By Andy Enright
Mercedes-Benz launches a lot of cars. Just take a look at the number of different product lines it has on its books. Most of them are unreserved success stories, but once in a while a problem child emerges. Step forward the B-Class. In no way a bad car, the B-Class never really recovered from its tough start in life. It's one of those vehicles that, as a consequence, makes a much better used buy than new purchase. Here's what to look for.
5dr hatchback (1.5, 1.7, 2.0 petrol, 2.0 diesel [B150, B160, B170, B200, B180 CDI, B200 CDI])
When it comes to automotive innovation, no company gets remotely close to Mercedes-Benz. Despite its conservative image, Mercedes is a company of great engineering boldness. It never went out on a limb quite as far as it did with the A-Class, a car packed with clever ideas that unfortunately fell over. The response to this problem was, if anything, even more impressive, Mercedes issuing a mea culpa and engineering a solution in record time. By then, however, the damage was done. The A-Class was a damaged good and the B-Class which stemmed from the much improved second generation A-Class faced an uphill task in convincing customers of its worth. Bigger and more expensive than the A-Class, it debuted in 2005 and seemed to be a cross between a conventional hatch and a mini-MPV but as the latter market migrated to seven-seat cars, the five seat B-Class again looked slightly out of step with public opinion. As a result of this and pricing which looked optimistic, sales were slow. The range was facelifted in 2008, with a restyled bonnet, front bumper, rear tail lamps, side exterior mirrors and interior trim finishes, and replaced in 2012 with an all-new B-Class Tourer.
What You Get
The Mercedes wins some credibility with its clever seating system, but with one outrageous caveat. Having forked out a serious amount of money for a B-Class, Mercedes had the chutzpah to demand another £205 for the EasyVario seating system, which allows the rear and front passenger seats to be removed. Make sure any used example you look for includes this useful feature. The boot has a clever double floor which can create a flat loading surface to the folded rear seats. With a 506 litres of boot space available, the B-Class isn't one of those vehicles that forces you to choose luggage or legroom. Maximum luggage capacity to roof level with the seats folded is a massive 2205 litres. Do bear in mind that if you specify front sports seats, you must forgo the folding front passenger seat back as the beefier side bolsters preclude it sitting flat. Doing without the space-saver spare wheel and opting for a puncture repair kit instead frees up another 40 litres of luggage space although I'd think twice about this, having been stranded a couple of times with punctures too serious for repair kits to handle.
What You Pay
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What to Look For
Insist on a full Mercedes dealer service history, especially for the most recent models whose lengthy warranty - effectively for the life of the car - is dependent on proper servicing by an authorised agent.
Check that all the accessories work and watch out for cosmetic damage which can be expensive to correct. These are popular family cars, so check for wear and tear in the rear. Also look for the usual signs of wheel kerbing and poorly repaired accident damage.
(approx. based on B150 model) Allow around £60 for a set of front brake pads and £40 for the rear and about £175 (excluding catalyst) for a factory exhaust system. A full clutch replacement would cost around £195, a radiator is about £145 while a starter motor can be up to £250. A new alternator would be in the region of £500.
On the Road
The B-Class range opens with the 94bhp B150, offered like all models in SE or Sport trim for much the same price. The 114bhp B170 is usefully quicker, getting to 60mph in 11s compared to the B150's 12.9s, but a price premium of around £1300 makes it begin to look dear. The two diesel engines would, on paper, be the pick of the range but upfront prices are so high that again it's hard to recommend them. The B180 CDI gets 50.4mpg and emits 146g/km while still being capable of an 11s 0-60 sprint, while the B200 CDI adds another 30bhp with no penalty in combined fuel economy or emissions. This gets to 60mph in 9.3s and will only run out of mumbo at 134mph. At well over £23,000, it was hardly a vehicle you'd buy on the strength of the money saved on fuel. Something like a racy 197bhp Audi A3 2.0TFSI Sportback offered space for five, more fun behind the wheel and was cheaper to run in the long term.
The Mercedes B-Class is a car that failed to gain traction with the car-buying public. It wasn't as much fun as a family hatch or as practical as a seven-seat mini MPV. That doesn't really change as a used buy but the market has swung to the B-Class in a couple of ways. Firstly, customers are now better accustomed to five-seat cars with extended practicality and secondly, now that the initial slug of depreciation has taken the edge off B-Class pricing it starts to look reasonable value. Go for a modest mileage diesel model and you'll have a practical car that might not be a great entertainer but which has a lot of ingenuity in its design and a long life ahead of it still.