body details and a chrome radiator grille. Inside, the SE gets leather steering wheel, gear knob and handbrake lever, plus automatic headlight and wiper controls.
Both B200 models auto- matically get SE specification anyway, and the B200 Turbo receives even more equipment as well as a sports pack.
Depending on the depth of the buyer’s pocket, the B-class can still be up-specced from a list of more than 50 extra-cost options, including a removable passenger seat system and two choices of panoramic sunroof.
In the versatility stakes the B-class is left slightly behind by the volume mini-MPVs such as the Vauxhall Zafira or Mazda5 with their abundance of storage areas. Yet its passenger seats can be folded down easily, creating luggage space 60 litres larger than a C-class estate.
Naturally, there’s an array of safety systems including ABS with Brake Assist, ESP, traction control and six airbags. The B-class also has Mercedes-Benz’s’ new steer control system. When the car begins to oversteer, this automatically increases resistance in one direction to encourage the driver to correctly steer against the skid.
Mercedes expects it to perform well in Euro NCAP crash tests later this year. The A-class, with which it shares some architecture, gained five-stars for adult occupants and four stars for child occupants.
A similar sandwich floor concept is used on the B-class, ensuring that in a frontal collision the engine and transmission are pushed down beneath the cabin rather than back into the occupants.
Behind the wheel
THE B-class is another step away from Mercedes-Benz’s saloon-led heritage but it promises to help restore the marque’s reputation for build quality.
Despite sitting towards the bottom end of the Mercedes-Benz range, the car has solid, top-class engineering which works with its elevated driving position and high sides to give occupants a strong sense of security. For drivers, this is further boosted by its accurate steering and confidence-inspiring brakes. Despite its high outline, the B-class does not generate excessive wind noise at motorway speeds, although drivers who opt for the 18-inch AMG alloy wheels must expect an increase in road noise.
Overall, this car is a capable, comfortable cruiser. And thanks to its standard-equipment selective damping system, which automatically firms the suspension to reduce body roll during cornering, it copes well with bends and never feels unsettled on rough roads.
We tried both diesels: the B200 CDI and the B180 CDI. Both were strong, adaptable units capable of effortless long-distance motoring, but the B200 has the slight edge, thanks to the extra flexibility provided by its 221lb-ft of torque at 1,600-3,000rpm.
THE B-class is perfectly placed to entice younger drivers who want to step up to a prestige brand but don’t feel ready to take on a sensible saloon. It drives well, looks distinctive and still has the versatility of a hatchback, although drivers will pay a premium for the Mercedes badge and optional equipment.
|Engine (cc):||B150||B170||B200 SE||B200 Turbo||B180 CDI SE||B200 CDI SE|
|Max power (bhp/rpm):||95/5,200||116/5,500||136/5,750||193/5,000||109/4,200||140/4,200|
|Max torque (lb-ft/rpm):||103/3,500||114/3,500||136/3,500||206/1,800||184/1,600||221/1,600|
|Max speed (mph):||108||114||122||140||114||124|
|Fuel consumption (mpg):||42.8||41.5||39.2||34.9||50.4||50.4|
|CO2 emissions (g/km):||158||163||173||195||146||146|
|Fuel tank capacity (l/gal):||54/11.8||54/11.8||54/11.8||54/11.8||54/11.8||54/11.8|
|Service interval (miles):||Variable||Variable||Variable||Variable||Variable||Variable|
|On sale:||November||September 15|
Auto: + £1,390