To turbo or not to turbo? Apparently, this is a pertinent question resonating in the heads of decision makers and auto engineers alike at headquarters of some of the top German luxury car makers in recent times. Recent advancements in turbo technology as well as the push for fuel efficiency (for a given level of performance) by motorists – in these times of spiraling fuel prices – has brought back popularity of this age-old but much updated way of forced induction. Dr. Long S.P. guest writes for this blog today sharing with us his short test drive experience with the Mercedes Benz B200 Turbo.
With the introduction of the award-winning 2.0 TFSI engine from the Audi/VW group and news of recent media launch of the BMW 335i with twin turbo, I have been eagerly awaiting for a similar response from Mercedes-Benz, at least in our local sceneâ€¦
As soon I got a call from my Sales Advisor that a B200 Turbo is available for a test drive, I jumped at the opportunity. I thought to myself, this is a brand-new Mercedes-Benz petrol engine – with turbo! And this may be signaling the beginning of the end of its Kompressor-era, hinting of a new range of forced-fed engines for the all-new C-Class W204 in 2007/08 as well?
The B-Class (as well as the new A-Class) is part of Mercedes-Benz plan to re-energize the marque to be more inviting to a new generation of owners-to-be, which has migrated to its arch rival of late. This is after all a new concept using the famed sandwich platform of the A-Class, in extended wheelbase dimension. Mercedes dubs this a Compact Sports Tourer – combining spaciousness, sportiness, versatility as well as dynamism. Despite mixing various different vehicle concepts into a hatchback form, it is still unmistakably Mercedes, with a somewhat chunky but sporty contour, extending from the wedge shape bonnet sweeping up the roof pillar to the muscular rear. Obligatory of any new generation Benz (e.g. A, SLK, CLS, S-Class), up-sweeping flank lines are distinct bilaterally, further emphasizing the B200T wide stance.
The B-Class execution as a 2-box shape (as opposed to the As single box) somehow lent an assurance that its solidly built and made to last. Having said that, I reckon the B200Ts interior is just as durable, being in black â€˜Sport trim, leather and all. The only item of suspect durability is the multi plastic-panes (tinted polycarbonate?) sunroof that doesnt look too tropical friendly. Seeing how countless â€˜modern plastic headlamps covers have turned â€˜cataract â€“ blurred, opaque, faded, discolored – and even cracked over the last two decades or so in our blazing equatorial sunshine, you would be left wondering too how this fancy louvered-opening sunroof would withstand the test of time, say maybe 4-5 years down the road?
Just imagine when you do not have a covered car park – do you leave it to sunny fate or trust the advancement of German polymer-resin engineering? I am also curious as to how well these thin roof panels would perform sonically under our torrential downpour. The sliding fabric shades meant to cut out glare and heat through the sunroof seemed a wee-bit thin for comfort, even though it is of a thicker grade than the ones found in the smart forfour.
Back to the interior, seats are generously sized, a tad hard but still comfy and cosseting. No complaints about the dashboard layout, ergonomics, switches, Thermotronic A/C controls and other switch-columns. For a car that measures just 4.27metres in length, there are abundant in cabin space just about everywhere. Even its elder sibling, the W203 C-Class is no match here – so does its arch nemesis the new E90 3-series. Dont even think about bringing the pointless Beemer 1-series into contention here!
Flicking the gated gearshift felt tactile and even the gear knob looked modern for MB standard, contrasted to trim-grade labeled (somewhat â€˜uncle-ish) knobs of the W211. Instead, it now looks refreshing, youthful, sporty and yet classy with the premium 3-pointer emblem. The instruments cluster is clear to read (ala the facelifted C-Class) but I found the silver-painted surround too tacky and looking cheap for my liking – disappointingly negating the contrasting, sporty and classy effects of chrome rings for both meters.
I have to admit to not admiring the new B-Class very much since its international launch in Geneva last year but this is one design that grows with repeated impressions. Familiarity definitely did NOT breed contempt in this case! Along with 18â€ AMG five-spoke alloys, the test unit looked absolutely modern and fabulous in Silver Arrows shade. Sporty not only aesthetically but because we are taking about 193bhp @ 5000rpm and a wrench-twisting 280Nm starting at a low 1800rpm!
Now, how do all these turbocharged outputs translate to on-road performance?
In one word: Intoxicating.
