Is America ready, really ready this time, for a small Mercedes-Benz?
Or, many of them?
From the old 190E to today's C-Class, Mercedes' luck with its smallest cars has been mixed. The C-Class is a core product in the lineup, and has been a mainstay for more than a decade, but the C-Class hatchback offered briefly in the 2002-2004 model years was a flop. At the end, sales were so slow, the company decided its then-new B-Class hatchback would meet the same fate, and would be ignored by U.S. drivers. It never made the American lineup, though the B-Class did go on sale in neighboring Canada.
Now, as fuel economy requirements change, and as premium small cars become more common in the U.S., Mercedes is ready to give small cars another chance. And they're committing to them in a big way--not only with a new B-Class, but with five different vehicles from that new global compact-car family, and with a new range of American-made C-Class cars to boot.New platform, new era
Some of those five versions were outlined by Mercedes executives introducing the B-Class and an ambitious fuel-cell F125! concept car to Frankfurt audiences. The first, due to arrive in 2013, will be the B-Class tall wagon introduced for the first time in Frankfurt. It's to be outfitted with a four-cylinder turbo engine with direct injection and start-stop technology, and teamed with a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox. A sliding second-row seat and a fold-flat front passenger seat are said to give the B-Class the flexibility of a small minivan--something akin to the seven-passenger C-Max that was touted, then dropped, from Ford's U.S. product plan.
A bigger package and new drivetrains are key to the new B-Class, and so are connectivity features proliferating across the car world--features like USB ports and Bluetooth, even the ability to access the Internet, tap Google Maps for directions, or update Facebook status while on the go. Dr. Joachim Schmidt, global marketing chief, says it's added more features than ever in a single Mercedes-Benz model remake with this new B-Class.