Mercedes-Benz has been on a roll off-late. And I say this not in terms of sales numbers, but thanks to the model offensive that the Stuttgart-based company has been on. Almost their entire model range has received significant updates, but more significantly Mercedes-Benz has finally brought in products from their ‘value’ range, namely the A-Class and the B-Class.
Both these cars are extremely important to the starry manufacturer as they not only aim to offer a typical Mercedes-Benz experience but also a lot of value for that cheque of yours with a whole lot of numbers. Now coming to the cars, both look quite identical in passing glance. Both share the same engines and almost the same price, too.
Now it’s easy to differentiate between say a C-Class and an E-Class considering there is a significant amount of difference in the size of the vehicle and the prices, but how do you pick between two cars which have so much in common? Read on…
The Family Man and the Young’un
First, let me come to the point where in the intro I mentioned about both these cars looking identical in a passing glance. Well, that similarity starts and ends right there. The moment you check the cars out in detail you realise just how different they look and how different their appeal is.
Standing side by side, the only common detail a trained eye will notice is the big three-pointed star in the centre of the grille; the rest of the cars are as different as chalk and cheese as far as looks are concerned. Standing next to the A-Class, the B looks tall, slightly van-ish (considering it’s a compact sports tourer) and happy. The A-Class, on the other hand, sits low, looks like a proper hot-hatch and is always angry.
While pictures might make you believe that the B-Class is as big as say a Hyundai i20 or a Honda Jazz, in the flesh one realises that the B, at 4,359mm in length, is actually much bigger than the sub 4-metre Jazz. If anything, the B feels slightly reminiscent of Merc’s ‘Grand Sport Tourer,’ the R-Class, albeit in a scaled-down form factor.
To be extremely honest, the B-Class is not flattering from every angle given its tall roof line and elongated cabin. What does add a lot to the car’s overall appeal is the somewhat longish hood which takes it far away from a van-like appearance.
While the petrol version of the B got that fantastic blackened top with the dual sun-roof and those stunning 10-spoke, 17-inch alloy wheels, the lack of those in the diesel makes the B 180 CDI a rather plain-jane affair. What you get in the diesel is a body-coloured roof and way subtler 16-inch 10-spoke alloys.
The A 180 CDI too loses out in aesthetic appeal compared to its petrol version. No black-top here as well, but those super looking 17-inch alloys from the petrol remain. Apart from the roof, the A 180 CDI looks just as fantastic as its petrol variant. Sitting low with that long nose and a very dramatic rear, Mercedes has given a fresh interpretation to the classic two-box design.
The front looks absolutely menacing thanks to the wide bumpers and the pronounced lip spoiler. The massive grille too is unlike any seen on a Merc before with chrome stars filling it up and a big Avant-Garde style three-pointed star in the centre. The swoopy headlights along with the strip of LED lights look like angry eyebrows and add a lot of visual drama to the front.
While someone looking for a subtle family car might find the A-Class too dramatic and the B more elegant, I for one cannot get over the way the hot-hatch looks. It turns every head on the street and makes you whip out your phone for a picture every so often. As far as the design is concerned, the A-Class completely overshadows the B, at least in the diesel avatars.
Space Vs Style
Even from the outside, the B-Class looks like a much bigger car than the A and that fact remains true even when you get inside the cars. Starting from the A-Class, the doors open nice and wide and ingress into the car is quite an easy affair. You are welcomed by swathes of black and some fantastic F1-inspired sport seats. Getting the right seating position took some time but once you get it, it’s perfect.
While the A 180 Sport had fantastic sporty interior trim, the CDI loses out on a lot of it. Gone is that fantastic flat bottomed steering wheel, the sporty red stitching, the drilled aluminium pedals and the carbon fibre finish on the dash.
While that does take away some glitz, it can still be described as understated elegance. What is shocking though is the absence of climate control for the air-con. Manual controls, at this price, is something that you simply cannot expect from Mercedes-Benz.
Seat comfort is good, and there’s lots of adjustment in both the seats and the steering column. The front seating position though feels rather low too – but this could be because the window line seems rather high. Time to move to the back since this is after all a full sized family hatch.
There is decent leg and knee room, but a shortage of headroom thanks to intrusion from the arching C-Pillar. Seating three abreast is easily possible; however, it’s best comfortable with four. The dark interiors and the limited glass area do make it a little stuffy inside, but should you choose to ignore the optional panoramic roof, the rear seats feel even more claustrophobic. Other than that storage should be quite adequate with 341 litres of boot space and a 60:40 split should you require more space.
After the A, getting into the B-Class feels like moving from a cave into the bright wide open. And there are plenty of reasons for that feeling. For starters, the high roofline means plenty of headroom. As a result ingress and egress is extremely comfortable.
The B offers plenty of space both in the front and the back as well thanks to a combination of its tall cabin design and fairly long 2,699mm wheelbase which ensures that nobody in the back will complain about leg room.
In fact, sitting three abreast on the back bench is a fairly easy task and way more comfortable than the comparatively cramped A-Class. The boot also has substantially more space at 486 litres which makes it an extremely viable compact tourer as M-B suggests.
The A 180 CDI then suffers a bit when it comes to the cabin department. Neither is it as flamboyant as its petrol sibling and neither is it as spacious as the B-Class. The B on the other hand scores well in this department checking most of the boxes required for a spacious family car.
