Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric Drive Details:
Electronics: 5.8” Display Screen and USB connection | Car-to-phone connectivity | Radar-based brake regeneration | Collision prevention assists | Electric drive system
+ Pros: Peppy off stop | Quiet cabin at speed | Technology rich for price point | Zero emissions | Reasonable price
- Cons: Limited rear legroom for taller passengers | Aesthetic design of center display | Potential range anxiety
“The auto industry will change more in the next 10 years than it has in past 50,” shares a representative at the new Mercedes-Benz Research & Development North America facility in Sunnyvale, CA. The Silicon Valley think tank sits in close proximity to names like Apple, Facebook and Google and is alive with young futurists wielding complimentary Odwalla juices and trays of mixed nuts in the new open architecture glass-laden building. We are here to find out where Mercedes-Benz is headed and why it’s so excited about the new 2014 B-Class Electric Drive compact.
First off, what car(s) come to mind when thinking zero emission, all electric? Imagery of blatantly obvious green platforms such as the road-rage inducing Toyota Prius or Nissan Leaf materialize, just before the all-new BMW i3 funnels in. Saving the earth aside, all-electric options in today’s compact market are not exactly an exciting prospect for the “spirited driver” sect. That being said, EV tech is an intriguing one when considering instantaneous full torque delivery, precise power tailoring for electric tuners and of course sustainability.
Thankfully, the joy of driving was not lost on the 2014 Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric Drive, which comes available in select states this July. Over 230000 conventional B-Class units have already been sold abroad since being launched in 2011. This electric variant though focuses on simplicity, luxury and performance at a base price of $42375 – a roughly $5500 premium over a fully decked out Nissan Leaf. It outdid my preconceived expectations and is a worthy candidate for those seeking a secondary or localized mode of transport. As the brand’s first stateside all-electric production model you’ll quickly notice it lacks that, “I’m Green!” spacecraft design so popular in the current alternative power vehicle market. I will never understand buying a sluggish $25000+ vehicle that looks like it arrived from a futuristic land of overdone Gluten-, excitement-, corporation-free sustainably. The B-Class Electric Drive instead stuck to its soft and smoothed European styling roots.
Palo “The Home of Innovation” Alto, CA set the stage for the Tesla-powered B-Class Electric Drive introduction. As a tech-centric automaker, Mercedes-Benz R&D North America futurists explained why grabbing US market share in this arena is so important. It is the brand’s strongest market and unlike Japan or Russia, America has a strong base of young people feeding its future. Generation Y and X heading towards an age of more purchasing power, more mega-suburbs, governmental incentives, improved infrastructure, travel cost savings and a growing number of progressive “California” mindsets are all positive indicators to continued growth in the US’s low-to-zero emission vehicle market. This is where the story of bringing the 2014 Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric Drive stateside begins.
First, the performance numbers of the Stuttgart produced B-Class Electric Drive: Using a Fremont, CA produced Tesla drive system and 28kWh lithium-ion battery the four-door hatch will reach 0-60mph in an estimated 7.9sec (see video for a rough 0-60mph run) and a top speed of 100mph via 178hp and 251 lb-ft of instant torque. US curb weight is 3924 lb, which is about 500 lb more than the diesel version and around 700 lb more than a gas engine variant. It’s notable to know that a high kWh number is not an indicator of more power; total power is a factor of the EV components used. Off a stop and in S-power mode, the B-Class Electric Drive will chirp a tire and get moving in silently swift fashion. Press the accelerator at city driving speeds and power is waiting. There is something special about moving quickly through snaking scenic roads that is beginning to grow on me. Compared to a Prius or Leaf, the handling is tight and even though body roll is felt during mild cornering it is significantly better than what is on the road now. The B-Class Electric Drive was surprising in this regard. All of this in a motor package that is said to be the size of a rugby ball with a small transmission and essentially one gear. The 8-year or 100000-mile warrantied battery is positioned above the axles in a reinforced frame under the rear seat floor, which does step its height up from the front.
The vehicle range is an unofficial 80/85 miles on a full charge – official results to come. Charge time to full is 3.5hrs when using a Level 2, 40-amp (240v) charger. Mercedes will package in the cost of installing such a home charging unit at time of purchase as well – price on that TBA but expect a 240 customer charging unit announcement closer to the mid-summer July launch in the ZEV states. If you attempted to charge the vehicle off a regular plug the full charge time would surpass the 30hr mark. According to Jochen Eck, Mercedes-Benz Senior Manager for EV Testing, a conventional auxiliary range extender such as that available for the new BMW i3 was taken off the table early because R&D into such a device did not share the same horizon as electric and those are basically a Band-Aid fix to a battery life issue that will improve over time. This is where the range anxiety might start to set in for some but take into account that 69% of people drive less than 60 miles a day during the work week and about 54% drive less than 40 total miles during that same time frame, as stated by Mercedes-Benz. This is not a road trip vehicle but one to complete daily tasks in urban or suburban family communities.
