A lot has happened in the two months since the Vision B Sports Tourer concept was unveiled at the Detroit show (see our Detroit show coverage). Mainly, Mercedes-Benz has recently decided to delay the U.S. debut of the production version of its premium minivan/people mover--called the B-class--until at least 2007 due to the weak euro and other cost concerns. Some U.S. Mercedes dealers have expressed frank relief, because their plates are full this year and next dealing with the new CLS four-door coupe, the second-generation M-class, as well as the next S-class, and many of them wonder if the B-class is appropriate for the U.S. market in the first place, a concern we share. Can anyone say "dilution of brand value"?
Nevertheless, the A-class-based, front-wheel-drive production B-class debuts at Geneva and goes on sale in Europe this summer. There's no denying that it's a very clever packaging job. Arranging the engine and transmission partly beneath the passenger cell opens up vast quantities of interior space and affords greater safety, as the engine slides underneath the cabin in the event of a severe frontal collision. Multiple combinations of seat folding, tumbling, and removal make for a versatile and roomy cabin, but the exterior is compact enough for crowded European cities. Six gasoline and diesel engines are offered.
Although Mercedes-Benz says that the B-class's U.S. launch has simply been delayed, not cancelled, we wouldn't be at all surprised if, in the end, it never makes it here.