While taking part in a recent Mercedes-Benz Canada Mastering Performance school at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park recently, I had an interesting experience with of all things, a B-Class. The event, hosted by Mercedes-Benz Durham, saw students rotate through three groups of vehicles through the afternoon. Each group had a selection of three different models, with the leading instructor in a fourth. One grouping, which may seem unlikely to the non-enthusiast public, included a B-Class along with an ML and a GL, both of which were powered by MB’s super torque-y diesel engines.
As we rotated through the three vehicles, my two driving “partners” were comparing notes and both complained that the B-Class did not belong on a race track, as it couldn’t get out of its own way. Alrighty then. Bearing in mind that both of these gents were dealership customers, taking part in their first performance driving school, I took their comments with a grain of salt as I slid behind the wheel of the family hauler.
As the lead student in this session, I used the semi standard signal of pushing the instructor to make her aware that I wanted to go faster. As the speeds picked up, I found that the B-Class was actually surprisingly adept at handling the legendary Mosport Grand Prix circuit’s elevation changes and high speed curves. It is very much a momentum machine, as one really needs to limit their use of the brakes and keep the engine spinning to exit lower speed corners with any sort of oomph.
Within about a lap and a half, it occurred to me (and my instructor) that we had lost the other two guys, who were no doubt pedaling as fast as they could in the big SUVs, which they thought were faster than the little non-minivan.
I decided then that it was time to finally take a vehicle from the Mercedes-Nenz Canada press fleet. With all of the more exciting vehicles on the fleet, my first had to be a B-Class.
As nice a surprise as it is to find a family hauler performs admirably on the track, that isn’t really its reason for existing. So, how does it haul people and stuff? The short answer is, quite well.
To begin with, maybe I should talk about what the B-Class is and what it isn’t. Mercedes-Benz calls it a Sport Tourer, rather than a mini-minivan or a crossover. It certainly doesn’t look like a station wagon. Indeed, the only vehicle on the market that seems to have a similar position is the Mazda5, but even then, the Mazda’s sliding doors make it more van-like.
Even leaving pit lane, one tends to stand on the throttle more aggressively than one does when navigating city streets, so I was surprised to find that at low speeds, the B-Class feels quite heavy, almost as something is holding it back. Once one tips into the throttle however, the B-Class wakes up and pulls like a freight train up to highway speeds. The 2.0L turbocharged four creates 208 horsepower at 5,500 rpm, but a fat torque curve provides 258 lb-ft from 1,200 up to 4,000 which comes together nicely to actually make passing maneuvers on two lane country roads fun.
As one might expect from a Mercedes-Benz, even an entry level one, the interior fit and finish are outstanding, with passengers feeling quietly isolated from the noise of the outside world. While tasteful, the interior exhibits the somewhat stereotypical German austerity. There is none of the excessive use of chrome and other glitz that can be found in North American luxury vehicles. What highlights there are, some faux carbon fibre and brushed aluminum dash vents, are actually pretty sexy looking. I couldn’t help but think that said vents reminded me of an American WWII era fighter plane. Ironic, but true.
I’m a fan of the current industry trend towards offering large glass panels which open to expose a large portion of the sky and the B-Class doesn’t disappoint. With the sunroof open, front seat passengers can still easily have a conversation at highway speeds, something which seems to be lost on many other aero engineers these days.
Out back, the cargo area is more than capable of fulfilling the needs of a family of five, with easily enough space to carry the flotsam required for a weekend away. Even with our teenage boys’ ever present and constantly rotating cast of buddies in the house, eating our food, the B performed admirably during our grocery store invasion. Fold the seats down and the B-Class could haul enough supplies to feed our high school rugby team for a few weeks.
The issue of pricing can be a sensitive one for many families when they are shopping for a new vehicle, even those who aspire to impress the neighbours. Mercedes-Benz rightly has the reputation for being a premium brand and that can lead some to equate the brand with premium pricing. While it is true that the house of the Silver Star builds some very expensive vehicles, the B-Class starts at a surprisingly affordable $30,500 in Canada. Our tester was equipped with the $2,400 Premium Package which includes heated front seats, automatic climate control and sunroof.
During our week with the B-Class, I was surprised at the number of people I observed fawning over it. This was none of the “Hey man, Nice car!” that you get while driving a sports car. No, this was people who were looking thoughtfully, rubbing their chin as if to say “This is a nice car, I wonder if I could afford this”, to themselves. Not everyone aspires to own a premium European automobile, but for those who do, the 2014 Mercedes-Benz B-Class is a comfortingly affordable option that is a great fit for a busy family. Heck, you might even want to take part in the occasional lapping day.