by Liz Turner
My mission was drive a brand-new Mercedes B-class into the rear of another car at 25mph. OK, so that one was actually a giant Mercedes-shaped balloon, but it had a trailer under it – and a real car towing it. Plus, I was being watched by bemused crews aboard multi-million pound yachts moored all along this harbour service road.
We’d come to the beautiful, much-underrated, island of Majorca, staying at the fabulous St Regis Mardavall Mallorca Resort, to drive the latest B-class hatchback. And I was about to test the Collision Prevention Assist Plus with autonomous braking, now standard across the range.
I looked down at the leather-stitched dashboard adorned with high-quality metal bling, a steering wheel with as many command buttons as Lewis Hamilton’s and a heads-up display the size of an iPad, and thought what a shame it would be if I trashed all of this.
Jolly Merc engineer Frank chose this point to say, just don’t brake and take your foot off again, the car will think you don’t want to stop. Either brake, and the car will help you brake harder, or do nothing at all and it will do everything for you.
So we set off, me chanting my new meditation mantra “don’t brake, don’t brake, just don’t brake. As the convincing other ’car’ got terrifyingly close, my seatbelt tightened into a close hug, pinning me to the seat, there was a shudder and we stopped.
I had to do the same thing again, but faster, heading for a ‘wall’ of cushions. Then it was time for the simulator – actually a real car, but with wraparound screens so I could ‘drive’ through a weird town full of wavering avatars. I was nervous I might drive into a hoodlum who’d got lost in Grand Theft Auto.
Instead, an avatar wandered into the road, causing the digital car ahead to slam on its brakes. Again, the B-Class stopped short with no imput from me.
We also got to try out some other features including blindspot warning and my favourite: automatic lights for night driving. My reactions are never rapid enough to beat my husband nagging me to dip the high beams.
Clever little gizmos…
The B-Class is full of thoughtful little gadgets to make life easier. It’s a car for busy people, young families, or active couples who need five seats, lots of room in the back and the flexibility of folding seats. However, the svelte styling and sharply ironed creases down the sides give it to look of a large hatchback rather than the upright buses usually doing this job.
We drove around the coast road, views of sapphire coloured sea and green terraces opening up as we turned each corner. It was a lovely place to be, but not the natural home of a B-Class. On such narrow, twisting lanes infested with bicycles, it felt big, its automatic box taking a breath before we hauled up the next steep incline, and the ride was a bit bumpy. I felt confident it would make it round the tight corners, though, helped by its 4MATIC all-wheel drive and many electronic stability systems.
Where it excelled was the faster roads and motorways, here it purred along smoothly, and I can imagine the high view in the back would keep some sicky children feeling happy. In the city, too, the visibility is excellent and the blindspot warning keeps you aware of weaving motorbikes.
I tried a B220 CDI diesel, B200 petrol and the new Electric Drive model available in the UK from spring. Personally, I prefer the feel of driving a petrol car, but the diesel had lots of power and will probably be the most popular. The electric version was quiet and creamy smooth, and didn’t feel like an ‘alternative’ vehicle. If I could get over the ‘range anxiety’, I’d be happy to choose that one, especially with its funky colour scheme.
All the cars come with the Connectme system, which allows the car to talk to the outside world via your smartphone. A few companies are doing this, but concentrating on fun stuff such as streaming music. The serious Mercedes engineer frowned slightly as I asked about this. No, Connectme is all about safety and maintenance – it will call an ambulance if you’re in an accident, and you can see if your car needs attention. It’s standard in the electric version because it can tell you how much charge you have left in the battery.
Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz?
Prices start at £21,500 for the B180
Mercedes-Benz B200 (petrol) from £22,520
Max speed 136mph
Economy 52.3mpg combined
CO2 emissions 125g/km
Mercedes-Benz B220 CDI 4Matic (diesel) from £28,570
Max speed 136mph
0-62mph 8.3 seconds
Economy 56.5mpg combined
CO2 emissions 130g/km
Mercedes-Benz B-Class available from spring
Max speed 99mph
0-62mph 7.9 seconds
CO2 emissions 0g/km