It’s not an all new car and has been around in the international markets for quite some time but the prospect of Mercedes-Benz spawning an all new segment here in India is just a sign of exciting times ahead. While our driving experience was limited to the Mercedes-Benz plant in Chakan, it was more than enough to give us an idea about this compact people mover from the three pointed star.
To give you a little bit of history, the B-Class came into existence in 2005 and was pretty much an enlarged A-Class with the same engine and suspension. It even retained the distinctive sandwich floor concept which was meant for the battery-powered version of the A-Class. Now in its second generation, the all new B-Class or the W246 shares nothing with its predecessor and is pretty much a completely different animal.
This was the first time I had laid my eyes on the B-Class and the first thing that hit me was the dimensions. Right from the W124 days we Indians have been fed with the best of Stuttgart’s luxobarges and SUV’s which have naturally led us to believe that the three pointed star comes only with generously sized vehicles. The B-Class then will pretty much change that perspective. About a size up on the Hyundai i-20 and the likes, the B-Class comes across as a rather large hatch.
What we had was an import straight from Germany and as a result looked rather sporty with the well endowed 225 section 18 inch wheels (expect a more sober size for the Indian spec car) that filled those large wheel arches quite well. In fact it looks quite similar to the R-Class which falls in the Grand Sports Tourer category. The character line has been used quite boldly and slides all the way from the hip to the lower front of the car. The upswept headlights along with that twin slatted grille give the car quite an imposing front. All in all it’s a great design which is sure to appeal to all.
Opening the large doors led us to a rather dark but spacious cabin. The interiors were all black with silver accents all around. Expect a change here as well since black interiors for our climate is a strict no-no. The fascia is a typical Mercedes design with everything laid out ergonomically. The seats felt great and the view is extremely friendly with nothing obstructing the view. A nice slick multimedia screen sits in your face giving you all the audio/car info you need. But that’s about it. The lack of a million buttons on the dashboard does make this Benz feel a little out of place but then I was still getting used to a Mercedes without the additional frills.
Moving to the back bench is just as interesting. There is loads of space and even with 6 footer like our resident road tester Dilip, there was more than enough legroom. Sitting three abreast is also quite comfortable thanks to the B-Class’ wide girth. What is also noticeable is the ease with which you can get in and out of the car. Ingress-egress is brilliant thanks to the high roof and the wide opening doors.
Twisting the typical key fob, the B-Class came to life with a rather buzzy note. Buzzy I say because resting under the hood of this B200 was a 1.6 litre CGI unit pushing out a very impressive 156 horses. However India is expected to get the B180 variant with the same 1.6 litre unit but pushing out a tamer 122 PS. The petrol will be followed by a diesel too and we think it will be the B180 CDI sporting the 1.8 common rail diesel and pushing out about 136 PS.
The B200 that we drove was an absolute bomb. A 6-speed manual gear box ( expect an autobox to make way here for us) to transfer all that power, the car displayed a sense of urgency one simply cannot fathom. While we drove strictly on the well paved roads of the Chakan plant, The B-Class felt as planted and sure footed as it could be. Going hard into a corner would bring out some understeer but the electronics would quickly get the car back on track. We still cannot comment on the ride quality and handling just yet since we have yet to get our hands on a car configured for India but first impressions are definitely positive.
Mercedes-Benz has a lot of things going for the B-Class and from what we see the car definitely has a lot of potential to be a decent numbers car for the Stuttgart based manufacturer. What remains to be seen is how they specify the Indian variant and very importantly how well they price it. Mercedes will be treading new waters with this segment unlike BMW and Audi who have set their base standards with the more typical X1 and the Q3 and as a result have to work even harder for the B-Class to make a mark. Expect the B-Class to be launched around September or October this year. Keep watching this space for more!
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