2009 Mercedes-Benz B Class: A way of life

Published on February 10, 2009 in Test Drives by Antoine Joubert

In North America, “bigger is better” is a way of living. People buy the biggest house they can get, plus the biggest boat, the biggest truck and the biggest dog without thinking twice about it. Big companies, for their part, have understood this mentality, which explains why we see so many Costcos, Wal-Marts, Home Depots, and the like. Even the fast food industry is on the bandwagon, giving customers the chance to supersize their soft drinks for a few cents extra. In fact, the only ones left encouraging the public to consume moderately are the liquor control commissions.

In contrast with this trend on our continent, people in Europe pay dearly for any form of excess. And the same goes for luxury. That’s why so many residents of the Old World live in small apartments and drive small cars. Ironically, vintners on that side of the pond have yet to suggest limits on local wine consumption. Not surprising then that Europe produces a wide range of compact cars, though they’re not intended for sale in North America. One of the reasons behind these smaller vehicles is that Europeans realize there’s no need to barricade yourself behind an immense boat of a car. A compact can offer the same level of comfort, luxury, quality, safety and performance as the large sedans we drive over here. And best of all, these lean machines are a whole lot better on gas thanks to their smaller engines.

Just 10 years ago, I would never have believed that a small car, such as the Mini, could also be a luxury vehicle. In fact, every time manufacturers tried to sell luxury hatchbacks, they failed. Remember, for instance, the BMW 318ti. And yet, we’ve recently witnessed the arrival of petite models such as the Audi A3, Volvo C30 and, our subject for today, the Mercedes B-Class. Obviously, these cars are not direct competition for each other, but they all vaunt luxury and quality in a pocket-size bundle. And while the Americans have yet to develop a taste for these cars, Canadians are eating them up.


Mercedes has come out with an earnest campaign to convince us that the B-Class has been remodelled for 2009. Some even go so far as to say it has been “revitalized.” Let’s set the record straight: the only new things you’ll see on the 2009 B-Class are a new front grille (very similar to the old one) and new bumpers (also very similar to the old ones). Oh yeah, there’s also new alloy rims, but they’re not all that special. So, can we really say “revitalized?” Definitely not. Basically, Mercedes is making much ado about nothing in attempt to breathe new life into this wee vehicle’s career. But in this era of energy efficiency, compact cars are more popular than ever – meaning Mercedes’ timing couldn’t be better.

Remodelled or not, the B-Class is a terrific car that is unparalleled – at least on Canadian soil. It falls into a select category called Tourers by the Europeans, which are basically tall station wagons. Are you looking for a comparable vehicle? Frankly, none exist. Though in terms of size there’s the Dodge Caliber, Toyota Matrix and Chrysler PT Cruiser.

Is it really a Mercedes?

The B-Class is proof that there’s really is no such thing as a low-end Mercedes. It’s true that the B200 has nothing on the SL, but the quality of its interior features is just as good, which justifies the price of this compact in my opinion. The superior quality of the materials combined with the careful assembly puts this vehicle light years ahead of the Dodge Caliber.

In front and in back, the B-Class offers outstanding comfort. And even though the seats are rather firm, you can’t help but love the way they hug your body. The driver enjoys a superb high-set driving position thanks to the numerous seat adjustments, the tilt telescopic steering and the adjustable central arm rest. One drawback is the rear-view mirror – its size and position can seriously cut into the driver’s field of vision on the right.

The changes made to the interior are most notably on the dashboard, which includes new graphics for the sound system, but even there the changes are not major. The layout is essentially the same, meaning it’s just as nice as before. Using the controls, however, is not totally intuitive, so unless you’ve owned a Mercedes before, you’ll have to get used to how the radio and onboard computer work.

With or without turbo…

Switching to premium gasoline is a must for this vehicle. And regardless of which version you choose, your fuel consumption should stay the same: some 8.5 to 9 litres per 100 km. But one thing is certain, the fun factor goes up significantly by opting for the turbocharged 193-hp engine. In fact, you could even say it’s a pleasure to drive. The engine offers great flexibility and all the power you need to generate some sweet sensations. In contrast, the 2.0-litre atmospheric engine lacks some serious punch. Its 134 horses have barely enough juice to lug the weight of the car (1,355 kg), and they’re not exactly discreet at full speed.

Without the turbocharger, Mercedes offers a 5-speed manual transmission, which performs decently. This can, however, be replaced with a continuously variable automatic transmission, which is just as good. This option is also available on the B200 Turbo, which otherwise comes with a standard 6-speed manual transmission.

Naturally, Mercedes charges a pretty penny for the advantage its Turbo engine offers. Specifically, it will cost you $4,500 for one more gear and 59 extra horses. The B200 Turbo also comes standard with 17-inch tires, which cost $500 more if you buy the regular version.


The B200 is better built and offers better soundproofing than any other vehicle of its kind. There is minimal wind noise, the integrity of the body is top-of-the-line and the suspension is nothing short of superb. And the steering, which is just firm enough and very precise, adds to that unique and reassuring feeling you get behind the wheel. Its one shortcoming is the lack-lustre engine, which makes both passing and getting onto the highway a little tough at times. For that, the Turbo is much better.

Last but not least, there’s the price to consider. Some may jump when they see it, and with good reason. The no-frills version of the B200 starts at $29,900. Add a sunroof, 17-inch wheels, heated seats and a few other trinkets, and the price quickly climbs to $35,000. And that still doesn’t include the $1,995 for transport and preparation. And this is still without the turbocharged engine. So, yes, the price can shoot up quickly. Almost double the price of a Toyota Matrix with a decent equipment level…

It may be some consolation to know that the resale value is high, that so far this car has proven to be extremely reliable, and that the money you save at the pump is still pretty significant. The question is whether you’d rather have a big intermediate sedan with a V6 engine and leather seats for the same price.

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