- 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.
2014 Mercedes-Benz B-Class
The 2014 Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric Drive fits right in with the rest of the Mercedes-Benz lineup—but it’s definitely a bit blander on the outside than the new CLA, GLA, or C-Class.
In terms of styling, the 'B' in B-Class might as well be for bland—at least from the outside. The B-Class has a shape that plots function over form, and looks a bit like a 4/5ths-scale last-generation M-Class from some angles on the outside. What it most closely compares to is the Ford C-Max, and it has a nice stance provided you’re not up close (when it looks a bit more egg-shaped). Side sheetmetal is sculpted in subtle but meaningful ways, while running lamps are a stylish bar-shaped LED array, and the headlamps are nicely detailed. In back, there’s a thin chrome bar at each taillamp, slanted slightly, while a stronger chrome bar running across the middle provides a more garish detail that we’d probably choose to do without.
The B-Class is built on essentially the same vehicle architecture as the CLA sedan and upcoming GLA utility vehicle. While the GLA is more low-slung and fashionable, the B-Class is more of a conventional people-mover—a non-outdoorsy crossover wagon, ideally laid-out for those who dwell mostly in the city and suburbs. Seating heights for the B-Class are a little higher, and the B-Class' 'semi-sandwich' floor layout allows a safe space for a large battery pack while only giving up a flat-folding cargo floor.
Inside, the B-Class doesn't look out of place one bit in the Mercedes-Benz lineup; it has the same familiar layout, with a low instrument panel, elegantly trimmed with rounded vents and a 'floating' infotainment screen with the COMAND interface. It’s tasteful to a delightful level, with trims, materials, and surfaces that really live up to the luxury badge—and outshine those used in the Nissan Leaf, or the Chevrolet Volt for that matter.
2014 Mercedes-Benz B-Class
The 2014 Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric Drive doesn’t have the sport-sedan heart of a Tesla Model S or the boldness of an AMG product, but it feels much more eager than you might expect of a 'green' car.
Acceleration is strong; and as you'll find of nearly 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.
As with most electric cars, there are multiple settings that allow you to get either a 'gliding' driving feel that's more 'normal,' or more aggressive regenerative braking that slows the vehicle quickly when you lift off the accelerator (possibly improving efficiency). Like Mercedes models for decades, the B-Class has 'E' and 'S' modes for the powertrain. While 'E,' for efficiency, provides a soft accelerator tip-in and a nice linear reaction to your right foot, you need to press farther to get the kind of snappy responsiveness that's tuned into some electric cars (no complaint there, as it's easier to drive efficiently). Switch over to 'S' and you get the more aggressive response in that first half inch on the accelerator.
Additionally, you need to go past the accelerator-pedal detent (like the 'kickdown' position in an automatic-transmission car) to get all 132 kW of output in 'E' (up at the detent you get 98 kW, then the full amount is delivered with a sudden surge), whereas with 'S' mode, you get not only a more aggressive calibration but the full 132 kW right at the detent—no need to 'kick down' past it.
With the available Radar-based Recuperation System, the B-Class offers four levels of regenerative braking: D (Drive), D+, D-, and D-Auto. D-Auto ramps up the regen depending on how close you are to a vehicle ahead, the slope of the road, and your driving behavior, while D+ provides less regen—a full ‘gliding’ experience, really—and D- gives more regen. While you're driving, you can click through the three regen modes with the paddle-shifters, or hold them down to access D-Auto.
A rather hefty (3,900-pound) curb weight and long wheelbase contribute to this tall hatchback’s settled ride and sense of poise. The E-Class keeps with that impression at lower speeds, or in higher-speed cruising, handling in a soft, stable way. So it's a bit surprising that its well-weighted steering comes more to life in switchbacks and on curvy roads, where the suspension reveals itself as sportier than first thought (the suspension has been recalibrated versus European gasoline/diesel models, and it rides more than an inch higher).
Braking is excellent for quick stops and medium-heft stops in suburban-boulevard stop-and-go, although we noticed that as we inched slowly ahead in an area with both near gridlock and frequent pedestrian crosswalks, low-speed braking precision isn't quite there—a little too grabby.
2014 Mercedes-Benz B-Class
Comfort & Quality
Excellent passenger space and interior comfort, plus a super-quiet interior, altogether makes the B-Class Electric Drive one of the best entries in its class for families.
