The 2014 Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric Drive is all new for the U.S. It's also all-electric. That's right -- no gasoline engine is offered.
Because the B-Class is unknown to Americans, here's the view from the driver's seat: It's an elevated view with good visibility, offering a fairly high-up position that many people tend to love and usually buy crossovers for. Noise comes mainly from the tires, and there's a subdued swish of wind now and then. Headroom and legroom in the second row are sufficient for the average adult. The 60/40-split folding rear seats increase cargo space from 21 cu ft. to 51.4 cu ft. They don't go completely flat, but they do include a ski hatch.
The Electric Drive uses low-rolling resistance tires, which help with range. They're also run-flats, which take off some weight (with no spare wheel to lug around) and improve range, as well. Run-flat, low-rolling resistance tires are known for their handling characteristics. Kudos to Mercedes-Benz for enabling the B-Class to absorb speed bumps and pavement pockmarks with hardly a tremor while still being composed through corners.
The array of available safety features is rich and varied. Cruise control, attention assist, rearview camera, collision-prevention assist and hill hold are standard. Blind spot monitoring and lane-keeping assist are optional. Navigation is also standard; so are power front seats with 3-position memory.
Tesla supplies the motor, transmission and lithium-ion battery. The front wheels are propelled by 177 horsepower and 251 lb-ft of torque. There's easily enough thrust for everyday driving. Conversely, there's no lurching or grabby feeling from the regenerative braking system when getting off the accelerator, and brake-pedal feel doesn't really differ from that of a regular car.
Efficiency and Sport modes form the standard setup. It takes a heavier right foot to get moving in Efficiency mode, while Sport mode, naturally, imparts a livelier feel.
Paddle shifting is optional, allowing greater flexibility in using the drivetrain. The key behind this concept is brake energy regeneration. Settings go from recouping energy at the highest rate possible to letting the driver have a longer leash. Set it on auto, and the built-in radar initiates regeneration when it detects that the car in front is decelerating.
Range, as rated by the Environmental Protection Agency, is 85 miles, but familiarity with the car and the route could allow you to exceed that figure. Using a 240-volt unit takes 3.5 hours for a full charge, or a couple of hours to take on enough spark for a 60-mile range. Make sure there's a good book around if charging from a 120-volt domestic supply; it takes 30 hours for a full replenishment. A Range Plus feature is available and should only be used when maximum mileage is absolutely necessary. Press a dash-mounted button before charging and this feature is activated, resulting in a potential 18 extra miles.
A smartphone app gives charging options and the ability to pre-heat or pre-cool the cabin before a journey. It also displays available range.
All of this elec-trickery comes from Tesla, whose own cars can achieve a much higher range, and there's one big reason why the B-Class covers only the same amount of range as vehicles such as the 2014 BMW i3: money. The Tesla Model S costs around $100,000 with the super-duper battery.
From the outset, the B-Class was designed to handle different drivetrains, so the company didn't have to reinvent the automobile by using exotic materials or complicated manufacturing techniques just because electric power was in the picture. The B-Class is hardly lightweight: 3,924 pounds. Put this drivetrain into something smaller and more svelte, and the range would increase. But that wasn't the goal.
A Competent Combination
The goal was a substantial Mercedes-Benz driving experience, without trips to the gas station. Job done. The 2014 Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric Drive is a competent and agreeable machine that happens to run on electricity. Theoretically, the B-Class could be someone's only car, although it would require a round-trip commute of 60 miles or so, access to chargers at work, and a fast-charging unit at home.
Details are yet to be worked out, but plans are under way to offer B-Class owners the occasional use of a gasoline-powered Mercedes-Benz in much the same way that BMW caters to i3 owners who take the odd long journey.
This summer, the first states to get the B-Class are those with low-emissions regulations such as California. The company plans to go nationwide with it in 2015. Pricing starts at $42,375, and a 240-volt charger is extra. Many states offer credits for buying alternative-fuel vehicles; California offers $2,500, for example, while federal credit is currently $7,500.