For an electric car in today's climate, that's actually pretty high praise. No, this car does not represent the crowning achievement of alternative-fuel engineering that we've been waiting for since Robert Davidson started tinkering with electric motors back in the mid-1800s. But it does further the case that electric cars don't have to be frumpy, stripped-down plastic cases on wheels. Tesla and BMW have helped to make tremendous strides in the public perception of EVs, employing striking design and athletic driving dynamics to make them cool, sexy and sporty. Mercedes-Benz, with the B-Class, has now added the weight of its three-pointed star to this emerging trend.
We recently took the B-Class Electric Drive for a spin around Silicon Valley – an appropriate location, as the German automaker collaborated with and took inspiration from numerous tech giants whose sprawling campuses adorn the landscape. While we weren't left with mouths agape after our time behind the wheel, we feel confident in saying that while the B-Class Electric Drive isn't for everyone, those looking to add a luxurious and versatile EV to their existing stable will be quite impressed with what it has to offer, despite a few noticeable flaws.
According to Mercedes-Benz, the B-Class Electric Drive is for people that are both looking for a second or third car for short commutes and errands, and employ a "California mindset." What's that, you ask? Apparently, it means you're eco-conscious, active, like to drive (or, more accurately, sit in traffic) and, logically, can afford more than one Benz. This, as you can imagine, is a somewhat small group of potential buyers.
We rather like its bubbly look, especially because it places an emphasis on function.
The B-Class Electric Drive is almost identical to the conventionally powered B-Class, which you can find all over the roads in Europe. The car also shares 85 percent of its architecture with the CLA-Class and forthcoming GLA-Class. The big differentiation with this car is obviously the powertrain. Developed exclusively for this vehicle by Tesla Motors, the B-Class Electric Drive employs a California-built, 28-kWh lithium-ion battery that sends juice to a 177-horsepower electric motor. More on this in a bit.
Aesthetically, it doesn't get much more Euro than this. The B-Class Electric Drive mimics almost everything from the gas-powered variant's design, including the overall egg shape, big rear hatch, high roof and understated (by M-B standards, at least) grille. The only noticeable difference is that the Electric Drive sits about an inch higher off the ground, courtesy of slightly taller sidewall on the tires and taller springs. To those unfamiliar with Mercedes' offerings outside North America, the car could certainly invoke a double-take, as it looks absolutely nothing like the automaker's current line of sleek, planted sedans and coupes. It's more akin to a Honda Fit than a C-Class. That's not to say that the car is unattractive, of course. We rather like its bubbly look, especially because it places an emphasis on function, using the car's shape to minimize drag and also treat its occupants to loads of interior space. It's a bit bland, yes, but not ugly.
Mercedes got creative with some of the paint jobs on the B-Class Electric Drive. Our tester, for instance, was coated in a sharp electric blue, similar to Volvo's Polestar hue, with contrasting white accents on the headlights and grille. Other color combos are available, as well, such as a white body with blue grille and mirrors, and a silver body with chrome accents. We're not big fans of the wheels, which look like the plasticky rollers found on an old Power Wheels toy, but we were told that these aren't going to be the only options. The car we drove was still pre-production, and more attractive wheels are supposedly on the way.
There is very little noise from wind, the road or the whine of the motor.
Inside, the airy cabin is plush, roomy, clean and super quiet, with very little noise from wind, the road or the whine of the motor. The seats are comfortable and most of the materials feel premium and soft, though hard plastics are present on the center console. We love the bold circular chrome air vents that Mercedes has been putting in its vehicles, especially the three in a row found directly below the infotainment screen. The wood strip on the dash doesn't really go with the overall aesthetic of the interior. Though it is real wood, it appears synthetic at first glance and it clashes with the more metallic, modern character of the rest of the cabin. Wood often gives an interior a more luxurious, stately feel, but it seems out of place here. Most everything is ergonomically located and easy to find, with the exception of the infotainment's scroll wheel, which is placed too far back on the armrest for those that have longer arms. It forces some drivers to awkwardly emulate a T-Rex while trying to browse through the radio stations.
The B-Class comes with an insane amount of headroom, and legroom and shoulder room are quite good, too. The floor is raised slightly in the rear seats – about 1.14 inches – in order to accommodate for the battery underneath, but even your tallest friends should be comfortable if they were a bit too slow on the shotgun call. Since the battery makes its home underneath the vehicle, the trunk doesn't suffer its intrusions the way it does with other EVs. Cargo space is rated at 23.5 cubic feet, allowing for the transport of big-ticket items such as golf bags and large suitcases with ease.
The car includes the nice 5.8-inch touchscreen found in the CLA-Class (a seven-inch setup is optional). While the interface is easy to use, Mercedes could stand to make some updates to its appearance. The fonts and graphics are noticeably dated and they detract from the premium feel of the interior. The multimedia system houses the car's optional navigation system, internet access, radio controls and cell phone information. There's not really anything that is groundbreaking about the system, but it works, which is, sadly, high praise considering the overall state of infotainment these days. Like several other EVs out there, the B-Class comes with a companion app that can be accessed on a computer or smartphone to do things like set pre-entry climate control and see charging status, view the car's current remaining range and nearby charge points.
Mercedes estimates the car can travel 85 miles on a full charge.
Safety features on the B-Class, both standard and optional, are quite extensive, and include collision prevention assist, blind spot assist, attention assist, lane keeping assist and driver knee and window airbags.
