by Adrian-Liviu Dorofte

The interior design of the new B-Class: Space at its most stunning

Taking quality to a whole new level

High-quality materials and superbly finished surfaces, fine details, precise workmanship and a new spaciousness – the interior of the B-Class raises the bar in the compact car segment by emphasizing an emotional design idiom with sporty qualities.

Many of the details or elements had previously been the sole preserve of higher-end vehicle segments and correspond to the new Mercedes-Benz design philosophy in terms of image and quality. For example, the dashboard may be covered with stitched ARTICO man-made leather.

The first thing that strikes you when looking at the vehicle’s interior is the large, three-dimensional decorative element spanning the entire dashboard. This is available in four variants covering a broad spectrum including modern, sporty and classic. What all of these versions share is a high perceived quality that, in addition to the visual and haptic experience, also includes ease of care and a long useful life.

With this high-quality overall concept and a harmonious balance between the familiar, new and progressive, the interior of the B-Class reflects the latest findings in the field of perceptual psychology made by Daimler AG’s Customer Research Center (CRC).

The three large circular vents in the centre of the dashboard and their unique grilles, in the style of the sporty Mercedes-Benz model ranges, add to the design idiom of the interior.
Above the vents is the high quality screen, which is available in two sizes. With its first-class design (including an ornamental frame with galvanised surface contrasting with the piano black of the front panel) and sleek dimensions, the colour display (TFT) is a real gem in the cockpit.
The new three-spoke steering wheel, used for example in the CLS, including an insert in the centre spoke that is always finished in silver chrome, an instrument cluster with four round, analogue displays and hanging needles in the 6 o’clock position and seats with contrasting stitching reinforce the car’s sporty image.

The influence of the Advanced Design Studio in Como is also reflected in the interior design of the new B-Class. One example is the free-floating, streamlined screen in the new Mercedes B-Class. The fact that the B-Class takes quality in the compact class to a whole new level is also thanks to a new approach by Mercedes-Benz that first originated in Como. Following the “appreciation model”, designers can implement their ideal concepts then look for a way to transfer these ideas to series production. This produces a harmonious and high-quality end result.

The new B-Class will be making its international debut at the IAA in Frankfurt (13th to 25th September 2011). It will then be rolled out to European dealerships in November 2011.

Interior highlights

- Large decorative element available in four high-quality versions including real wood
- Dashboard in ARTICO man-made leather with decorative stitching upon request
- Free-floating, streamlined colour screen available in two sizes

The new B-Class is one of the roomiest vehicles in its segment. The 87 mm of knee clearance in the rear compartment even beats both the S-Class and the E-Class. Ample room has also been provided for the luggage. The rear seat backrest can be divided and folded according to the ratio 60:40 as standard. The B-Class is also available with the “EASY-VARIO-PLUS” system upon request. This allows the interior to be rearranged in just a few steps. Amongst other things, the EASY-VARIO-PLUS system allows the rear seats to be positioned differently along the longitudinal axis by up to 140 mm.

Emotional design idiom with sporty qualities

The first thing that strikes you when looking at the vehicle’s interior is the large, three-dimensional decorative element spanning the entire dashboard. The three large circular vents in the centre and their unique grilles add a sporty note to the design idiom of the interior.
Above the vents is the screen, which seems to float in mid-air and is available with a diagonal of 147mm or 178mm. With its first-class design (including an ornamental frame with galvanised surface contrasting with the piano black of the front panel) and sleek dimensions, the colour display (TFT) is a real gem in the cockpit that features prominently rather than trying to hide. The menus on the screen are operated using the controller in the centre console. The concept for the free-floating screen serves two further purposes: The screen fits in more harmoniously with its surroundings as an extendable screen, and allows a more airy feeling of space in the centre of the dashboard.

The three-spoke steering wheel, used for example in the CLS, including an insert in the centre spoke that is always finished in silver chrome, an instrument cluster with four round, analogue displays and hanging needles in the 6 o’clock position and seats with contrasting stitching reinforce the car’s sporty image.

The absence of a handbrake lever (all B-Class models come with an electric parking brake as standard) gives a feeling of space and provides additional storage in the centre console. This is further enhanced in the versions with the new 7G-DCT dual clutch transmission. In these cars, the selector lever and shift paddles are integrated into the steering wheel, a first for this vehicle category.

High-quality materials and perfect workmanship

The dashboard has a matt, dirt-resistant surface that is pleasantly soft to the touch, providing a first-rate haptic experience. With the Exclusive package, the dashboard is even covered with ARTICO man-made leather including differently coloured decorative stitching – yet another example of the standards of luxury applied to the B-Class.

