- Supremely quiet
- Comfortable seats
- Choice of regenerative-braking modes
- No fast-charge capability
- Grabby brakes at low speed
- Bland exterior
The 2014 Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric Drive delivers tall-hatchback versatility and impressive performance, with all the finesse and features you might expect from the luxury marque.
If you've even considered going gasoline-free with a vehicle like the 2014 Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric Drive -- the only way you can get a B-Class in the U.S. -- you’re probably already acutely aware that plugging in, and going all-electric, is a numbers game. Will you have enough available miles for your daily driving and your weekly errands—as well as enough extra range if you’re faced with an unexpected errand? And will the electric vehicle be spacious and comfortable enough for the daily grind?
The B-Class Electric doesn’t at all flaunt its maverick status like BMW’s glitzy, carbon fiber and aluminum bodied i3, yet it's a step ahead where it matters to practically minded households. Instead of wow and flutter, it's point by point a direct answer to all—well, without fast charging, we'll say most—of those questions and anxieties: a conservative, traditional-looking ‘gateway’ vehicle.
Just as with the Ford C-Max, which is about the same size on the outside, the B-Class is a vehicle that looks designed to have a spacious interior from the start. Developed initially for the European market (and closely related to the CLA and upcoming GLA, but more plainly styled), the B-Class has a rather long (106.3-inch) wheelbase and tall, softly arched roofline. And it does absolutely wow on the inside, with an airy cabin that allows lots of headroom, great ease of entry, and a back seat that works for adults. From the inside, it feels a class larger than it is, and if you're cross-shopping a lot of vehicles it might leave you staring at the BMW X1 in disgust of wasted space.
The B-Class's straightforward, non-gimmicky presentation carries over to how this car rides, drives, and works for commuters and families. Acceleration is strong; and as you'll find of nearly any any electric car, you move quickly and silently, especially at lower speeds. The Tesla-supplied motor system makes 177 hp (132 kW), and delivers 251 lb-ft. And at 7.9 seconds to 60 mph, officially, the B-Class Electric is quicker than many crossovers. And with two settings for driving style (E or S) and four available brake-regeneration modes—including a radar-based system that will add more regenerative braking for steep hills or as you approach other vehicles—the Electric Drive should meet a lot of needs and expectations.
A rather hefty (3,900-pound) curb weight and long wheelbase contribute to this tall hatchback’s settled ride and sense of poise. The B-Class keeps with that impression at lower speeds, or in higher-speed cruising, handling in a soft, stable way. Yet its well-weighted steering comes more to life on curvy roads, where it’s a little sportier than the ride (or the exterior) leads on. Braking is excellent for quick stops and medium-heft stops in suburban-boulevard stop-and-go, although it can be a bit grabby when crawling slowly.
The 2014 Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric Drive doesn't skimp on comfort, refinement, or interior materials. It's every bit as much of a luxury car as other models from the brand, despite being the smallest model with the three-pointed star, as well as an all-electric hatchback. It includes full-size, well-shaped seats that felt, refreshingly, like we could have spent several hours non-stop in them with absolutely no complaints (a boon for those who must commute in near gridlock). Rear-seat space is surprisingly vast, but the battery pack that’s sandwiched under that area brings what feels like a low-set seat and high floor—requiring adults to sit in a knees-up position, and keeping the seatbacks from folding quite flat. But there’s still a lot of versatility in the arrangement, as well as a very low load floor in back.
Ride quality isn’t perfect (with the B-Class’ short wheelbase, it can feel a little busy on some choppy surfaces), but it’s composed the vast majority of the time and soaks up all the major bumps. This truly is a quiet interior—the quietest of any of the small all-electric models we've driven so far. And interior trims and materials are entirely up to the impressive standards of the brand’s other vehicles.
Mercedes-Benz has always made safety one of its top priorities, no matter what the type of vehicle or its size—and the B-Class Electric Drive is no exception. It includes all the safety features that are common among entry luxury cars, plus some active-safety extras that you might not expect to see in this class. Furthermore, the B-Class is an established model in Europe with a great reputation for safety, and it carries forward with that. All B-Class models include Attention Assist, which warns you when your attention might be waning; and there are seven airbags in all. This model has indeed performed very well in European crash tests, but it hasn’t (and probably won’t) be tested in the U.S.
Although full pricing for option packages and standalone extras hasn’t yet been detailed, Mercedes-Benz has released that the 2014 B-Class Electric Drive starts at $42,375. Standard equipment on the 2014 B-Class Electric Drive will include power front seats, cruise control, Active Parking Assist, Collision Prevention Assist, Attention Assist, LED daytime running lamps, and a 5.8-inch display screen with navigation system and USB port. One very noteworthy option is Range Plus, which adds 3 kWh of battery capacity to what’s otherwise the same battery and physical setup. With the press of a button, owners may on occasion get an additional 10 to 15 percent of range (8 to 18 miles)—on top of the 'normal' range that's EPA-rated at 87 miles.
This model does have one potentially important bragging right that will give it some cred amongst iconoclast types: California-based Tesla Motors actually supplies the battery packs, and builds the motor and controller assemblies in a special area of its Fremont, California factory where the Tesla Model S is assembled; it then ships that to Germany where the Electric Drive is built.
The Electric Drive goes on sale in July 2014 in ten California-emissions states, while it will reach dealerships in the rest of the U.S. early next year.