Many electric cars and smaller hatchbacks are saddled with short, flat seats, but the B-Class 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).
As for the area behind the front seats, it's excellent for passenger comfort although somewhat compromised for versatility and cargo. Since the floor edges upward under the front seats, the back seats are low-set on the floor, leaving taller adults (like this one) to fit just fine but feel that they're in a knees-up position. Also, the seatbacks flip forward, but you'll need to manually click the headrests to their lower position (or remove them) in order to fit, and once you get the seat folded, the cargo floor isn't flat—there's a step up.
However the load height is very low; the hatch lifts up easily and, while it doesn’t have a power release it's easy to reach for those who aren’t tall or lanky.
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. And this really is a quiet interior—the quietest of any of the small all-electric models we've driven so far.
2014 Mercedes-Benz B-Class
The 2014 Mercedes-Benz B-Class already has a great reputation for safety, and the Electric Drive carries that forward.
Among those extras are a standard radar-based warning system with Active Brake Assist, which will give visual and audible warnings for an anticipated collision and help out with braking as needed.
Also included in all 2014 B-Class Electric Drive models is Attention Assist, which studies the pattern with which you make corrections to the steering and anticipates when you’re dangerously tired, flashing a warning and coffee-cup symbol.
Mercedes-Benz has placed the battery, sandwiched, in the so-called ‘Energy Space’ of the B-Class’s underfloor, where it can be well-protected in virtually any kind of crash; it’s entirely above axle level, and it’s protected from below by puncture-resistant shielding. There are also seven airbags in all, including driver and front passenger window bags and a driver knee bag.
Although U.S. crash-test ratings are unlikely, due to the B-Class Electric Drive’s rather low estimated sales numbers, the model fares very well according to the EuroNCAP (European) safety protocol; there, it’s one of the top-performing vehicles for adult-size occupant protection, and a five-star (out of five) performer overall.
2014 Mercedes-Benz B-Class
You won't miss out by going electric; Mercedes-Benz has done an excellent job in assuring that the B-Class Electric Drive has many of the features and options of its gasoline and diesel vehicles.
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.
Harman Kardon premium audio will be one major standalone option. So will the Radar-Based Recuperation (smart regen) system, which allows you to fine-tune regenerative braking (as well as adding an automatic mode based on radar inputs). Blind Spot Assist and Lane Keeping Assist will also be at extra cost, potentially packaged with the smart regen feature. A full-featured COMAND system with larger seven-inch screen, as well as Parktronic with Advanced Parking Assist together round out the list of extras.
One other major 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)
As with most electric vehicles, there’s an app-controlled pre-conditioning system that allows you to bring your vehicles (cool it or heat it) to a comfortable temperature before you disconnect it from the charger and get in.
2014 Mercedes-Benz B-Class
The 2014 Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric Drive is efficient and tailpipe-exhaust-free—and some smart, environmentally conscious commuters and families are going to appreciate that.
Unfortunately, there's no fast-charge capability for the B-Class Electric Drive, which rules out sustained travel along so-called 'electric highways.' The ED can be charged fully in about 3.5 hours, or to 60 miles of range in less than two hours, on 240V. And if you dare charge it on 120V household AC, it takes roughly 30 hours.
While the Range Plus option won’t affect the Electric Drive’s efficiency, it will open up an extra 3 kWh of battery capacity—temporarily raising it to 31 kWh, to allow an added range of approximately ten percent (about 8 miles, although Mercedes-Benz says up to 18 miles under ideal conditions) that aren’t included in the official range figures.
As part of this package, the Electric Drive will also gain an electric windshield and increased thermal insulation in the doors.
The Electric Drive's available Radar-based Recuperation System might also help improve real-world efficiency. With four modes of regenerative-braking behavior (D (Drive), D+, D-, and D-Auto. D-Auto), you can choose the one that best matches your driving style. With the D-Auto mode, you get more regenerative braking when you reach a range of 260 feet to the car ahead. It raises the level of regenerative braking gradually, up to a maximum 100 feet behind that car. There’s also a logic that will automatically raise the level of regeneration on steeper downhills, so as to eliminate the need to dab the brakes at up to an eight percent grade.