The large decorative element situated directly in the middle of the driver and passenger’s field of vision is available in four variants covering a broad spectrum including modern, sporty and classic. What all of these versions share is a high perceived quality that, in addition to the visual and haptic experience, also includes ease of care and a long useful life.

For example, in the Basic model the decorative element does not appear in high-gloss black but rather the fine “Matrix” structured pattern on a background reminiscent of piano lacquer, offering not just a pleasing finish but also effective protection against unsightly fingerprints. The decorative element is manufactured using IMD (In-Mould-Decoration) technology. In this process, printed carrier foils are inserted into the mould which is then filled with thermosoftening plastic. This results in moulded parts with an outstanding finish and high-quality appearance.

With the Sports package, the decorative element is also prepared using IMD. In this case, the foil is printed on both sides, adding depth to the pattern. As a result, the observer discovers even more interesting details on the fascinatingly structured surfaces at a second glance.
With the Exclusive package, the decorative element is available with a genuine matt burr walnut veneer. Alternatively, the decorative element can also be ordered in high-gloss black ash. Mercedes drivers already know this strikingly grained wood from the CLS. Those opting for the Exclusive package can also have their B-Class equipped with full-leather seats.

Galvanised surfaces, indirect ambient lighting

All of the metallic surfaces in the interior are also genuine thanks to galvanisation. Elements including the outer rings of the circular vents, the frame of the colour display and the upper shell of the gear lever are provided in the shiny satin-finish “polished aluminium”. All silver surfaces have the same lustre and quality, giving the interior a harmonious appearance.

The high-quality impression is reinforced at night by the ambient lighting available as part of the Light and Sight package. A fibre-optic cable integrated into the lower edge of the decorative element provides soft, amber-coloured illumination. Ambient lighting also includes footwell lighting in the front as well as the illumination of the handle recess on all of the doors.

The consistent use of high-quality materials and intricate production processes continues with the doors. The basic carrier bars of the door panels, just like the dashboard, are made from a soft foil that is pleasant to touch, while the middle panel and armrest are fitted separately. The door pocket is mounted from behind, and in contrast to a standard injection-moulded component offers a soft yet dirt-resistant surface at the entrance to the vehicle.

The armrests in the door and the centre console are padded even with the Basic model. The central door panel is made from woven material, the armrest from ARTICO man-made leather. In the high-end versions, the intricately processed armrest also has differently coloured double stitching.
The colour and trim concept contributes to the modern and sporty ambience of the interior, and combines the trim and highlight colours with contrasting black elements. For example, the carpet is kept dark throughout, while the 'crystal grey' trim colour sets a light tone. Hazelnut brown is also available as a highlight colour.

Vehicle interiors in terms of perceptual psychology: “Cars stimulate the brain’s reward centre”

- Assessing interiors in terms of dichotomies
- Well-balanced mixture of old and new
- Individual evaluation and multi-sensual impression

“Progressive/conservative”, “high-quality/low-quality” and “luxurious/utilitarian” – drivers use these three dimensions to assess the interior of a vehicle. This is the result of a study conducted by Daimler AG’s Customer Research Centers (CRC). First, participants in the study were asked to categorize two objects (images or parts of a vehicle's interior) as similar or different. The next step involved finding out the exact nature of said similarity. Individual definitions and perspectives were drawn up as a result.

“People perceive the world in terms of dichotomies”, explains Dr Götz Renner, Head of the CRC. “We chose the ‘repertory grid’ method in order to determine what criteria are relevant to vehicle interiors.” The advantage of this interviewing technique, which was originally devised by the American psychologist George A. Kelly in the 1950s for the purposes of research into personality, is that the interviewee can freely associate, and there are no predetermined criteria that he/she must apply as is the case with a traditional survey. “The interviews threw up around 100 attributes, but the main dimensions proved to be ‘progressive/conservative’, ‘high-quality/low-quality’ and ‘luxurious/utilitarian’” according to Renner.

These three dimensions form a multi-dimensional perceptual space within which drivers locate vehicle interiors. According to the CRC’s results, the ideal vehicle interior has a high-quality overall concept and a perfect mix of a range of qualities. A good balance between the familiar and the new and progressive is important. “Too much of the familiar comes across as dull and old-fashioned; too much of the new means there are no ties to the familiar and the learned” is how Dr. Renner describes the psychological processes involved in perception.

And there’s more. The ideal is not the same for everybody. Instead, everyone perceives and evaluates an object differently. This is related to people’s individual requirements and experiences. The trick is to do justice to as many different ideals as possible. In cases where they cannot be reconciled, for example preferences with regard to materials or colours, personalisation is key. With the new B-Class, for example, Mercedes-Benz makes personalisation easy using three interior packages, as well as providing a broad range of different materials for trim elements including real wood.

