The Mercedes-Benz B-class has all the qualities of a Merc, but in a compact package

When you first look at the new B-class, it is a bit difficult to say if it’s a hatch or an MPV. Mercedes doesn’t make it easy either, by describing it a Compact Sports Tourer. But what the B-class is, is a seriously spacious hatchback with all the quality and appeal of a full-size Mercedes-Benz. It is, for all practical purposes, in a class of its own, but the trouble is, for its size, it won’t be cheap. Merc plans to launch it in the latter half of August, and it will be slotted below the C-class and, above the A-class with which it shares its basic architecture, so expect it to be priced between Rs. 24 lakh andRs. 26 lakh.

The B-class here is very different from the car that will be launched in India. This car is left-hand drive, has a six-speed manual gearbox and comes with a sporty body kit that adds those gorgeous but impractical 18-inch rims and run-flat tyres. The car here is part of Merc’s pre-launch promotion of the B-class and while our drive was short, it allowed a reasonably good insight into what to expect from the Indian-spec car.

The first thing that grabs you is the design — there are a number of styling flourishes intended to create visual width — the large grille, well-defined nose, low bonnet and high roofline do give it some identity, but it’s the upswept flank crease that really catches your eye.

The B-class is larger than it looks in pictures. As you can see, it is considerably taller than a C-class and the wheelbase is noticeably long. This is the first transverse-engined, front-wheel-drive Merc on sale in India. Look under the bonnet and you’ll see the engine sits ahead of the front axle line, thereby liberating vital space for the cabin.

The driving position is upright and something of a middle ground between hatchback and MPV norms. But it’s easy enough to get comfortable and, though this car didn’t have them, we’re pretty sure Merc will offer powered seats on Indian versions.

Space inside the car is generous — there’s ample room for heads and knees wherever you’re sitting, and rear legroom is particularly good. However, the seat base is a bit too short and thigh support is not great. The boot is usefully big though.

Other highlights lie with the sheer quality of the interiors. The nice, sporty three-spoke wheel, the triple AC vents in the centre and the sheer quality of leather and plastics tell you that you’re in no ordinary hatchback. It’s a practical cabin too, with a large glovebox and plenty of storage spaces scattered around.

Merc is tight-lipped about the engines that will power the India-spec B-class, but we do know it will debut with a petrol engine, a diesel following later. We suspect the B-class will initially be offered with the motor under the hood of this B 200 — a 1.6-litre, four-cylinder, direct-injection turbo-petrol making 156bhp and 25.5kgm of torque. It’s a smooth motor that makes more shove the more it revs. In fact, below 3000rpm there is some lag, but once past this mark, the push gets satisfyingly strong and builds shove all the way up to its redline. It is unlikely that India-spec cars will get this six-speed manual; we expect the seven-speed, twin-clutch auto to be the default choice.

As for the ride, we did find it a bit thumpy and on the stiff side, but we put it down to the run-flats and their low profile. Indian cars will surely get higher-profile, non-run-flat tyres. The B-class displayed good body control, a reasonably direct steering and grip levels were good too.

It has all the qualities of a Merc, but in a nice compact package. There is no doubt Indians would love what is on offer. But the question is, are we ready to shell out a premium for a luxury mini-MPV?