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B Class: Merc's low-cost avatar

Think luxury, and chances are a three-pointed star dawns on your mind. At least, that was how it was till a decade back. But Mercedes has slowly ceded ground to country-cousins BMW and Audi over the years, in India and across the world. Sumant Banerji reports.

autos Updated: Jul 20, 2012 01:01 IST
Sumant Banerji

Think luxury, and chances are a three-pointed star dawns on your mind. At least, that was how it was till a decade back.

But Mercedes has slowly ceded ground to country-cousins BMW and Audi over the years, in India and across the world. It does want to get its halo back, though, and spearheading that mission would be its compact cars, the A and B class.

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Following the top-down route, as it is called in automotive parlance, the B comes to India before the A, just as the C came before the B.

It will be launched before festivities begin this September, but Merc gave us a sneak preview — three painstaking laps at the Formula-1 circuit. This is what we found.

Is it really small?
No. It is 4.4 metres long, comparable to a Honda City. It is also wider and taller than the Honda car, so clearly it is nowhere close to small. Still, it is a hatch, and that makes it look more compact that it actually is. And it does look very car-like, replete with sweeping headlights accentuated with LED strips and a rakish bonnet.

How many can it seat?
Only four, I am afraid, but very comfortably, and with all the luggage one wishes to pack in. It offers a kind of one stop solution that few cars can.

Since it is a largish hatch, the lack of the third box does not matter, so there is space for the fifth suitcase. And it is not a sedan, so a 6-foot-plus person in the rear seat won't have to 'adjust' his head.

Neither is it a small car so there is plenty of leg space at the back. Perfect, then? No. It does have its acne marks. The instrument panel, though loaded is not striking, never mind Merc's insistence on a cockpit design. The colour combination is also bland and there are no rear AC vents or arm rest at the back.

Does it drive like a sportscar?
It does not, and that could be its biggest problem. Initially, it will come only with a petrol engine in India, possibly with the 1.6-litre B180 four-cylinder pot that we drove.

Diesel variants exist, but they will come to India only next year. The 7-speed automatic transmission and the 6-speed manual gearbox bring a smooth refined drive, which is also gentle on the pocket, thanks to the start-stop feature: the engine shuts off while idling.

It also handles well, as most Mercs do. The big dampener is the under-powered feeling: it starts running out of steam at 140 kmph, reminding you that it is only a 1.6-litre engine on duty. The absence of a four-wheel drive also limits the capabilities of a touring machine that is expected to conquer all terrains.

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