But the eye alone does not decide: the multisensory impression including haptic (touch) and olfactory (smell) experiences in addition to the optical leaves a particularly strong impression on the brain. The experts at the CRC have been able to demonstrate these activation patterns in a fundamental study conducted in collaboration with the University of Ulm. This involved measuring the brain patterns of test subjects using magnetic resonance imaging while they looked at different images. The scanner showed the level of activity in the various regions of the brain. “Cars stimulate the brain's reward centre just as strongly as chocolate or sex”, summarises Dr. Renner.

In addition to emotional enthusiasm, rational factors also influence how satisfied customers are with a vehicle’s interior. The researchers at the CRC use the Kano model (developed in the 1970s by the Japanese customer satisfaction researcher Prof. Noriaki Kano) to determine vehicle-specific basic and excitement attributes. The basic attributes include ergonomics, safety and practicality. “These attributes are assumed by the customer”, stresses Dr. Renner. “If they are lacking or requirements are not sufficiently met, the customer is highly dissatisfied.” The excitement attributes are different. They promote satisfaction, surprise the customer and are heavily emotionally loaded. “The potential for excitement can be in the design, technological innovations or neat individual solutions”

Five questions put to Dr Götz Renner, Head of the Customer Research Center: “Interplay of the senses”

How comfortable we feel in a car certainly depends on more than what we see. How important are the other human senses? Is one more important than the other?
In addition to our visual perception, our haptic, acoustic and olfactory experiences play a key role when we are in our vehicles. There is no clear order of priority; rather, the interplay between the different senses is important. For example, a material that looks like leather also has to feel like leather. A massive control element made of metal should make a different noise than a delicate control element made of plastic when it is being operated.

Our overall impression of a vehicle is also heavily influenced by the order in which particular sensory perceptions are received. A solid sound when closing the door, for example, strongly influences the subsequent psychological processing of the vehicle interior. Visual impressions are also available from an early stage, which leads to a first judgement. However, this is gradually added to and modified by additional stimuli, for example haptic stimuli provided by the various control elements, vibrations and noises when driving etc.

What are the criteria according to which interiors are perceived to be high-quality? Can they be measured?
Quality can be imagined as a hierarchy of different assessment criteria. At the bottom we have functionality and qualitative aspects such as longevity or stability, for example. If these requirements are met, attention turns to ergonomic aspects such as the intuitive operation of the individual systems and instruments. At the top of the hierarchy are aspects of perceived quality such as image or the haptic qualities of the materials.

The various levels of quality are measured in experimental studies that link physical attributes to the subjective enjoyment judgements of customers. For example, it is possible to determine what force/motion pattern when operating a switch or what surface qualities of a flat material (e.g. the dashboard) are judged to be high-quality.

There must be differences in judgement based on personal preferences and experiences? What about age and gender?
Age and gender are characteristics that are often recorded in customer studies, and are certainly significant to some extent. However, in many areas it is apparent that they are not sufficient to explain the differences in the way that people perceive a vehicle. Certain values as well as general lifestyle often play a more important role. Age is often related to a certain stage of life which can lead to certain requirements and corresponding preferences. However, these are more important than the person's actual age. A young family, for example, will usually have different requirements for a vehicle than single people of the same age.

However, many aspects of the assessment of a vehicle are also very strongly shaped by individual preferences and experiences. This is why the issue of personalisation is so important with regard to vehicles.

How important is brand image in this context?
A “brand” constitutes a promise to the customer regarding the quality and attributes of a product. The customer therefore also has very specific expectations of a brand. Brands are important to the customer in order to find their way through a complex world. They help reduce the complexity and uncertainty associated with purchasing decisions. This is why the expectations of a brand also play a key role in how an interior is perceived. The challenge for Mercedes-Benz is to exceed customers’ expectations and pleasantly surprise them. If expectations are not met then customers are disappointed. This is why we at the Customer Research Center aim to analyse the needs of our customers and incorporate them into the development process at an early stage.

What influence does the media have on how an interior is perceived?
The media is an important source of information for our customers. It helps customers compare vehicles and access expert assessments. It therefore helps customers reduce complexity and uncertainty, and make a purchasing decision. Above all, the media is useful for assessing the objective qualities of interiors such as fittings, ergonomics and operation. The media is of less help with subjective assessments. After all, the decision regarding whether they like an interior is the customer's alone.

The Customer Research Center (CRC): Breeding ground of ideas for the cars of the future

- Identifying areas of potential for innovation
- Taking an intercultural approach with an eye on growth markets
- Anticipating customer requirements in ten years

"Customer-centred innovations" is the key issue at the Customer Research Center (CRC) at Mercedes-Benz. Systematic customer analyses, idea engineering and checking how ideas have been accepted – these are the three working focuses of the Customer Research Center (CRC) at Mercedes-Benz. The staff of around 20 employees at the CRC head office in Böblingen work to ensure that customers’ wishes and innovative ideas are integrated in a targeted manner from the very start in the development of new Mercedes-Benz cars.

