Mercedes wants to introduce models into every market segment both present and future.  My response: the more, the better.  It's good for competition and good for consumers as they search to identify with a car which possesses the criteria most important to them.  Car salesmen call this a "hot button".  For some people, their hot button is price/value.  For others it's as simple as color, looks, prestige or a combination of many.  In the realm of premium level cars, value is not usually the top hot button.

 

That brings us to our most recent GCF test car, the Mercedes-Benz B-Class also known as the Compact Sport Tourer (CST) here in Finland.  The CST represents a brand new model in a new market segment for Mercedes.  Currently in the MPV or compact mini-van category, existing competitors include the Ford C-Max, Renault Scenic, VW Touran and Opel Zafira who all offer great value in their own special way.  For the newcomer Mercedes, it's a tough segment to enter especially from a premium position but first let's take a look at the details.

 

Our particular test car was a B 170 equipped with 18 inch AMG 5-spoke wheels and continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT).  The 1.7 liter 4 cylinder 116 hp (85kW) engine felt underpowered for a vehicle of this size.  Yes, it's the base petrol engine (in Finland) and suitable for some folks but the acceleration was uneventful.  However, the CVT transmission was a complete gem.  It came with three shift programs: Manual, Comfort and Sport.  Manual mode for shifting gears manually via the touch shift gear lever.  The other two automatic modes: Comfort: which keeps shift points low in the rev range for maximum efficiency and Sport: for raising shift points slightly higher.  I could barely notice the difference between the two modes but the shifts were the smoothest I have encountered. 

 

The exterior design of the car is what sets it apart from the competition.  The pragmatic and sometimes odd styling of its competitors has been left behind in the CST.  From all angles the CST is bold and eccentric except the rear view where it seems to lose some of its aggressiveness and presence. Otherwise, the CST credibly fills in with the rest of the handsome Mercedes model range.

 

Moving into the interior, the overall design is very pleasing and attractive.  For a vehicle which positions itself as being "premium", this is where the CST needs to rise above and it doesn't.  Yes, materials and appointments are nicer than the competition but you still get a sense of sacrifice.  The interior does not communicate "premium" and reminds you that you are in an ordinary MPV and not necessarily a Mercedes.  Of course this isn't anything that some wood trim, leather seats, satellite navigation and a panorama roof can't resolve but at a heavily elevated price.  Brushed aluminum trim pieces adorn the center console and door trim panels with subtle chrome accents everywhere.  The use of the chrome trim is not overused but still seems like an attempt to artificially create a "premium" environment.  Ultimately I see very little difference in overall quality and design of the interior over its competitors.  If Mercedes is going to pitch a car in a premium position, the car needs to feel premium - even at the base level.  Putting prestige and premium aside the CST is still an MPV.  Therefore it needs to be just as functional and versatile as the competition and indeed it accomplishes this nicely.  With an optional removable front passenger and rear seats the CST creates an impressive cargo space of up to 2245 liters.  The rear cargo area alone with a bi-level floor is ample with 695 liters loaded to the roof.

 

The suspension and driving dynamics is where the CST also earns points. Standard on all CST's is a selective-dampening shock absorber system.  Through special valving of the shock absorbers the dampening effect is soft and comfortable when the suspension receives small movements during normal driving.  However, when the suspension experiences more rapid movements under cornering or evasive maneuvers the dampening effect is firm. I experienced quite a bit of body roll and understeer which was expected in such a vehicle but I was surprised with how well the CST held its line.  Of course the 18 inch AMG wheels with sticky ContiSportContact 2 tires help but regardless I was pleasantly satisfied with its handling abilities considering it's an MPV. 

 

Despite 4 wheel discs, braking performance did not live up to my expectations.  Actually, it was surprisingly disappointing.  Upon heavy braking the pedal response was muted.  It felt as though I was experiencing brake fade instantly and the CST slowed down at a lesser rate than I had expected.  Perhaps Brake Assist which helps boost brake pressure in heavy braking situations intervened and affected pedal feedback however I still felt stopping distance was inadequate.  I did notice how little brake dust accumulated on the AMG wheels.  Over the past several years Mercedes and other German marques have received many complaints regarding brake dust build-up making Mercedes owners having to wash their wheels (cars) more frequently.  Mercedes has always taken the stance that reducing brake dust will require the use of harder compound pads thus reducing the braking performance.  The lack of brake dust on my test vehicle over the course of one week leads me to believe a compromise may have been made due to rising complaints.  You can draw your own conclusions.

 

Another standard feature is the speed-sensitive steering system which gives light two-finger steering during low speed maneuvers and firm responsive steering feedback during higher speeds.  The steering was intuitive and natural feeling in both low and high speed driving.  Since this steering system is electromechanical it does away with a hydraulic power steering pump in favor of a small electrical motor.  As a result, the engine drag created by the power steering pump is gone and power output and fuel efficiency is increased.  Another benefit of this steering system relates to the electronic aspects and how peripheral safety systems can be integrated.  The latest version of the Electronic Stability Program (ESP) allows direct intervention of the steering system through what Mercedes calls "Steer Control".  During critical steering situations which result in traction loss and erratic body movement Steer Control intervenes by automatically making steering corrections to help stabilize the vehicle.  Other electronic safety aids also include: anti-lock braking system (ABS), Brake Assist and tire pressure loss warning which are all standard safety features.

 

In addition to these electronics aids, don't forget the passive restraint systems:

 

 

Front seats

Rear seats

Inertial-reel belts

o

o

Belt tensioners

o

o
On the outer seats

Belt force limiters

o
Adaptive

--

Belt status information

o
Acoustic warning

o
Cockpit display

Automatic front passenger recognition

o
In front passenger seat

--

Automatic child seat recognition*

Optional, front passenger side

--

Head restraints, adjustable for angle and height

o
Active head restraints

o
Retractable

Front airbags, two-stage

o

--

Head/thorax bags

o

--

Windowbags

Optional

Rear sidebags

--

Optional

Integral booster seats **

--

Optional

ISOFIX attachments

--

o

 

o = Standard; *For special child seats with a transponder; **Recommended for children aged between two and twelve years with a body weight from 12.5 to 36 kilograms

 

 

The most important safety feature is the body structure and construction.  Mercedes incorporates what they call a "Sandwich concept" which puts the engine/transmission position at an incline slightly below the passenger cell.  In case of a severe frontal collision the engine slides downwards underneath the passenger cell instead of into the passenger cell.  Mercedes is also using a high-strength adhesive bonding process for some body-shell structures to increase strength and stability in addition to a higher percentage of high-strength steel usage.

 

If Mercedes is targeting a new value-conscious market then I would like to see more standard options such as rear passenger side airbags and power rear windows.  In Europe where taxis are commonly premium level cars, the CST would be ideal with its versatility, comfort and style.  Considering the CST is a premium level car it is not the best value.  However, there is still something intangibly attractive about this car.  Maybe it's prestige or the strength of the design.  For some people, its brand recognition and their perceptions of what is supposedly the best.  Nevertheless, if you're the type who has hot buttons for safety, design, sensuality and emotion then the B-Class is your car.  Some things are worth the premium.

Base Price:

 

34.850, -EURO for B 170 Finland (B 150 not available)

£16,995 for B 150 UK

21.808, -EURO for B 150 Germany

 

Price as tested: 41.730, -EURO (Finland)

 

 

Ratings:

 

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Materials:         

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Equipment:       

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Handling:          

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Value:              

 

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For 118 photos and precise operational details please click here:  Mercedes-Benz B-Class In Depth

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