Neither the appeal of the Mercedes B-Class nor its exact purpose is immediately apparent, but with more than 1.5m sold across two generations so far it must be acknowledged that the tall yet compact hatchback does tick a lot of boxes for a significant number of buyers.

This latest model is derived from the new A-Class and is distinguished from it by a higher roofline and a slightly loftier seating position.

Why not just buy the A-Class? Accessibility to the cabin is the main draw, particularly among people who would struggle to get in and out of a low-set hatchback. Eventually there will be a sliding rear bench, too, which won’t be offered on the A-Class. Compared to the previous generation this new B-Class has grown in width and length, meaning there’s more cabin space than before.

What has changed in the new generation B-Class?

Apart from the much more modern exterior design, the most obvious improvement from old model to new is the slick, cutting-edge interior. Shared with the A-Class it makes Mercedes’ earlier compact car cockpits feel hopelessly outdated, although the AMG Line’s soft leather and metal trim inserts, which lend the cabin a premium feel, do not come for nothing.

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The 10.25in central infotainment screen you see here is also an optional extra (expect it to cost £1395 as part of an upgrade package), but even without it you get Mercedes’ latest MBUX multimedia system. It features a touchscreen, a laptop computer-style finger trackpad located on the centre console and a plethora of buttons on the steering wheel (almost 20 buttons, scroll wheels and paddles, in fact) with which to navigate its various menus, but the whole system is actually far less daunting to operate than its apparent complexity would suggest.

Available as an option is the ENERGIZING seat kinetics system, which makes minute changes to your seating position over long journeys to reduce fatigue and enhance comfort.

The new B-Class is also available with technology and driver assistance systems that only a few years ago would have been unthinkable for what is still a modest family hatchback. The suite of active safety systems has filtered down from the Mercedes S-Class and includes brake assist, emergency stop assist and lane change assist, among others. In our experience, the active brake assist, which sets out to avoid or at least reduce the severity of a head-on collision with a vehicle or pedestrian, can at times be overcautious, tightening the seat belts and sounding an alarm when you’re quite happy with what is ahead of you and the rate at which you’re gaining on it.

Does the B-Class drive like a hatchback or an MPV?

Along with the rest of the industry Mercedes has experienced a shift away from diesel towards petrol engines within its compact line up. This B200 is the top-spec petrol at launch, its 1.3-litre, four-cylinder turbo unit developing 161bhp yet returning a claimed 52.3mpg. Pared to a seven-speed DCT transmission it is refined and well-mannered in normal driving and it even feels muscular throughout the mid-range. If you extend it beyond 4000rpm, however, it forgets its manners entirely and becomes noisy, coarse and borderline unpleasant. It’s just as well the typical B-Class driver is unlikely to explore the upper reaches of the rev range on anything like a regular basis.

The newer eight-speed DCT gearbox is only available on diesel models, but for the most part the B200 doesn’t seem to miss it. The seven-speed unit is smooth and unfussy in normal driving and reasonably responsive in manual mode, but quite why it’s been calibrated to kick down two or even three gears whenever you ask for only a little more acceleration, eliciting a frantic burst of excitement from within the engine bay, is anyone’s guess.

On upgraded 19in wheels and optional adaptive dampers the ride quality is fine without being exceptional. Switched into a firmer mode those dampers do a useful job of containing the car’s mass vertically as well as in cornering, so far from falling apart hopelessly when the road begins folding back on itself the B200 is actually a pretty willing companion. The steering is always light but accurate and there is plenty of grip, all of which means the B200 has handling reserves that most buyers will simply never tap into.

Does the B-Class make more sense than an A-Class?

Prices for the B-Class are very much in line with those of the A-Class, starting from £26,975 when it goes on sale in early 2019. This B200 AMG Line will cost around £28,000.

The B-Class certainly isn’t a better car than its more conventional stablemate, but those buyers who really would appreciate its more accessible cabin need not be saddled with a demonstrably worse one.

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