At the core their task is asking the right questions and, together with customers, detailing the answers as exhaustively as possible. When combined with findings from market, field and trend research, the parameters for potential innovations begin to emerge. The CRC experts then provide their input on suitable ideas for products and solutions and test them out with customers.
The Customer Research Center at Mercedes-Benz is unique worldwide in the automotive industry as its psychological customer research is conducted seamlessly. As a result Mercedes-Benz has a unique, cohesive laboratory landscape that includes everything that a person can perceive and provide a judgment on. This ranges from the haptic laboratory and the acoustics and light laboratory all the way to the laboratory for long-distance test drives. Due to its complexity, customer research is viewed comprehensively and interculturally.

The intercultural approach guarantees that regional customer requirements, which at times may vary substantially, are taken into account. Previously the focus was directed towards countries like Germany and the US – the traditional core markets – and the UK. Now it has gradually shifted to include growth markets like China which are being observed just as intensely.

Adjusting for the development cycles of vehicles, CRC staff research customer requirements far in advance – with an outlook towards what will be interesting in five, seven or ten years. They combine qualitative methods such as observations and interviews with new qualitative-quantitative methods such as intensive real-life analysis. In these long-term tests, customers drive a vehicle for up to a week and can make direct contact with the CRC at any time via a call centre to make real-time reports about their experiences.

The Advanced Design Studio in Como, Italy: On the trail of new trends in the world of interiors

- Inspiring environment for creative thinking
- Free-floating screen for the B-Class conceived in Como
- Integrated into the global Mercedes design network

It has always been a prime location: it was at Villa Salazar, situated close to the banks of Lake Como, that Italian fashion designer Gianni Versace produced neckties and cravats before Mercedes-Benz opened its Advanced Design Studio there in February 1998. With its contemporary painted ceilings, long suites of rooms and contrasting floors of terracotta and wood, the villa, which was built in 1750, is extraordinarily inspirational to the entire staff of around 20 designers. The same can be said of the region itself: The famous triangular region defined by the cities of Como, Milan and Turin is home to the furniture and fashion industries. A high value is placed on traditional craftsmanship there – making it an ideal setting for the Advanced Design Studio.

These diverse inspirations are reflected in the interior design concepts for vehicles – which is what the Advanced Design Studio in Como specialises in. The designers can give free rein to their ideas without having to immediately consider series production, even though that is the actual objective of their ideas and ruminations. An example is the free-floating, streamlined screen in the new Mercedes B-Class. And it is also a new approach developed in Como by Mercedes-Benz which is why this model series has achieved a new dimension of high quality in the compact class. The designers use an “appreciation model” to bring their ideas to life initially and then look for a way to include these ideas in series production. This produces a more harmonious and higher-quality result than if the interior had been retroactively enhanced.

The tasks of the creative forces in Como are plentiful. They conduct general research, create drafts and build models – and are always looking out towards the horizon so that they can develop the car interiors of the future. A certain lack of respect for old traditions is desired in order to find new approaches.

"We don’t follow any fads," said Professor h.c. Gorden Wagener, Chief Designer at Mercedes-Benz, “instead we try to sniff out long-term trends that will enhance our brand's value over decades. Ideas that meet the highest demands in technology, performance, comfort and safety”. That is why a designer needs to “live in the future” and think at least two to three vehicle generations in advance.

One of the first visible and tangible results of the Advanced Design Studio in Como was the interior of the Mercedes-Benz F 400 Carving research vehicle (Tokyo 2001). It was followed in 2002 by the Vision GST – a predecessor of the Mercedes-Benz R-Class – in Detroit, and in 2003 by the F 500 Mind research vehicle in Tokyo. In 2005 the Mercedes-Benz bionic car was introduced to the public in Washington, D.C., and the F 600 HYGENIUS appeared in Tokyo. For the Mercedes-Benz F 700 research vehicle introduced in 2007 the interior specialists in Como relied heavily on cork and Alcantara.

With its sister studios in Carlsbad (California), Tokyo, Beijing and Sindelfingen, the Advanced Design Studio in Como not only regularly trades ideas but creative staff as well. Professor h.c. Gorden Wagener, Chief Designer at Mercedes-Benz, is responsible for all the studios. In addition to around 440 designers dedicated to model series design, there are more than 60 designers at the five Advanced Design Studios working on concepts that project the vision of the Mercedes star at least half a century into the future.

Source: Daimler AG

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