Price right for nimble Mercedes

PUBLISHED : Friday, 16 April, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 16 April, 2010, 12:00am


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Mercedes-Benz has given a facelift to its B-Class models. Not only that, it has also added the B180 to the model line-up in Hong Kong. It previously consisted of the larger-engined B200 and the turbocharged B200 T.

Neither an SUV or an MPV, the B180 is described by Mercedes-Benz as a compact sports tourer, with vastly more interior and cargo space than the supermini A-Class.

At an introductory price of HK$255,000, $20,000 less than the normal retail price, it's an attractive entry-level Benz, especially as it comes with 17-inch alloy wheels, metallic paint, speed-sensitive power steering, electrically adjustable front seats, cruise control, ESP stability system, tyre pressure warning and Isofix child seat mounting points.

The facelift consists of mostly cosmetic alterations to an already handsome car, easily recognisable as a bigger, beefier companion to the A-Class models. Inside, the cabin is roomy, airy and modern, with the quality of materials and the fit and finish at a level expected from Mercedes-Benz, but the leather is man-made reflecting the budget price.

With both the driving seat and steering wheel having a good range of travel, it's easy to find the perfect driving position, and the front seats are comfortable with excellent lateral support. The driving position is high due to the innovative sandwich floor construction, first seen on the A-Class, in which the engine is mounted low and tilted so that, in a crash, the engine slides under the passenger compartment rather than into it.

Rear passengers will find plenty of headroom and legroom. Cargo space is huge at 544 litres and, with the split rear seats folded flat, it can be expanded to more than 2,000 litres.

Neither manual nor automatic gearboxes are options on the B180, so it's worth examining the continuously variable transmission (CVT) it uses as it does make the driving experience somewhat different. CVT has been around since the 1950s and has been used by DAF, Volvo, Ford, Nissan and others. Instead of a conventional gearbox with a fixed number of gears, CVT uses two pulleys connected by a steel belt. One of the pulleys has a fixed circumference while the other has a variable one, increasing or decreasing the gear ratios as the circumference changes. The result is seamless, stepless acceleration that's a little disconcerting at first and takes some time to get used to. Manual control of what are virtual gear changes is possible via the gearshift lever or buttons on the steering wheel. One of the advantages of CVT is improved fuel consumption and the B180 achieves a combined 7.1 litres/100 km, or just over 40 mpg.

At about 1.4 tonnes, the B180 is not a lightweight and, with the 1.7-litre four cylinder engine producing just 116 bhp, a sparkling performance is not on the agenda. Getting from 0 to 100km/h takes 12 seconds and the top speed is in the region of 180km/h. The B180 feels quite nimble for its size and roadholding is enhanced by the stability control system and Steer Control steering assistance which helps the driver countersteer in the event of a loss of traction. With low road and wind noise, levels of refinement are high and it feels like a solid car.

The ride is particularly good, firm but well damped, with bumps and ripples well isolated from passengers.

The B180's performance is lacking compared with the B200 model, particularly the B200 T, also available at a discounted promotional price. But the price difference of HK$83,000 between the two models is significant.