Even though the petrol variants of both these models offered adequate performance, it was always going to be the diesels raking in the numbers. Powering the A and the B-Class are identical 2,143cc 4-cylinder oil burners. Boasting fourth-generation common-rail diesel technology, the injection pressure has been raised to 1800 bar along with optimised combustion chambers and even more precise solenoid valve injectors. All this technology and mumbo-jumbo translate into a rated output of 110PS between 3200-4600 rpm and a maximum torque of 250Nm between 1400-2800 rpm.
Starting with the A, twisting the key-fob brings the car to life with a clattery idle which settles down after a while. That said, the engine is not as quiet as the diesels in the higher segments. Whether this can be attributed to lesser NVH levels or just the engine being loud remains to be seen. The B 180 CDI was quieter in comparison but like I mentioned, still louder compared to the eerily silent engines that we are used to from Mercedes.
Transferring the power to the front wheels is the fantastic 7-speed dual clutch transmission, which Mercedes calls the 7G-DCT. The gearbox works pretty much like Porsche’s PDK or VW’s DSG gearboxes. It comprises two sub-transmissions with each having their own clutch. One of these sub-transmissions supports the even gears while the other sub-transmission selects the odd ones. As a result during acceleration or braking the next highest or next lowest gear is the default setting on the sub-transmission not in use at the time. What that means in simple terms is that there is absolutely no lag while going up and down the gears.
Apart from that, there are also the preselectable shift programs: Economy, Sport and Manual that can be set via a switch on the centre console. What the switch does is that it enables the driver to change the shift characteristics and shift speed. In Sport mode, changing gears takes place at a higher rpm than in Economy mode. The Manual mode gives you an option to change gears manually via those lovely paddles behind the wheel.
Putting the power down
Let me begin with some performance runs starting with the A-Class. Shifting into manual and flooring the throttle, the 250Nm of torque kicks in with an impressive amount of wheel-spin. Shifting right sees the 100km/h mark come up in 10.10 seconds flat. Keeping the throttle nailed can take you up to 190km/h but we ran out of road at 178km/h post which progress is not really quick. Frankly we would love to get a little more grunt, but even in its current avatar, it’s not slow by any means. Roll-on figures are pretty good too and 60-80km/h takes just 2.57 seconds.
With the exact same mechanicals but slightly more weight (1565kg as against 1505kg for the A-Class), the B 180 CDI completed the ton in 10.68 seconds. Both the cars claim a top speed of 190km/h. Roll-on in the B from 60-80 took an almost identical 2.68 seconds. Braking was fantastic on both cars and ABS coupled with ESP and Acceleration Skid Control means both the cars boast extremely sure-footed braking. Even in the rains, standing on the brake pedal brought out zilch drama from either of the cars. From a performance point of view there is literally no difference, with both the cars offering very similar levels of performance.
On the road
While there is barely anything to choose from between both the cars in terms of engine and performance, when it comes to ride and handling both these cars are poles apart. Both cars sport McPherson strut front axles and completely redesigned four-link rear axles. While the setup and the components might be the same, the way the cars feel during ride and handling is like comparing apples to oranges.
The A sits nice and low and rides on ‘handling on their mind’ 17-inch 45 profile tyres. Put it hard through a nice tight bend and you will find it hard to believe this is a front wheel drive. Although it’s easy to get the tail to step out a bit, an undefeatable stability-control system is par for the course. Body roll is extremely minimal and the A corners pretty flat giving you oodles of confidence to push harder. But hit a pothole while at it and you are certain to grimace thinking about those alloys and the suspension bits. Ride quality is pretty good on well paved roads but hitting sharp bumps and deep potholes need to be taken care of. I had mentioned in my review of the A-Class petrol earlier about how much of a difference 16-inch wheels with better profiled tyres would make.
And that’s exactly what the B-Class has. With 55 profile, 205 section 16-inch tyres, the B boasts an excellent ride quality. Where the A-Class starts feeling brittle, the B feels unruffled and takes most of what you throw at it with ease. Handling too is very good and more than what one would expect from a family car. It’s only when you start pushing harder that the B’s tallish stance comes into play. Being significantly taller (1557mm as against the A-class which is 1433mm) the B-Class rolls a lot more than it’s hunkered down sibling. The A also carries a lot more grip thanks to its wider 225 section tyres.
The efficiency saga…
With similar engines offering similar performance, we expected similar numbers on the efficiency front as well and that’s pretty much how it was. The A 180 CDI returned 13.4kmpl around town and 16.1kmpl on the highway resulting in an overall mileage figure of 14.1kmpl. The B 180 CDI on the other hand eked out 13.2kmpl in the city with the figure rising to 15.8kmpl on the highway giving it an overall figure of 13.85kmpl. With both cars boasting a 50 litre fuel tank, one should easily see about 700km before heading for a re-fuel.
A or B then?
The A 180 CDI Style retails at Rs. 22.90 lakh while the B 180 CDI Style comes in at Rs. 22.60 lakh. With just a Rs. 30,000 difference, it all boils down to what one is looking for in the cars. For a buyer with comfort and space as priority, it’s an absolute no brainer with the B being the car of choice. But for the younger buyer for whom style precedes practicality, the A-Class is the shining star. But that’s not the end of the story.
There is also the desirability factor that is ever so important when it comes to choosing your high end set of wheels. Let’s face it, a very miniscule number of people will buy these cars for what they really offer. For a majority of the buyers it’s the oomph, style and status that matter in this segment and that is what the A-Class offers by the bucket-loads. It looks simply smashing and standing next to it, the B-Class is relegated to being a practical mommy-wagon with a three-pointed star.
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