A mutual love of something can bring people together. Look at people who go to gym together, go fishing together, or go to concerts together. Their similar interests allow them to spend time together, doing something they both enjoy. I have however also observed, that as twisted and weird as it may be, call it human nature if you will, but people are bound together much more firmly in a mutual hatred of something! Perhaps this is why one of the questions I get asked most often is “What is the worst car you have ever driven?”.
So let me start off by saying that I have been extremely lucky in life, in that I have had the opportunity to drive a fairly large number of different cars. Some of them were great, others not so much and one or two of them were, quite simply, terrible. The worst car I ever drove was somewhat of a surprise though, because as a driving experience you would expect SO MUCH better from such a prestigious car maker. In other words, you could argue that the rental VW Golf Chico (mkI golf) I once had the displeasure of pedaling was worse, but for what it is, it’s not bad, so it doesn’t get the title of worst car ever. The car that takes this title, is a premium brand car that cost a small bloody fortune, yet still manages to be terrible – a far greater sin in my mind.
It happend a few years ago when I was half way through my ownership of one of the best cars I’ve ever owned, My Mercedes Benz SLK55AMG. My V8 pocket rocket was due for a service and I decided to book it in with Mercedes Benz in Century City. The dealership’s service was fantastic and I can HIGHLY recommend them to anyone with a Merc. The sales lady who sold me the car arranged everything and even offered me the use of a demo vehicle for the day. This unfortunately, is where things went horribly wrong.
She handed me the keys and led me to my loan-chariot. Finished in what can only be described as metallic baby poop, the Mercedes B200 I was given to drive is, to date, the worst car I have ever driven.
The way a car looks is a very subjective thing. I for example love the incredibly detailed and elegant lines of my Jag XJR, where my wife thinks that it looks ‘old-fashioned’ and has headlights that look like fried eggs. However, I am yet to meet the creature that actually likes the look of a Ssang Yong Stavic (Rodius in some markets), so one could argue there is some common ground. That being said, the B class isn’t completely offensive like the aforementioned Stavic, however, it’s not exactly inspiring either. It neither captures the smooth sophistication that a Merc should have, nor make some kind of statement of presence, but rather comes across as utilitarian – where shape follows function. Kind of like they designed the interior and all the mechanicals to fit in a certain footprint, then simply stretched the metal skin over the bare frame and called it a day. To make the boot space meet design specifications, the back end looks bulbous and the front end looks like they kept beeting a C-Class with a hammer until it was down to the required length. The side profile is unimaginative and generally the whole thing just looks like the designers were forced to accommodate design specs rather than having the freedom to design something nice to look at. I give it a 2 out of 5, but only because it is at least built properly, it feels like a quality product and is finished to a very high standard.
This is supposed to be a family hatchback, so truth be told, the exterior failings are probably not going to bother the target market very much. Cars in this segment are all about the interior. Is it a nice place to sit? Is it put together properly? Are all the controls easy to read, locate and use? Does it have all the toys and gadgets you and the offspring might want?
In fairness, the car I had to drive was finished in the foulest of brown colours you can imagine, so the pallet for the interior was already sabotaged in that there is not a single colour on the planet that would look good next to that brown. So Mercedes probably went for the ‘safest’ option and made the interior black… but they didn’t stop there… they made EVERYTHING black. It is the gloomiest and dullest interior I have ever had to endure. It was at least very well built, but having said that, some of the plastics were a little bit second rate and I found myself asking again and again – If this is a Mercedes, surely they could have done better? I can not fault the controls and dials, everything is suitably German in its operation and everything is pretty much where you would expect to find it, but as with the exterior, it just seems to have been a ‘minimum effort’ job to just put together an interior as quickly and cheaply as we possibly can.
Let me just indemnify myself from the people who will constantly remind me that I can not judge every car based on its dynamic performance, because this clearly is not meant to be a sportscar. I grant you, that this is not meant to be a sportscar, but then neither is a Ford Focus, yet it is fantastic to drive! Not being intended as a sportscar, is not an excuse for a really boring, truly dreadful driving experience.