Regenerative braking technology, a power-neutering E-mode and Range Plus feature work to increase total range. The Range Plus feature, available as a button in the cockpit, allows up to 14 extra miles by overboosting the battery 15% (28kWH) while it is being charged – simply press it before charging and that’s it. Toggling to E-mode from S-mode affects throttle input and decreases the amount of energy possible at WOT. Four levels of regenerative braking are also available as an option: D-, D, D+ and D Auto. This basically works by recouping battery energy through deceleration.
Each regenerative braking mode, controlled by left/right paddles on the steering wheel, speaks with a radar-based system. To the front of the vehicle is a radar device that monitors the distance of the vehicle ahead and relays info to the regenerative braking and Collision Prevention system. D- mode for instance is the most intrusive and will enable automated deceleration at the longest distance from the car ahead or while traveling downhill. Remove your foot from the accelerator and regenerative braking will automatically begin to slow the car at strengths decided by the regen mode you chose. Energy is sent back into the battery through this process. For instance, driving up elevation uses a lot of energy but through regenerative braking you can gain some of that energy back on the way down. I found D Auto mode to be the best comprise in day-to-day driving. General braking strength is capable and linear after initial initiation, much more so than Japanese electric compacts now for sale. The regenerative brake system does add a bit different of a grab feel to the pedal but it is something you get used to.
Monitoring vehicle data comes compliments of fairly easy to read center digital gauge screen that sits in-between a standard speedo and energy use dial. Cycling through options such as speed, miles left on charge and energy flow is available on a steering wheel D-pad. To the right is a standard 5.8” tablet-style display that displays multimedia, navigation, vehicle data or the institutive rear view camera. While the placement of this screen is in clear eyeshot of the driver, its design aesthetics look forced – almost like the front interior was mapped out and then as an afterthought the LCD display was stuck on top. If this tablet-sized screen was detachable and touch-sensitive its design would be much more acceptable but again and most importantly, the placement does allow for easy viewing while driving.
Interior feel is what you expect from Mercedes and that is fantastic. Leather seats, fine stitching and textured trim pieces create a cockpit and passenger area familiar to those not new to the brand. The B-Class Electric Drive does not try to go overly futuristic in its style. Everything is where it should be and that improves its usability. A person that’s never driven an electric can jump in and take off without needing to read an instruction manual. As a 6’3 tall person, I had no gripes with headroom. There is limited rear legroom for taller passengers especially when anyone of size is sitting up front. Positively, rear passengers have access to a dropdown table with cup holder equipped on the back of the front seats, similar to what you’d find on an airplane. The rear seats also fold down for increased cargo room. Trunk space is adequate and not muddled by rear battery placement. The B-Class Electric Drive has a wheelbase of 106.26 inches. Insulation throughout keeps the ride quiet unless you choose to turn up the upgraded stereo, which works well.
Car-to-Bluetooth-device connectivity is another selling feature of the B-Class Electric Drive. The Vehicle Homepage app allows you to control and monitor the most important aspects of the vehicle from both a maintenance and comfort perspective. From a PC or smartphone, it is possible to check battery charge, plan a route and control pre-heating or cooling of the vehicle prior to entering. Future apps will allow the car to speak to home devices once within a preset range so you could essentially have the heater running or front lights turned on just before pulling into the driveway.
“Cool factor” weighs into the buying decision for most enthusiasts and that starts at the exterior design. This is a subjective matter though. Personally, I would not be caught dead buying a Prius or Leaf for the sheer owner connotations its profile brings. Alternatively, the exterior of the B-Class Electric Drive is smooth and if anything very European looking. While it is not aggressive looking by any means it doesn’t scream, “Tree Hugger” - another check in the positive category.
“The future is already here - it is just not evenly distributed.” – William Gibson
The B-Class Electric Drive is leaps and bounds more appealing than today’s Japanese examples humming around a neighborhood near you and a bit more expensive. The cabin is quiet at freeway speed, acceleration will keep you awake, the interior feels like a Mercedes and it’s priced just a tad more than a Nissan Leaf. Electric cars are becoming more fun to drive and the technology that comes with this price point Mercedes is hard to ignore. EV sales are significantly rising year-over-year in the US with the limited options available. People want these cars, especially the aging younger demographic. The 2014 Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric Drive caters to a growing pool of progressive thinkers and in the process hopes to bring fresh faces to the brand similarly to what the CLA has already begun to do. This compact is a step in the right direction for attainable electric vehicles. For those with localized commutes or secondary family vehicle needs the Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric Drive could be for you.