Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric Drive brings luxe and limitations

Electric European hatchback offers more range than most

Published: September 16, 2014 03:30 PM

If there are two things many electric-car buyers wish for, it’s more range and more space. And that’s just what Mercedes-Benz offers with its new B-Class Electric Drive.

Based on a small minivanlike hatchback sold in overseas markets, the B-Class is coming to the United States only as an electric car. (A couple hundred of the previous-generation B-Class models were sold in Southern California as fuel-cell vehicles, as well.)

The B is upright, with a commanding view of the road. And it’s pretty roomy for a small car. The backseat even has airplane-style dinner trays with cup holders, though despite the promise, it’s not especially spacious. The B-Class electric is available with Mercedes' latest suite of active safety aids, such as radar-based Collision Prevention Assist.

While the B-Class electric normally has about the same 80-mile nominal range (with an EPA rating of 87 miles) as other electric cars claim, this Mercedes has an extended Range Plus mode that you can select before you plug it in. That charges the lithium-ion drive battery to its full 36-kWh capacity, instead of its normal 28 kWh. Maximizing the charge will take some toll on battery life, but Mercedes says it will have no effect on the battery warranty. The company says this trick is good for about an additional 20 miles, or a little over 100 miles in the real world. It takes about 3.5 hours to charge on a 240-volt electric-car charger, give or take, either way. It has no DC fast-charge port.

We recently rented a B-Class ED from Mercedes to evaluate at our track, but we didn’t have a chance to test that claim. But based on the dashboard display, it appears to be one of the least-efficient electric cars on the market, delivering about 2.9 miles per kWh, or about the equivalent of about 98 mpg. (By comparison, the Nissan Leaf gets 108 MPGe in our testing.) Fortunately, efficiency is balanced by battery size, enabling a respectable range.

With no transmission, paddles behind the steering wheel switch modes for regenerative brakes: Drive Minus mode boosts regenerative braking so you can drive almost entirely with only the accelerator pedal. Lifting off the accelerator brings it to a quick stop. Coasting requires a fine art of balancing the accelerator between go and stop. Drive Plus mode allows it to coast an extra distance, but it diminishes the range-stretching benefits of regenerative brakes. Auto mode uses the Collision Prevention Assist radar to automatically slow down with regenerative brakes.

While most electric cars are smooth, quick, and quiet, we found the B-Class feels dated compared with some others. Its 177-hp electric motor is quick enough, but the suspension is stiff, handling is ho-hum, the cabin not all that quiet, and with its tall stance, it has a tendency to rock side-to-side over bumps.

The B-Class Electric Drive went on sale in California in July for $41,450, minus a $7,500 tax credit. It rolls out nationwide in early 2015.  

Eric Evarts

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