Lets start with the biggest and most obvious control – The steering wheel itself is nice enough and even has some buttons on it to control various functions on the radio and OBC. But as fantastic as those secondary functions are, it’s primary function is still steering the car, which unfortunately it does with the sort of numb and joyless feel of a worn out 80’s arcade game with no feedback to the user other than a weak self-centering spring. The wheel is so light you can turn it just by breathing in its general direction. It feels completely detached from the front wheels and at no point does the driver have any idea of what is happening to the front wheels. The ratio is fairly average for a family hatchback, but the ridiculous lightness and complete lack of feedback means that you often end up giving more input than was required, followed by a series of corrections.
The brakes are pretty good at stopping the car, but again the emphasis seems to have been on removing the driver from the driving experience by ‘sanitising’ all the controls in such a way that nothing feels like you are actually operating a mechanical device of any sort. The pedal just moves down its path of travel with resistance gradually building in a fairly linear way, but at no point can you tell exactly when the pads start biting or how hard, since the pedal is completely dead.
One of the biggest, weakest links in the chain of catastrophes that make up the B-Class’ dynamic package, is the engine. It runs very smoothly and quietly at low revs and when driven slowly, but when you put your foot down it does all manner of funky things! Firstly the excellent automatic gearbox kicks back a cog or two, but once the engine revs go above around 2500rpm, the engine note changes from the smooth four-put thrum to a horrible induction noise that can only be described as a warthog trying to snort 6 pounds of coffee through a metal drain-pipe, whilst under water. This unbearable racket could possibly be forgiven if it was accompanied by similarly exuberant performance, but alas, this is not the case. After a couple of attempts in fact, the pain of the engine noise simply outweighed the benefit of the (slightly) increased pace, and so I just slowed down and drove like a granny for the rest of the day. It’s not often these days that you find a car that is so woefully under-powered, but the B200 genuinely felt like a liability on highways where I was trying to keep up with fast moving traffic. If this were some cheap little city car with incredible fuel economy, I could perhaps still understand, but this is an expensive family hatchback from a premium brand, and this kind of performance is simply unacceptable.
The interior noise was not exactly what you would expect from a Mercedes either. It’s quite boomy, thanks to the van-like dimensions in the rear. Wind noise was minimal however. For a brand new car I honestly wasn’t expecting this many rattles though. I had driven beaten up rentals with far less clunking and rattling inside the cabin. The ride is acceptable, but not exactly comfortable. I am perfectly happy to trade some ride comfort for the sake of better handling, but this car doesn’t ride OR handle well, so what exactly the suspension was designed to achieve remains one of man-kinds greatest mysteries.
I would like to say that I tested the handling of the B-Class to its limits, but no jokes, I was simply to scared to stick it into a bend fast enough to find out what it’s really like. Firstly because I happen to know that the car it was based on, very famously rolled over onto its roof and died during the notorious “Elk test”. Secondly because the vagueness of its steering really does not inspire any kind of confidence for a spirited driver. And finally because the small furry animal under the bonnet simply couldn’t run around its wheel fast enough to make the lumpen B-Class gain enough speed between bends to actually arrive at a corner at any sort of pace.
Luckily the nice people of Euro NCAP did test the car’s handling in an automated test they performed to test the car’s stability control systems. As you can see from the video below, even at the relatively tame speed of 60kph, a quick tug at the wheel of the ungainly beast, simply brought out body roll and tire squealing understeer.
The Burning Question…
The B class is simply terrible. It looks boring, performs badly, isn’t a nice place to sit and does not reward the driver AT ALL. So why, in the name of all that is Holy, WHY is it so popular? You can not drive from the suburbs to the city without bumping into 14 of these damned things. What makes people buy them? Can the fancy badge really be such a massive blinder that none of the car’s other faults come to mind when making the decision? Do these people simply not know any better? What kind of automotive disaster must they have driven before, for this to be better?
The B-Class is targeted at the new type of car buyer, who doesn’t care about cars or driving, and is happy to buy a car based purely on paper. I am willing to wager that this new type of car buyer has already made up their mind about what car they are going to buy before they have taken anything for a test-drive. In fact, I am led to believe that many new car buyers do not even take a car for a test drive before signing on the dotted lines. The B-Class relies on this, because I am 100% convinced that if you test drove this car and then test drove a Golf or Focus, everyone would rather buy something else. Not only would it be cheaper to buy, run and maintain, but it’s much better to drive and live with on a daily basis.
So there you have it – The worst car I have ever driven – The Mercedes Benz B200
What is the worst thing you have ever driven? – let us know in the comments!