Virtually a good


Chris Russon 'driving' Mercedes B-Class in simulator
Mercedes B-Class, aerodynamic comparison with E-Class Coupe
Chris Russon with Mercedes B-Class prototype in simulator
Mercedes B-Class, silhouette
Mercedes B-Class, cutaway body showing safety structure
Mercedes B-Class, prototype interior
Mercedes B-Class simulation, rear
Mercedes B-Class simulation, front
Mercedes vehicle simulator at Sindelfingen
Mercedes B-Class inside simulator
Mercedes B-Class, simulator graphics
Mercedes B-Class simulated drive

IT'S more than two months until the new Mercedes B-Class makes its debut but already we have managed to ‘drive' the latest compact people mover in the virtual world of high tech research and development.

For 20 minutes we put the latest B-Class through its paces in the multi-million pound vehicle simulator housed in the Mercedes test facility at Sindelfingen in Germany.

So secret are the looks of the car that even the model inside the simulator was camouflaged inside and out.

The new B-Class will be revealed to the world at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September - and the car is poised to set new standards for medium sized SUVs.

It is due on sale in Britain in March and all versions will be fitted with sophisticated anti-collision systems and driver fatigue monitors.

A full blown array of advanced safety features including blind spot alerts, sensors to stop the car straying from its lane and Mercedes' PreSafe crash technology first fitted to the flagship S-Class saloon will also be available as options.

The B-Class will be the first of a new generation of small front wheel drive Mercedes which will see the arrival of a sharply reworked A-Class later in 2012.

In a way the new B-Class is a milestone for Mercedes. Not only is it a new car but it also features new engines and a new gearbox. Normally the German car maker launches a car with tried and tested technology before phasing in changes.

The B-Class will mark the arrival of two new petrol engines, a sleek body with class leading aerodynamics and a new seven speed semi automatic transmission - all of which are designed to keep emissions down and deliver top rate fuel economy.

Official figures are not yet being released by Mercedes but it is likely the new B-Class will be some 20 per cent more economical than its predecessor which means that even the petrol versions should be capable of averaging in the region of 60mpg.

The new petrol engines are four cylinder 1.6-litre units which have been designed to drive both the front wheel drive A and B-Class cars and slot into traditional rear wheel drive Mercedes.

Using turbo chargers the engine in the entry level B180 will develop 122PS while the B200 will be boosted to 156PS.

Both engines use direct injection to maximise fuel efficiency and will have plenty of power from as low as 1,250 revs - all of which should enhance performance while remaining economical.

Diesels will feature derivatives of the 1.8-litre engines currently fitted in the C-Class range but tuned to produce 109 and 136PS.

All the engines in the B-Class will feature stop/start technology - and that includes those using the semi-auto boxes.

The B-Class will be up against the likes of the Ford C-MAX and Renault Scenic but Mercedes engineers are stealing a march on the competition by making it as aerodynamic as the company's E-Class Coupe, the car with the lowest drag coefficient of any production model.

Optimising the airflow around the body is another facet of the B-Class which has been tuned to ride with much less body roll than the current version.

Although our ‘drive' inside the simulator featured some experimental dynamics the response and feedback from the controls was impressive as the car carried out a series of manoeuvres.

The simulator at Sindelfingen is the most advanced of its kind in the auto industry. It weighs more than 20 tonnes and sits on giant hydraulic legs enabling it to reproduce real world driving conditions, moving the car from side to side and pitching up and down.

Its primary use is to shorten prototype development costs and time - which are significant for any model.

With the 3D surround graphics - they are even reproduced in the door mirrors for added realism - the experience is remarkably lifelike, suggesting that the new B-Class is going to have plenty to crow about when it eventually hits the real road.


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