South Africans don’t really like compact multi-purpose vehicles (MPVs) any more, but the rest of the world certainly doesn’t share our dislike for small-ish high-roofed hatchback-wagon mash-ups. So while we’ve all been buying sports utility vehicles (SUVs) for their perceived off-road ability, things like the Renault Scenic, Citroën C4 Picasso and Volkswagen Touran are selling like hotcakes in Europe and Asia.

Mercedes-Benz, always eager to exploit every market niche, has cottoned onto this fact years ago, quietly making bucketloads of money from their interpretation of this genre (the B-Class) all over the world. In fact, the B-Class is one of Mercedes’s most important cars, being second only to the larger C-Class in terms of sales volumes.

Now, to do battle with a slew of newcomers (from among others, their arch-rival BMW’s new 2-series Active Tourer), the second-generation B-Class has received its mid-life nip-and-tuck. Like its predecessors, the B-Class is based on the hardware of their front-wheel-driven A-Class, meaning that the oily bits, floorpan and suspension are drawn as-is from the smaller hatchback.

As far as face-lifts go, the B-Class update is fairly subtle, but noticeable nonetheless. There are restyled bumpers at the front and rear of the car, new tail-lights and alloy wheels distinguish it from the older model, and there are restyled headlights in front, with integrated LED “eyebrows” to bring its face in line with the current Mercedes-Benz styling language. Full-LED headlamps are now available as an optional extra, with clever adaptive technology to ensure optimal lighting regardless of ambient conditions.

The engines and gearboxes are carried over largely unchanged, which means a selection of four engines and two gearboxes. The line-up starts with the B200, powered by a 1.6-litre turbo-charged petrol engine which delivers 115 kW and 250 Nm, followed by a B200 CDI powered by a 2.1-litre turbodiesel delivering 100 kW and 300 Nm. Both B200 derivatives are available with either a 6-speed manual transmission, or a 7-speed twin-clutch automatic.

Next up is the B220 CDI, where the 2.1-litre diesel is tuned to deliver to 125 kW and 350 Nm. It comes only with the automatic gearbox, as does the range-topping B250 AMG-line. In spite of that AMG-linked badge, this isn’t really a sporty car, even though its 2.0-litre turbo-four generates a hot hatch-like 155 kW and 350 Nm. Its AMG-ness is purely down to stiffer suspension, a revised steering system, a body kit and some very tasty 18-inch alloy wheels.

The interior also received detail changes, with a few new pieces of switchgear, revised centre console display and upgraded materials on the dashboard. It’s pretty much a carbon copy of the new A-Class inside: pleasing to look at, logically laid out and easy to operate – apart from the (updated, and with optional Garmin sat-nav) COMAND multi-media interface, which still need some time to get used to.

But the B-Class face-lift isn’t only geared towards upgrading the cosmetic elements: it also adds some extra abilities to the pioneering safety- and driver assistance systems introduced when the current B-Class first hit our roads back in 2011. Most notable of these is the Collision Prevention Assist system, which monitors the road ahead of the car and alerts the driver (through a series of beeps and a warning light in the instrument cluster) if it detects a possible accident situation. This system gains a new name (Collision Prevention Assist Plus) and adds the ability to autonomously apply the brakes, should the driver not respond to the warnings. Other niceties like lane-keeping assistance and blind-spot monitoring is obviously available as well, allowing the refreshed B-Class to remain one of the safety leaders in its class.

Of course, the B-Class carries a premium badge, which means that it carries a premium price tag. It also means that many of the nice things are optional. For instance, those clever LED headlights will take an R11 000-sized bite out of your bank account (apart from the B250, where it is standard equipment), and automatic climate control another R7 000. This is a German car after all, and the Germans all charge an arm and a leg for cool toys. But it is nice to know that you can have high-tech extras, should you want them (and can afford them).

The B200 petrol (manual) starts at R388 300, running up to R448 000 for the B250 AMG-line, with the two diesels filling the price gap between them. For what it’s worth, these prices are roughly in line with the recently launched BMW 2-series Active Tourer, although they are both much more expensive than the Volkswagen Touran or Citroën C4 Picasso. Then again, neither of those two can lay claim to that premium status, leading to the exclusivity so sought-after by young, trendy and affluent families. – Martin Pretorius