Having tested both DCMs base A170 and B170 before, Id have to say this blown 2034cc engine makes even better use of the already superb AUTOTRONIC CVT transmission. Its smooth and seamless gear changes enabled what felt like sub-8 seconds century sprint. (For the record, M-B claim figures of 7.6secs and 225km/h tops). Yes! Take-off was also smooth and uneventful but QUICK! Throttle response was crisp and the B200T was very keen to pull away at a moments notice. Unlike Mercs â€˜older Kompressor tech – where there is a frustrating lag sub 2000rpm â€“ this new turbo unit pulls well right from1000rpm onwards. You would most probably be corrupted by its linear power band from 2500rpm up till 6000rpm, but this doesnt mean that there is an on-off power surge i.e. turbo lag of the older wastegate-blown engines. There is none. I was hitting 3 figures speed in no time and still climbing steadily on the speedo, wishing for more open roads.
Manual swapping of the six cogs available – the 7th activates the electronic governed ratios back to â€˜D mode â€“ is quick, accurate and fuss-free. Same shifts refinements when using the behind steering â€˜paddles â€“ more like rocker switches! While the four-spoke B-Class steering looked decidedly up-market (with metallic highlights at 4 and 8 oclock positions) and is good to hold, I would have traded this for the more sporty 3-spokes steering of the A-Class. Just maybe add a little metallic inserts for the tri-spokes (for differentiation) which are definitely more in tuned with the sporty-intent of the B200 Turbo.
While we are at the steering issue here, I found that it vibrated a little at idling. Not at all uncomfortably shaking but I guess its the FF layout that limits how much the engineers can insulate the driver here from engine vibration. Powering both front wheels also meant that the steering is calibrated a little too light for my liking and also a bigger turning circle, unlike its other â€˜classical RWD brethrens. The rack is also not as communicative as the other bigger Benzes â€“ likely because it is electro-hydraulic â€“ with the actual feedback like a FF Japmobile in fact! I also found the driving position a little too tall for confidence when chucking this sporty hatchback around corners. In all fairness, there werent many sharp or really fast corners taken during my brief drive, so I guess handling would not be an issue with the firm suspension married to ultra low-profile 18 inchers. It just takes a little getting used to the MPV-ish driving height of this B200T.
There is a saying that you cant win them all. For this B200T, its Achilles tendon has to be its rough and hard ride. Well, you cant fault the â€˜Sports suspension for better handling and resisting understeer quite well but it gets quite shaky and jarring especially in the backseats. More so when you morph into a speed demon and this is something thats going to be hard to exercise restraint once you have fired up the â€˜wicked turbo motor. In short, the ride of this Avantgarde Sport top-of-the-line B-Class isnt what you would expect from a three-pointed star that cost closed to RM300k. The rear suspension can be caught jittery over rough surfaces on the road. Not wobbly or jumpy but just quite harsh and uncomfortable.
Braking power is sufficiently reassuring but somehow still lacks the superb pedal modulation found on the C230K and the E200K.
Engine noise is not something youd complain about of the B200T. It roars at high revs, especially upon manual downshifting and mashing the metallic studded gas pedal to the carpet. Yup! It has a nice induction roar â€“ an aural delight on the go â€“ in contrast to the Kompressor whine of the C and E-Class. Exhaust note is however quite muffled, for more comfortable long distance cruising, I guess. NVH refinements are generally good except for the disconcerting rear tyres roar (not unlike the new Civics Paul and I tested recently) which can be tiring on our ears. Maybe its the ultra-low profile Continental SportContact2 or lack of sound deadening material over the wheel wells.
Seeing it positioned as a high performance top-spec CBU Mercedes B-model, it may be â€˜somewhat justifiable wearing a RM288.8k price tag. Yet still at the end of the day, the reality is that the same money can get you a decent C230K AV Sport and with this model you are comfortably (pun intended) another rung up on the M-B cars range hierarchy. Its also practically booted and still good looking, despite the fact that the W203 is nearing the end of its product cycle. Another option would be the B170, a less powerful but more comfortable, down-to-earth package thats closed to RM80k â€˜cheaper.
So, I reckon thats the logic that most potential buyers will apply. Thus, this B200 Turbo will be very exclusive and a rare gem for the few lucky owners. Also one that you would likely find it hard to read the â€˜TURBO badge if spotted on open roads.
If only I had a longer period of acquaintance with this superb new generation Merc.
The Mercedes Benz B-Class with it’s older brother, the R-Class.