Another shot of life for Merc B-Class
Mercedes-Benz should be referred to as the ‘saviour of lost souls’, such is its commitment to the B-Class, which Iain Robertson suggests is its remaining contender in the fast-disappearing MPV scene now available in plug-in form.
Flogging a dead donkey is one of those last-ditch efforts that can be applied to institutions (or corporations) that survive without responsibility for their actions. You might say, like the BBC…I feel that I cannot comment, because writing about the motor industry can have similar implications. However, if you take any one of the BBC’s most popular TV series of the past couple of decades, let’s say ‘Top Gear’, which was often a breeding ground for ‘other’ presenters, such as Nick Knowles, or that fluffy, posh bird that pops up on natural history programmes, Kate Humble, even when its much-vaunted ‘Terrible Trio’ worked their careers out, the programme should have been taken to a quiet corner of a remote field and shot.
Just because something is popular does not mean that it is good. On the other hand, altering a time-honoured formula can also be cataclysmically disastrous. Just look at when Coca-Cola changed the recipe of its most popular canned and bottled drink…it was dragged to its knees by the instant downturn in its business. Yet, consumers can prove to be immensely fickle. We will take to our hearts the latest ‘next best thing’, often because it is fashionable to do so, only to drop it like a hot spud, the instant its popularity wanes.
While Merc is a long-established carmaker possessing a glorious history, it has allowed itself to be blighted by various changes in market temperature and pressure. Its kneejerk reactions to some aspects of its activities, such as withdrawing from motorsport, following a tragic incident at Le Mans, or recalling and re-engineering an entire model range, following a roll-over incident (A-Class) in Sweden, are renowned. Yet, it allows the B-Class model to survive.
Originally, the ‘B’ was intended to be a slightly larger, more accommodating, junior MPV version of the A-Class. From the outset, the product was on its hunkers; it was not as ingenious as A-Class that had an alloy sandwich platform and some fascinating safety elements. Although Merc could sell it readily to the taxi sector, where its world domination is more than evident, the car buying public was sceptical. Yet, it seemed that even Merc doubted its own integrity; the B-Class has always felt like the archetypal niche-filler, neither one thing nor the other, in which investment was considered to be a waste of money.
When Ford was confronted by a similar situation with its B-Max and, to a certain extent, its C-Max model ranges, it tried to spark them off with more technology and, ultimately, more equipment. However, the demand for MPVs has moved to the more traditional vans-with-windows type, while the unrelenting SUV scene is expected to fill the gap. It is only a matter of time before Ford drops them altogether. It could be suggested that Merc should follow suit.
Yet, last-ditch, or not, Merc has electrified its B-Class and, to be fair to it, it is a most successful hybridisation that results. The range starts from a pricey £35,280, for the B250e AMG Line Executive, with the AMG Line Premium version costing £36,780 and the AMG Line Premium Plus topping the line-up at £38,280. As is typical of the category, a smaller capacity, 1.3-litre turbo-petrol engine is fitted to all versions, which generates a decent 158bhp, accompanied by 169lbs ft of torque, with an additional 101bhp and 243lbs ft available from the electric motor, which equates to a notional 250bhp, or a sizable amount of grunt.
The on-board lithium-ion battery pack offers a total useable capacity of 10.6kWh, which means that the B250e has an all-electric range of up to 42 miles, which is a welcome and useful benefit for city drivers, especially during Chairman Khan’s current regime. Naturally, the claimed hybrid fuel economy is stated as a phenomenal 235.4mpg (Official Combined figure), although the car will probably attain around 100mpg, which is still exceptional, while emitting a mere 27g/km of CO2; not ‘free’ in Congestion Charge Zone terms, or benefit-in-kind for the company car driver, but lower for road tax and peace of conscience. In the 2020-21 tax year company car drivers will pay only six per cent BIK. For 20% taxpayers, this means just £12 per month. The B-Class drives through an eight-speed, DCT automated-manual transmission as standard, along with a 7.4kW AC on-board charger that enables a zero-to-100% recharge in 1hr 45m, which is both speedy and eminently practical.
AMG Line Executive models are equipped comprehensively as standard, with the MBUX multimedia system, complete with ‘Hey Mercedes’ virtual assistant (just shout at it, to see what it does!), privacy glass, heated front seats, climate control, 18.0-inch diameter five-twin-spoke alloy wheels, Artico man-made leather and Dinamica microfibre upholstery, smartphone integration, including Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, a 10.25-inch media display, parking assist package, a mirror package and wireless charging.
For an additional consideration of £1,500, the AMG Line Premium adds 10.25-inch digital cockpit, augmented reality for the sat-nav system, ‘Keyless-Go’ locking and unlocking, ambient lighting, with a choice of 64 colours, illuminated doorsills with ‘Mercedes-Benz’ lettering and Mercedes-Benz advanced sound system. The range-topper AMG Line Premium Plus adds a panoramic sunroof, multibeam LED headlights, memory seats for both driver and front passenger and Traffic Sign Assist.
There is only one standalone option for the B250e, which is available on AMG Line Premium Plus only; the £1,495 Driving Assistance package. Driving Assistance incorporates Active Blind Spot Assist, Active Braking Assist with cross-traffic functionality, Active Distance Assist Distronic, Active Emergency Stop Assist, Active Lane-change Assist, Active Speed Limit Assist, Active Steering Assist, Evasive Steering Assist, Pre-Safe Plus and route-based speed adaptation. Phew!
Apart from its fairly steep price tag, for which most Merc customers are likely to be prepared anyway, I believe it to be a great final twitch, before the B-Class is totally revamped into something completely different. It is worth noting that some great things appear in strictly limited packages, like ‘Fawlty Towers’ (only two TV series of six episodes apiece).
Conclusion: Merc realises that it is out-of-step with its B-Class but perseverance may pay off in hybridised form.