Mercedes and Lexus offer very different takes on little wagons
By Jim Bray
One's a turbo, the other's a hybrid, and both of these "little wagons" offers car buyers an interesting if not completely satisfying driving experience.
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The B-Class is the smallest Mercedes-Benz offered in Canada currently, while the CT 200h is Lexus' entry level hybrid. They both offer the storage and practicality of a wagon and/or hatchback as well as the luxury that buyers of premium automobiles expect. And they're both priced fairly similarly: they start at just over $31,000 Canadian, though of course you can option them up from there: a nearly loaded B-Class will set you back about $42,500, while the optioned up CT 200h F Sport will drain about the same amount from your wallet.
This isn't a completely apples-to-apples comparison because the options are different in each case and because the up market B also has 4MATIC all-wheel drive, a feature that isn't available on the little Lexus. Of course, four wheel drive may not be important to you, in which case the point's moot.
Mercedes-Benz Canada's sample B 250 Sports Tourer came with a couple of extra packages including the Versatility ($1800) and Premium ($4000) ones, as well as featuring Dark Ash wood trim ($250). It tipped the money meter at $39,550 before the usual extra pounds of flesh are assessed. The Lexus had the $9000 F Sport package (which includes lots of nice stuff, most of which has nothing to do with "Sport") and its Monroney claimed a price of $40,300, sans extra flesh.
So which of these little premium hatchback/wagons is better? Tough call. If you're looking for the one that's the better driver, look no farther than the Benz. On the other hand, if you're looking for a small hybrid you can feel smug about regardless of how it drives, the Lexus is your logical choice. And to be fair, they're both very nice vehicles - variations on the theme, as it were.
The Mercedes gets its power to the ground via a turbocharged two litre four cylinder engine (other markets apparently get other choices, such as a diesel). The company says it puts out 208 horsepower and 258 lb.-ft. of torque, and the engine works well and sounds good. If you're planning to have a drag race with a buddy in a CT 200h F Sport, you can afford to give the Lexus a good head start.
Why? Because the little Lexus' hybrid power plant only oozes an anemic 134 combined horses onto the asphalt from its little four banger/electric combination. Its CVT transmission doesn't come close to the performance and driving feel Mercedes' seven speed dual clutch automatic, either. In short, it's a very nice car that drives, unfortunately, like a Prius.
Both cars have selectable driving modes, from eco to sport. There's a bit of turbo lag with the Benz, whereas the Lexus moves forward – however reluctantly – as soon as you tromp the gas pedal. Sport mode is the most interesting, if not fun, on either car, remembering that neither is going to turn your eyeballs back into your head or leave big black stripes behind you on the highway, of course, but that isn't their mandate. Rather, they're small and luxurious "family and their stuff haulers" and as so they both have their charms.
That said, both cars handle well when things get "essy," though I'd have to give the Benz the edge here as well, just because of its much better overall driving experience. And while the Lexus will carve an apex if you want, it might make you feel guilty about enjoying yourself in a hybrid.
The Lexus, in my never humble opinion, is the more attractive vehicle inside and out – beauty being very subjective, of course. The B-Class looks kind of like an upmarket Mazda5 or Kia Rondo (not that there's anything wrong with either of those fine vehicles), whereas the Lexus doesn't really hearken to any other vehicle's styling except, perhaps, the early-2000's Audi A4 Avant. On the other hand, the Benz doesn't have that "Predator-like" mouth on its front end that looks like it's ready to vacuum all the gravel off the road in front of you (which wouldn't be a bad idea if that's what it actually did!).
Inside, the Lexus "sports" a more modern and high tech look than the Benz, though the B 250 is hardly lacking in state-of-the-art stuff, but - like its exterior - its interior has more formal mien than the more avant-garde Japanese entry. You say potato, I say yam.
Since both of these are premium vehicles, you can expect lots of creature comforts in the cabin of either car, including Bluetooth, automatic climate control, power windows and the like. I preferred the Mercedes COMAND multimedia controller to the Lexus' pointing device thingy, but to each his, her or its own. Both audio systems are first rate and the front seats of both vehicles are comfortable for long hauls, with rear seats that are fine for two.
Since these are both little hatchback/wagons, there's decent storage space for your stuff. The Benz is about five inches taller, three inches longer and two inches wider than the Lexus and that helps translate into about 80 more litres of space with the rear seats down, though the Lexus' 405 litres is still pretty good.
Obviously, either of these cars should serve their owners well, and for a long time, and they both perform the same basic functions, though in very different ways. Choosing between them could be tough.
Still, Lexus could make the choice even harder and improve the desirability of the CT 200h (F Sport or not, but especially F Sport) by offering another choice of power train than the hybrid currently occupying the engine bay. And though I have no idea of the technical issues involved, I believe they have the perfect candidate in the engine found in their new small SUV, the NX 200t. That little ute can be had with a two litre Atkinson cycle engine featuring a twin-scroll turbo and the whole shebang delivers "up to" 235 horses and 258 lb.-ft. of torque. I believe that if Lexus would drop that more potent propellant into the CT, they'd really have a great little luxury wagon.
But until they do, the Mercedes-Benz B 250 becomes an easy choice, if only for me.
Copyright 2015 Jim Bray
Jim Bray is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada. His columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.
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