Functional but not the finished article

 
Ryan Borroff
FUNNY HOW the MPV, once the auto industry’s latest, cleverest idea, now seems a little old-fashioned. The compact SUV has pretty much superseded small MPVs because they have similar flexibility – for transporting mountain bikes, flat-pack furniture, dogs, as well as people – in a trendier 4x4 package.

But it seems there’s still a place for these compact MPVs. It’s a practical option for small families who live in car-clogged cities and only occasionally need to ferry a bit of furniture or garden waste to the tip; people who need a bit more extra space than a regular compact family car.

It’s an easier option than an SUV, particularly if you need to get into a small space on your street. If you’re in the market for such a car, then the latest Mercedes-Benz B-Class is certainly worth a look.

For a start it cuts quite a dash. Longer, lower, wider and better-looking than the last version, with an aerodynamic and more fuel-efficient teardrop shape, it looks sportier and more elegant. Add to that the bulging roof, classy side creases and blacked-out windows, and you have a striking car. In Sport trim – as my test car was – the five-spoke, 18-inch wheels all add up to a surprisingly handsome MPV.

I drove the B200 Blue Efficiency Sport, powered by a 154hp 1.6-litre petrol engine mated to a six-speed manual gearbox. It won’t rock your world in terms of driving thrills, but the engine is responsive and it’s pleasant to drive; fast enough, if not exactly a speed demon. On the plus side, this is a car from which you’ll get reasonable mileage.

With a high roof, the interior is far more spacious than you’d expect. I filled it to the gills with a weekend’s worth of family detritus – from buggies and travel cots to my wife’s excess baggage – and was still comfortably able to see out of the windows. It’s a decent car for a week-long family holiday, or for a thorough one-stop Christmas shop.

The cabin is user-friendly, with simple dials and switches and an iPad-style media screen that projects like a periscope from the dashboard. The aluminium, chrome and leather that wrap the inside give it a luxurious feel. It’s comfortable in the driver’s seat, and my two backseat drivers assured me that it’s pretty homely in the rear too. It’s also packed with Mercedes-Benz comfort and safety technology, and you can add even more gizmos if you’re willing to dig into the options list.

All in all, it’s ideal if you want a big family car but a Ford C-Max or VW Golf Plus just won’t cut it. That said, you might want to check the competition if you’re in the market for an MPV as this car isn’t quite as refined as you’d expect. And it can be surprisingly noisy in the cabin – not exactly what you’d expect from a Mercedez-Benz.

THE FACTS: MERCEDES-BENZ B-CLASS
PRICE: £23,960
0-62MPH: 8.6 secs
TOP SPEED: 137mph
CO2 G/KM: 144g/km
MPG COMBINED: 46.3mpg

THE VERDICT:
DESIGN ****
PERFORMANCE ***
PRACTICALITY ****
VALUE FOR MONEY ***