The year 1997 played witness to not one, not two, but many events that shook the world. It was the year Microsoft became the most valuable company in the world, Mike Tyson bit a chunk of Evander Holyfield’s ear off in what was supposed to be a boxing match, Princess Diana and Mother Teresa died, Madeleine Albright became the first female Secretary of State in the US, and Mercedes-Benz decided to enter the small car market with the A-Class.
At that point of time, the A-Class (W168) caught many by surprise as it was unusual for the folks at Stuttgart to come up with a small, front-wheel-driven car in the midst of their portfolio that was filled with much bigger, luxurious machines.
After having a decent run for seven years, the A-Class, which was known for its frontal-impact absorption system called the "sandwich" floor construction where the engine and transmission would slide under the floor below the pedals in the event of a head-on collision, evolved into a more premium looking second-generation model.
While the evolution continued, the 'Baby Benz' didn’t really grow much. Plus, there was a demand for something bigger and more practical than the A-Class, but smaller than the C-Class. So, in order to fill in this gap, Mercedes-Benz introduced a model that would go on to reach a million deliveries by 2013 - the B-Class.
Mercedes-Benz calls it a ‘Compact Sports Tourer’, but the European New Car Assessment Programme (Euro NCAP) has classified it as a small MPV. We are just going to refer to it as a ‘family hatch’ since it is ultimately a five-seater hatchback that is ideal for a family.
Engine: 1.6-litre turbocharged, petrol
Transmission: 7G-DCT dual clutch automatic
Max power: 156 PS @ 5,300 rpm
Max torque: 250 Nm @ 4,000 rpm
Fuel Consumption (observed): 16.2 km/L
Origin: Fully imported
The facelifted second-gen B-Class we’re looking at now which made its Malaysian debut in April 2015, is offered only in one trim level here in the form of the B200 with Urban equipment package.
Sharing the same platform as the A-Class, the B200 is powered by a 1.6-litre turbo engine which delivers 156 PS and 250 Nm of maximum torque to the front wheels via the 7G-DCT dual clutch automatic gearbox which is also being carried over from before, enabling the car to complete the century dash in 8.4 seconds and clock a top speed of 200km/h.
Priced at RM218,888 OTR without insurance, the B200’s closest rival is the BMW 2-Series Active Tourer, which is priced from RM218,800.
Measuring at 4,359 mm long, 1,786 mm wide and 1558 mm tall, the B Class is now longer and wider than before, having grown by 89 mm in length and 8 mm in width. The height however, has decreased by 55 mm. The wheelbase length has also decreased from 2,779 mm to 2,699 mm by 80 mm.
Against the BMW 2 Series Active Tourer:
This is of course, on top of the standard LED headlights, Runflat tyres, automatic wipers, and the electrically folding side mirrors.As mentioned earlier, the B200 we get here is offered with the ‘Urban’ equipment package, which comprises a two-louvre front grille, two-pipe exhaust system that is integrated into the rear bumper, generous dose of chrome, as well as 18-inch 5-twin spoke alloy wheels.
Design wise, the B Class is much more pleasant to our eyes now thanks to the big grille, the twin mufflers, the 18-inch wheels and also the lowered height. From something that appealed only to our moms, the car has progressed to something that even our dads won’t mind being seen in.
Usually, if we put a BMW and a Mercedes-Benz next to one another, the former will most likely be the sportier looking one but in this case, it is the other way around.
Upon getting inside the B200, we were greeted by a cabin similar to the A-Class’, but with way more space – enough for five lanky adults.
Build quality was of course top notch, with a generous dose of plush black leather upholstery and soft touch material.
Carrying the sportiness of the exterior over into the cabin were the blacked out interior colour theme, as well as the chrome ‘eye-ball’ air cond vents that can be found in the A-Class and the SLS AMG sports car.
We found the seats to be firmer and more supportive than the ones in the BMW 2 Series Active Tourer, but it felt a bit too upright for our liking.
On the plus side, there is the new 8-inch screen displaying all the infotainment details, rear air cond vents, the super convenient foldable tables mounted behind the front seats, 60:40 split folding second row seats which could also be slid front and back, and a decent 486-litres of boot space which went up to 1,545-litres with the seats folded.
Although the BMW 2-Series Active Tourer also comes with foldable and movable second row seats and rear air-cond vents, there are no tables for the rear occupants to utilize. Plus, the candidate from Munich comes with a smaller boot (468 litres/ 1,510 litres).
Moving on to safety, the list of features in the B200 is quite comprehensive, comprising seven airbags, adaptive braking, Attention Assist, a reverse camera, Acceleration Skid Control, ABS, EBD, BA, and Collision Prevention Assist among others.
However, there are still areas in which the Beemer is better than the Merc – such as visibility. If we put the both of them side by side, you will notice that the former has significantly larger windows, which translates to superb view of the car’s surroundings which in our opinion, is vital for a vehicle that prioritises practicality.
Besides that, the brighter colour tone of the 2-Series Active Tourer's interior makes it feel roomier and gives occupants a warmer ambience compared to the B200's blacked out theme which can make the cabin feel tighter than it is.
The 156 PS and 250 Nm provided by the 1.6-litre direct injection turbocharged engine might not sound like a big deal on paper but the B200 is anything but slow, and being able to accelerate from standstill to 100km/h in 8.4 seconds is definitely a feat that deserves credit.
Despite being a tall car, the B200 was more composed and agile than we expected. It also tolerates corners in a very respectable manner with minimal body roll. This was achievable thanks to the car's centre of gravity that is lower than before.
However, as fun as it is around corners, the firm suspension and the low profile 18-inch tyres compromised comfort to a certain extent when we were driving around town. The steering on the other hand feels like it could use more weight, but the B200 is no hot hatch and the light steering comes in handy while manoeuvring the car through tight spots like shopping mall car parks.
Power delivery is smooth too, thanks to the seven-speed dual clutch transmission. It’s not the quickest-shifting dual-clutch system around, but the gearchanges are smooth. Road and engine noise are well insulated too.
Overall, the B200 is a car that has all the bases pretty much covered. There is ample space, loads of features, excellent build quality, and a proven track record of having sold more than a million units worldwide. Plus, it drives well too.
Designed to feel more like a big Merc, the B200 is a proposition that is much better than the rather undesirable model it replaces. Offering more practicality than the 2-Series Active Tourer with features like the bigger boot and the tables for the rear passengers, there is no surprise that there are more B200s running around town.