Mercedes-Benz’s B-Class has, since it was first launched here in 2006, been somewhat of an illusion. At the forefront of a new model assault from Merc (along with the A-Class), it failed to make headway in the crucial “snag 'em young” battle. Will the all-new model succeed where the previous one captured only pensioners?OK, so this new model is noticeably a bigger deal for Stuttgart, seeing as the B is one of its new models with the express goal of attracting younger buyers to the three-pointed star. To avoid the B-Class finding favour with cash-flush older buyers exclusively, even the marketing this time is directed (almost embarrassingly) at a younger audience. Will this translate to younger bums in seats? Needs to be seen. For a start, the latest B-Class spearheads an all-new attack for Merc. It’s the first in a family of new small cars - putting it on the road, so to speak. The B-Class rides on an all-new platform that will also underpin the stunning, new-generation A-Class (South Africa in 2013, launched at the 2012 Geneva auto show) plus three more derivatives of the new hatchback, SUV, coupe and (let's hope!) AMG. FOCUS ON BFor now, the B-Class is the focus of all Merc’s attentions. Eckart Mayer, Mercedes-Benz SA’s vice-president for sales and marketing, confidently mentioned that more than 7000 units have been sold in SA since the previous B-Class was launched here in 2006. He’s hoping to improve dramatically on those figures with the latest cars.Merc is re-angling is "compact sports tourer" as "a cool and stylish car” in the hope of attracting a cool and stylish crowd. Mayer also saw it going up against models such as the Toyota Verso, VW Touran and some of Audi’s Sportbacks…The latest B is available now with a 1.8, four-cylinder turbodiesel engine in two states of tune which I sampled on a sweltering kwaZulu-Natal day. Each engines has direct injection technology and comes with Eco start/stop to reduce fuel consumption at traffic lights, etc..The B180 CDI’s engine generates 80kW/250Nm, the B200CDI 100kW/300Nm. SO MANY FIRSTS!These diesels will be joined by two 1.6 turbopetrol engines – a 90kW/200Nm B180 and a 115kW/200Nm B200 – from August, 2012.All models have a six-speed manual gearbox driving the front wheels, Merc’s new 7G-DCT seven-speed dual-clutch transmission in an option. The dual-clutch formula is not new but this is the first time Mercedes-Benz has installed it in a car other than the SLS AMG – and it’s a winner.Typical of a dual-clutch ‘box, shifts are smooth and decisive when left to their own devices although, should it hold a gear when you prefer to coast, a quick shift up (via the steering-wheel mounted paddles) quickly shakes it out of its reverie. It’ll add R10 000 to the price of your B. The B-Class’s styling is certainly more dynamic; the car’s road manners express this too. The latest B-Class uses Macpherson front struts and a multilink suspension at the rear; coupled with a lower ride height and the consequent lower centre of gravity, this means a vehicle inherently more athletic than the one it replaces. This, interestingly, is also the first Mercedes-Benz with run-flat tyres - though nervous South Africans accustomed to driving long distances with little support along the way can request a spare-wheel kit from their Mercedes-Benz dealer's parts people. Even with run-flats, the B-Class ride is very comfortable and the car reassuringly stable at speed. The DCT makes rapid shifts in either direction when you’re on the pull in Sport mode although it’s just as handy when pottering around town in Eco mode (which calls up the start/stop feature and a quiet little diesel whinny when pulling away). The Eco start/stop function can be deactivated but there’s barely a delay when it automatically fires up again as you move from the brake to accelerator pedal so you might as well leave it engaged. TECH-FRIENDLY CABINThe latest-generation B-Class also gets a fresh new interior with new finishes (some from recyclable materials) and a snazzy, fixed tablet-like display. The infotainment display is not a touch-screen, though, and needs to be directed via Merc’s Comand centre console-mounted controls or via the driver’s menu displayed in the instrument panel and accessed via the steering wheel controls. I didn’t spot any manual versions so I can’t draw a fair comparison but the use of a gear stalk and fascia-mounted electric parking brake in this B frees up plenty of space in the centre console for little odds and ends. While the all-new B-Class looks, drives and feel better than before, Merc’s trump card is undoubtedly its safety ticket. Mayer boasted that this little MPV has “a lot of new features – more than any other new car in the history of Mercedes-Benz". I’m inclined to believe him. All cars come standard with Merc’s PreSafe feature (it prepares the cabin for impact when a collision is imminent) collision prevention assistance (which warns when you need to increase the distance between you and the car ahead) and attention assist (detects drowsiness). “Regular” safety features such as ABS, braking assistance; electronic stability control and a range of front, pelvis, knee and window airbags are also offered. Optional kit includes Merc’s auto parking (yes, parallel on the street), a reversing camera, rear side airbags, two sunroofs, heatable front seats, Harmon Kardon sound, diode daytime running lights and Comand Online that uses your 3G-enabled phone as a modem and allows you (or your passengers) to browse online via the tablet-like display. If all the gadgetry is a little too much to handle, you may want to spend some time outfitting your B-Class with the packages on offer. All models come standard with the chrome package which adds subtle detailing across the car’s exterior but there are also Sports, Night and Exclusive packages. The Sports package adds bigger (17”) alloy rims, a sports suspension and a few interior trinkets. The Night package adds 18” rims, tinted rear glass and smoked light-housings, and a roof and belt-line strip in gloss black. The Exclusive package adds wood trim, leather upholstery and "man-made leather" fascia and door panels and lumbar support for the front seats.PRICES: B180 CDI – R325 000B200 CDI – R358 000B180 (from August, 2012) – R299 600B200 (from August, 2012) – R319 600Sports package – R10 000Night package – R11 600Exclusive package - R12 500Service intervals 20 000km; Merc’s MobiloDrive 120 co-payment maintenance plan standard.