What It Is
The 2014 Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric Drive brings EV tech to the CUV segment, and looks to take on the 2014 BMW i3.
The B-Class drives and feels like a normal car, doesn't have any of the EV awkwardness.
Estimated 80-85 mile range will require frequent charging, interior is more premium than luxury.
The 2014 Mercedes-Benz B-Class adds an attractive CUV alternative to the current crop of electric vehicles
The 2014 Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric Drive may be new to America, but it's riding on proven architecture that has delighted over in Europe. The B-Class has sold over 230,000 examples, and instead of getting the Euro-flair crossover with a diesel-powered engine, Americans will get to sample a BMW i3-fighting EV beginning this July.
The B-Class Electric plays into a larger strategy of alternatively powered vehicles, both in development and on the road. In addition to its strong diesel presence, Mercedes is experimenting with plug-in hybrids, fuel cell vehicles, natural gas, and of course, electric vehicles. While the auto industry is still figuring out which--if any--of these is the best way forward, EVs have made a giant leap in the past couple of years, thanks in no small part to the Tesla Model S. The Model S has shown consumers that EVs can be practical, sporty, and alluring. Thanks to a partnership with Tesla, the B-Class is also powered by a Tesla drive system. And while it doesn't have the long 250 mile range of the Model S, it doesn't have its near $100,000 sticker price, either.
The 2014 B-Class Electric Drive will be priced at $42,375 after delivery when it goes on sale this July. Mercedes-Benz estimates the 28-kW lithium-ion battery and electric motor produce a range of 80-85 miles on a full charge, which in our day of driving seems entirely feasible. With a level-two charger, the B-Class EV can get 60 miles of range charging in just two hours. There's also an additional range-extending optional feature that can add about 14 miles, giving you somewhere between 94-99 miles if need be. The Stuttgart automaker sees the B-Class as a supplementary vehicle, one to go around town, for families or couples that have another (likely gasoline-powered) vehicle in their household. So what exactly did we think of the 2014 Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric Drive?
WalkaroundThe style of the Mercedes-Benz B-Class is undeniably Euro-tastic, and you'll either really go for the part-minivan, part-five-door hatchback, part-CUV, or you'll scratch your head. Both are acceptable reactions, really. Chalk it up to spending a couple years across the pond, but this Europhile digs the quirky looks. And really, your average EV buyer is a little different from the pack. The Prius plug-in EV--while not as horrendous looking these days--is certainly no style maven, and buyers have been scooping up the identically styled hybrid models as if they were five-for-a-dollar packs of ramen. But the B-Class? It's actually a bit sporty and handsome. It has the three-pointed Mercedes-Benz star grille up front, bar-shaped LED daytime running lamps, contrasting-colored mirrors as an option (which look great), and just enough design to pique your interest to check out what's going on inside.
Sitting DownIf you're expecting some of that Euro-quirkiness, or EV oddball design language of other cars to be in the B-Class, it's time to break it to you: The inside of the B-Class looks pretty much like you would expect from a gasoline-powered $42k Benz. It's simple and feels premium, though to say the cabin is luxurious would be a stretch. A 5.8-inch display screen comes standard and looks like a tablet affixed above the center stack. The higher positioning means you don't have to divert your eyes down to the center stack like you do in most crossovers. Three prominent circular air-vents dominate the center console, while two vents--one on each side--flank the driver and front-passenger. The vents feature metallic and piano-black accented rings, and each one can be individually controlled by a center dial.
The seats are comfy and supportive, and up to five people will all find a generous amount of headroom. Taller rear passengers will find themselves in close quarters, but with an 85 mile maximum range, odds are you aren't going on a several hour road trip. Most deceiving is the cargo space, of which there is plenty. Four carry-on bags, or several grocery bags can fit in back without drama.
DrivingThe most surprising aspect of the 2014 Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric Drive is just how un-electric drive-y it is. Drivers of all generations can hop in, turn the key to start it up, click the shift-stalk into the drive position, and just go. The ride is quieter, sure, and you won't be stopping at the gas station to fill-up, but you will be charging regularly. The EV awkwardness and gimmicks are set aside for what feels like a normal vehicle, which just happens to be battery-electric powered Mercedes CUV.
There are two driving modes, Eco and Sport, and which one you're in will affect driving range and how quick the B-Class feels. We found the Eco mode to be sufficient for daily driving, and the Sport to be delightfully fast. Mercedes says the Electric Drive can hit 60 mph in 7.8 seconds from rest, but it actually feels much quicker than that. Top speed is regulated at 100 mph, and we found ourselves quickly and effortlessly at freeway speeds, with power and acceleration at the ready. And despite regenerative brakes, the brake feel is like that of a common, gasoline-powered car.
The B-Class also features paddle-shifters, which are used to regulate the amount of regeneration harness from braking. Want more regeneration? Engage the left paddle to put it into "D-" mode. "D" is regular, while tapping on the right paddle from normal will operate the B-Class in "D+" mode, which means more coasting, less harnessing of power from the brakes. Once behind the wheel, it's fairly straightforward. And, if you don't want to fuss with any of that, you can just get in and drive as you would a GLK-Class crossover, for example. At higher highway speeds, there was perceptible body-roll, something to consider if you'll be driving regularly on lightly-trafficked freeways.