The 2014 Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric Drive is proof that the electric vehicle market is maturing. The 5-door hatchback shape shares lots of Mercedes-Benz styling cues, but the Nissan Leaf and Ford Focus EV share a similar profile. The range maxes out at about 85 miles per charge; competitive, but not ground-breaking. Even the price doesn't raise much of an eyebrow. At about $42,000, it's right in line with its primary competitor, the new BMW i3.
In other words, it hits the benchmarks without breaking a lot of new ground in terms of styling, range, or performance. And that might wind up being its strongest selling point. After all, lots of people don't want their car to look like a science project. The BMW i3's polarizing looks are bound to alienate some buyers, and they may prefer the more conservative style of the Mercedes-Benz B-Class.
But while it doesn't go out of its way to attract attention, we do like the way the electric 2014 B-Class went about its business during our brief drive in California's Silicon Valley. The Tesla-supplied battery and drivetrain offers up good acceleration. With 177 horsepower and 251 lb-ft of torque, it propels the hatchback from 0 to 60 mph in just under 8 seconds, according to Mercedes-Benz. It's extremely quiet on the road. Even without a droning engine to mask things like wind and road noise, the B-Class was quiet at all speeds. While it's clear the B-Class isn't intended as a sporty vehicle, the suspension is taut enough that it holds its own on twisting roads, albeit at the expense of a stiff ride.
The 28 kWh battery can hold a charge good for about 85 miles, and recharges completely in about 3.5 hours with a Level 2 charger, about average for EVs these days. However, a range boosting package gives you the option of occasionally extending that by 18 miles by holding additional charge in the battery pack. You have to activate the system before charging, and there's a chance that it could decrease the life of the battery over time if you use it a lot. No worries though, as Mercedes-Benz also has an extended warranty on its battery, offering 8 years or 100,000 miles coverage for defects or loss of capacity, and including no-cost maintenance and roadside assistance.
Multiple Regenerative Braking Options
All electric vehicles have a system to recapture energy from the brakes to help recharge the battery. Known as regenerative braking, the Mercedes-Benz B-Class offers a couple of clever twists on this with an option that includes radar-based control. The system gives you four different Drive modes, activated by steering wheel-mounted paddles: D, D-, D+, and D Auto. D feels like your standard automatic transmission; take your foot off the accelerator, and the car gradually slows, in this case helping to regenerate the battery a little bit. D+ lets the car glide when you let off the accelerator, as if you'd shifted into neutral. D- does the opposite, maximizing regenerative braking, the sensation akin to having left the parking brake on. D Auto uses the radar cruise control to monitor traffic ahead, and provide more or less aggressive braking as you drive. However, it is NOT active cruise control (although that's available), rather, it's a way to maximize regenerative braking in traffic, or even while coasting downhill.
From a daily driver standpoint, the B-Class has an advantage over several of its competitors. The hatchback can seat five, one more than the i3, and the front two passengers have comfortable seats and exceptional room, especially overhead thanks to the B-Class's high roof. Rear seat passengers will find things a little tighter thanks to the low seat cushion, but there's ample headroom, and even a fold-down tray on the front seatbacks.
Ample Cargo Room
There's no problem with cargo space though, as the B-Class Electric Drive has plenty of room behind the rear seats, and even more if you fold those seatbacks down. The electric B-Class also benefits from its own version of Mercedes-Benz mbrace technology. In addition to checking range and charge state from your phone, you can even adjust the climate control to keep the car cool or warm while it's plugged in, saving the battery for more important things like moving the car around when it's done charging.
So the first fully electric Mercedes-Benz is also a practical, comfortable, well sorted, high-tech, and reasonably priced car. Our guess is that with the extended range package and the radar-based regenerative braking system, the price will be somewhere closer to $50,000, but that's before the $7,500 tax credit, and whatever state incentives there may be. As EVs go, that's a pretty good deal for a luxury-branded, nicely styled, well thought-out electric car. We'll know in July if the EV buying public agrees.
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