Since we know you've been waiting for it, here is the most important number concerning the B-Class Electric Drive: 85. That's the number of miles that Mercedes estimates the car can travel on a full charge. Until the EPA evaluates the B-Class, though, that number is simply an educated guess. For comparison, the car's most direct competitor, the BMW i3, has an official EPA-rated range of 81 miles. Unfortunately, this number is a far cry from the 115-mile range of the B-Class Electric Drive Concept that was released at the New York Auto Show last year.
The B-Class employs a number of technologies to maximize its range, some of which are always on, while others are driver-selectable. The most notable technology is, of course, the Tesla-made powertrain. The B-Class employs a 28-kWh lithium-ion battery, which sends electricity to an onboard electric motor. The system is quite similar to what one can find on the Model S, but it uses software here to significantly tone down the power figures. Instead of 416 horsepower and 443 pound-feet of torque, the motor on the B-Class Electric Drive sends 177 horsepower and 251 pound-feet of torque to the front wheels.
A home charging system is not included in the price of the car, but buyers are definitely going to want one.
Drivers recharge the battery via a J1772 connector (the same kind you'll find on the Chevy Volt, Nissan Leaf, et al) instead of a Tesla Supercharger connector. Mercedes says that the battery can be fully charged in 3.5 hours on a Level 2 charger. A home charging system is not included in the base price of the car, but buyers are definitely going to want to opt for one, as you're looking at a 30-hour charge time if you plug into your home outlet. The battery is covered by an 8-year, 100,000-mile warranty (defects, capacity, maintenance and roadside assistance) and is guaranteed to maintain at least 70 percent of its original capacity after that period of time.
B-Class buyers can also purchase a "Range Plus" system as an added option, which can add 14+ miles to the car's range by allowing the battery to charge 15 percent beyond its normal capacity. Basically, the system exists to give people an extra little cushion when they're planning on driving a bit outside of the car's normal confines. Owners can engage the system while charging the night before and then have a few more miles at their disposal. Of course, doing so comes at the cost of the battery's health and owners are advised to use the system sparingly. The car will not track how often one charges in this manner, and, thus, B-Class Electric Drive owners aren't at risk of voiding the warranty by using it.
The B-Class uses two different types of drive mode selection. The first uses conventionally named Eco and Sport programming, to simply change the throttle response and cause the car to consume its juice at two different rates during acceleration. Using Sport, according to Mercedes, results in about a ten-percent drop in the car's range. The second is the four-mode energy regeneration system, which is housed where one normally finds a set of paddle shifters. It's a bit confusing, so bear with us: There are four different regeneration settings, called "D+," "D," "Da" and "D-" (those of you familiar with the SLS AMG Electric Drive have seen this kind of thing before). Putting the car in "D+" by flicking the "shift up" paddle actually decreases the rate of regeneration by allowing the car to coast (the "+" is meant to refer to allowing the car to go faster, or something). Using "D-" begets the strongest amount of automatic regeneration, in which the car automatically brakes when the driver takes his or her foot off of the accelerator, resulting in a feeling akin to engine braking. "D" fits in between those two and "Da" uses a system similar to adaptive cruise control to regenerate based on changes in speed of a car out in front.
With oodles of torque available at the touch of the accelerator, getting up to speed is a hoot and a half.
Driving the B-Class Electric Drive is an enjoyable experience, but we'd hesitate to call it sporty. With oodles of torque available at the touch of the accelerator, getting up to speed is a hoot and a half. Mercedes says the car can sprint from 0-60 mph in 7.9 seconds, but it certainly felt quicker than that. That's a pretty impressive feat, considering the car weighs more than 3,900 pounds. Heck, in Sport, you can squeal the tires more easily than in a Mustang GT. But handling leaves something to be desired. The car experiences noticeable body roll around corners, even at lower speeds, which didn't instill much confidence on some of the guardrail-less turns that snaked through the Santa Cruz Mountains. The steering is noticeably light and is a good deal less responsive than what we're used to seeing in German cars. The B-Class also has aggressive regenerative brakes, which come with an odd feel. There's some sharp initial bite upon first application of the pedal, then the brakes back off, grabbing much more lightly than you'd expect. To be fair, that's not something exclusive to this car – nearly every vehicle we've driven that has braking regen suffers from the same flaw.
But, of course, this car is not intended to be driven the way we Autoblog types like to drive. Rather, its tuning and on-board equipment are geared towards leisurely jaunts about town, or to and from work. And for that, it's perfect. The car's inoffensive handling and soft suspension are great for highway cruising. Its turning radius and small stature make parallel parking or navigating a crowded Trader Joe's parking lot a breeze. The muffled cabin coupled with the lack of any form of combustion makes any trip a small vacation to a silent sanctuary. The regenerative braking allows drivers to travel further, bringing owners closer to the freedom of a conventional gas-powered vehicle while sparing the air those harmful emissions.
This is an above-average electric vehicle that can fill a need for a small niche of buyers.
The B-Class will go on sale this summer in the ten ZEV states, and then slowly start to expand to all fifty. Starting price for the car is $41,450 plus $925 for destination, which is not exactly cheap, but comes in well under a Model S ($69,900) and tax credits and incentives abound, depending on where you live.
Because of the higher starting sticker price (options, including the "Range Plus" system, aren't priced out yet) and the car's limited availability, it's tough to see the B-Class cracking five-digit sales numbers. Leasing will be an attractive option for many shoppers, especially because Mercedes says a lease can include a Level 2 home charger for an additional monthly fee (which they keep at the end). That may end up being a more attractive proposition than buying that charger outright.
The B-Class Electric Drive has its flaws, but there's no question in our mind that this is an above-average electric vehicle that can fill a need for a small niche of buyers. Bottom line is that for around-the-town driving and short commutes, it's everything we could ask it to "B." Cue the groaning.