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Mercedes B200 Turbo: Sporty pep

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Mercedes B200 Turbo: As a people hauler, it makes a fine sports car.

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That the little Mercedes B200 Turbo might not just be another boring mini minivan first came to my attention when I joined Mercedes-Benz Canada for the introduction of its summer driver training course at Ontario Place.

The instructors, fresh from a similar event at Mosport, were raving about the smallest Merc, claiming the five-door was both powerful and handled a treat.

Looking at a smorgasbord of hyper-powered AMG products in the Ontario Place parking lot, I was skeptical. Indeed, I avoided the B200 as long as I could, opting first for an SLK, a CLS and even an E-Class. Eventually, though, it was my turn in the B and, worse yet, it was for the slalom course. Darn, why couldn't I have something with wider tires and a centre of gravity somewhat lower than the nearby CN Tower?

Imagine my surprise when the little rascal handled all the to-ing and fro-ing that slaloming requires with aplomb. No, it wasn't faster than the AMG SLK, but it was mighty sprightly and incredibly easy to toss around, with none of the heaviness that accompanies the mounting of gargantuan, low-profile tires.

As a people hauler, it made a fine sports car.

Of course, the truth is that no matter how well it traipses around corners, that will never be the reason anyone buys a B200. It may be the added bonus that seals the deal, but its raison d'etre is that it hauls people and their belongings without the girth of an SUV or a full-sized minivan -- and it wears a Mercedes badge. That last bit should not be discounted since, for its average transaction price, one can buy a mighty fine Mazda5 and have some significant cash left over.

What one gets for $33,900 is a turbocharged, 2.0-litre four-cylinder, hooked up -- in the tester's case -- to the optional ($1,500) continuously variable transmission. It's a peppy combination that also just happens to be very quiet. This last attribute has as much to do with the CVT, which keeps the four-cylinder revving quite low, as with the engine's sophistication.

And it's the added torque (206 pound-feet starting at a low 1,800 rpm) from the turbocharger that lets that engine spin as slowly as a V6 or V8. Without that increased low-end pulling power, any 2.0L four spinning that slowly would provide woeful performance. Indeed, the normally aspirated version of the B200 takes more than 10 seconds to accelerate to 100 kilometres an hour where the Turbo takes but 7.4 seconds.

The reason Mercedes has the engine revving low is to generate better fuel economy. In this regard, it is partially successful. I averaged 9.5 litres per 100 kilometres (the Turbo's EnerGuide rating is 9.5 city and 7.4 hwy.), a significant boost over many traditional people movers. On the other hand, I achieved 12.9 L/100 km in a Chevy Tahoe Hybrid, a beast with a 6.0L V8 that outweighs the B200 by about a dozen sumo wrestlers. Within the Mercedes lineup, I easily achieved less than 8.0 L/100 km in the diesel-powered E320 Bluetec, a heavier car that features more than 400 lb-ft of torque and significantly more performance. Were the B200 Turbo's 2.0L to feature direct injection, its fuel economy -- particularly in the city -- might improve dramatically.

The same outsized performance that typifies the B200 Turbo's small engine is replicated in its interior volume. From the outside, the vehicle looks tiny, not so much larger than Mercedes' Smart car. However, everyone who climbed inside was amazed at the available space. During my test week, I managed to cram four adults and an infant along with all their luggage into the B200 Turbo.

Later, with the rear seats (which fold amazingly easily) down, I transported a love seat to the dump. No, the B200 Turbo won't transport seven adults and, yes, its trunk will be overwhelmed if everyone in the passenger seat is a hockey goalie, but, for most, its capacities will serve as well as larger people movers. It also displays an intriguing versatility with a cargo floor that can be lowered, cubbies galore, a power outlet in the rear and features such as an easily accessed panel to replace tail light bulbs, which most people don't think about when purchasing the vehicle but which turns into an appreciated bonus a few years into ownership.

The B200 Turbo, however, is not without its niggles. On the minor side, the radio has no provision to allow one to manually look for a radio station. If the seek/scan doesn't find your fave stations, you're out of luck.

The CVT, while one of the better examples of this technology, won't please everyone since it causes the engine to drone somewhat at higher speeds. And, the B200 Turbo is a Mercedes -- option it out fully and there won't be much change from $50,000. One could buy two Mazda5s for the same price.

Of course, someone who shops this Mercedes -- or any Mercedes for that matter -- isn't going to be worried about the price. All that matters is that it provides excellent performance and utility while wearing the famed tri-star logo.

Canwest News Service

Fuel injection works

The simple reason that injecting fuel directly into an engine cylinder (a la Audi FSI) rather than the usual port fuel injection (into the intake manifold) is that the former allows higher compression ratios, especially in a turbocharged engine.

In fact, the lower compression ratio that a turbo engine traditionally requires has been the design's one bugaboo. Lowering compression reduces fuel economy and causes the dreaded turbo lag that used to afflict previous generations of this type of engine. This was necessary because the higher cylinder pressures afforded by turbocharging led to detonation, an ugly occurrence that could quickly render a once pristine piston into a molten puddle of aluminum goo.

By injecting the fuel at the last possible instance, detonation is prevented and engineers can increase the compression ratio, getting back throttle response and upping fuel economy.

The Specs:

❚ Type of vehicle: Front-wheel-drive, compact minivan
❚ Engine: Turbocharged 2.0L DOHC four-cylinder
❚ Power: 193 hp  5,000 rpm;206 lb-ft of torque  1,800 rpm
❚ Transmission: Continuously variable
❚ Brakes: Four-wheel disc with ABS
❚ Tires: P205/55R17
❚ Price: base/as tested: $33,900/$38,300
❚ Destination charge: $1,895
❚ Transport Canada fuel economy L/100 km: 9.5 city, 7.4 hwy.
❚ Standard features: Six-speed manual transmission, power door locks, windows and mirrors, automatic air conditioning with micron air filter, AM/FM/CD/MP3/weatherband audio system, auxiliary input in glove box, steering wheel-mounted audio controls, cruise control, power glass sunroof, information display, tilt and telescopic steering wheel, height-adjustable load compartment floor, six-way power driver’s seat, heatable front seats, automatic headlights, dual front air bags, head/thorax side air bags, window curtain air bags, tire pressure warning system

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