Mercedes-Benz is a company whose reputation for putting forth the best or nothing at all, puts it under a lot of pressure. Because the brand trumpets its commitment to delivering in such a fashion, consumers and reviewers alike expect absolute perfection from each and every new model wearing the three-pointed star, like the new Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric Drive.
People living in the United States expect a Mercedes to be fast, beautiful, safe, comfortable, and luxurious. Most of all, a Benz is expected to make the statement; “I have made it.” Or, at least, “I’m faking it until I make it.”
Now, with that said, it is also important to recognize while we here in the United States think of Mercedes-Benz as a high-line luxury brand; in much of the rest of the world, the marque also delivers mainstream workaday models, with no real nod toward luxury at all. Indeed, our beloved Mercedes E-Class sedan—as an example—serves in much of the rest of the world as a taxi cab and a police car; making it kind of like Europe’s Ford Crown Victoria (back when the Ford served the livery and law enforcement trades here in the U.S.).
So, where are we going with this, and what does any of this have to do with the new Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric Drive?
2014 Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric Drive Review: Models & Pricing
The 2014 model year marks the first appearance of the B-Class Mercedes-Benz in the United States (Canada has had it for a while). While there are a number of different engine options, and trim levels available for the small Mercedes in the rest of the world, here in the US the B-Class will come in Electric Drive only—for now.
When it goes on sale this summer, with pricing starting at $41,450 (plus an additional $925 for destination and delivery) the first fully electric Mercedes-Benz offered here will number full power accessories, navigation, cruise control, and parking assist among its standard features.
The model will also deliver power actuated driver and front passenger seats with memory functions for both, Bluetooth audio and telephone connectivity, a 5.8-inch video monitor, Satellite Radio, and a CD player within its base price. The Mercedes mBrace2 telematics solution, which enables Internet connectivity for access to information from sites like Facebook, Google, and Yelp! Will be offered as standard equipment as well.
Optional kit will include blind spot monitoring, lane keep assist, advanced parking assistance, and of course the Mercedes-Benz Comand telematics interface with a seven-inch display.
2014 Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric Drive Review: Design
Where competitors like BMW chose to go with a radically different looking model for its for its first dedicated foray into electric cars (and no we haven’t forgotten the electric 1 Series models—but those models were also offered solely with internal combustion power here in the US) Mercedes-Benz is taking a more conservative approach.
Indeed, were it not for the badging and stickers, most passersby would never know the B-Class Electric Drive is an ion-powered device. It looks pretty much like every other Mercedes-Benz product you’ve ever seen. Basically, if you’ve seen any compact crossover suv, you’ll pretty much lump the Mercedes into that category.
We found a mixed range of opinions on the look of the model during our impromptu “people on the street” interviews in tony downtown Palo Alto, Calif. An affluent community, the town hosts the campus of Stanford University. While pretty much everyone we asked recognized it as a Mercedes-Benz, people were divided in terms of the relative beauty of the B-Class. Some (mostly young males) declared it dowdy; others (mostly young women) thought it was cute.
We think the look of the B-Class is a bit restrained compared to the rest of the designs pouring forth from the MBZ styling studios these days. But, we also appreciate the way it tastefully blends into the mainstream, rather than standing out in a “Hey, check ME out bitches!” manner—like say, the BMW i3.
2014 Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric Drive Review: Features & Controls
One thing you can count on in every single Mercedes-Benz automobile you ever sit in will be the ergonomic correctness of the placement of its controls. Everything you need to make the B-Class Electric Drive Mercedes-Benz start, go, stop, and turn, as well as warm you, cool you, and entertain you is exactly where you expect it to be. If you’ve been in any Mercedes-Benz product built during the past five to seven years, you’ll feel right at home in the B-Class Electric drive.
There are no surprises here, it’s just a well thought out design.
In fact, some might even be put off, expecting the electric Mercedes-Benz to wow its occupants with lots of whiz-bang gee-whiz “I’m electric” gewgaws. To that end, yes there are readouts permitting the monitoring of the powertrain’s various ministrations, but there are no aural fanfares, revolving graphics, or anything of that nature to announce you are in the electric Mercedes-Benz.
As a matter of fact, you have to dig down into the Comand system to find the EV screens, and similarly, you have to tell the display between the two main instruments to give you its Eco readouts. In other words, the B-Class Electric Drive is the most conventionally featured electric car we’ve ever driven. The one overt nod to the electric powertrain is the replacement of the tachometer with an analog power usage gauge.
2014 Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric Drive Review: Comfort & Cargo
Despite its tidy footprint, the B-Class Mercedes-Benz offers an abundance of storage space behind the rear seat. Bordering on cavernous, the space is wide, deep, and free of intrusions from the architecture of the automobile. The model boasts some 17.7 cubic feet of cargo capacity with the rear seat deployed. Fold the rear seat away, the B-Class will permit the loading of an amazing 51.4 cubic feet of cargo.
On the comfort side of the equation, the same statement we made of the Mercedes-Benz penchant for ergonomics can be made for its commitment to comfort. Remember, most German cars are designed to be driven over long distances at high speeds because of their network of highways. This is why they feature all-day comfort capabilities.
The seating is firm without being overly hard, multi adjustable to enable a broad variety of individuals to find comfort, and is heated as well. Speaking of which, one very nice comfort feature of the B-Class Electric Drive is cabin pre-conditioning. At the touch of a button either in the car, or on your smartphone, you can have the climate control system activate before you get into the Mercedes so you never have to deal with a super heated, or a frigid interior. When the car is connected to the charger it will even do this while continuing to charge the battery.
A number of other aspects of the B-Class Electric Drive can be accessed over the Internet through a personal computer or by smartphone. Among them, you can also monitor charge status, plan trips, and find charging stations.
2014 Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric Drive Review: Safety & Ratings
While brands like Volvo are very highly regarded for safety, the fact is Mercedes-Benz designs its products to live up to a similar standard.
In addition to the usual anti-lock braking functions, traction control, stability control, and a full array of airbags; you find collision prevention assist, brake assist, blind spot monitoring, front and rear parking sensor arrays, lane keeping assist, and an active park assist function.
While neither NHTSA, not the IIHS (Insurance Institute of Highway Safety) have issued crash test ratings for the Mercedes-Benz B-Class; the model has consistently ranked quite highly in European crash tests.
2014 Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric Drive Review: Powertrain/Range
Developed and produced by Tesla Motors, the electric powertrain is fed by a liquid-cooled 28 kW-hr lithium-ion battery pack, which delivers electricity to a 100 kW electric motor (equivalent to approximately 134 horsepower), and a single speed transmission. The motor’s 228 ft-lbs of torque are routed to the model’s front wheels.
The battery pack is said to be good for a maximum range of 85 miles when the B-Class is driven conservatively. Recharging, with a level two recharging device (which Mercedes will offer with the vehicle), can be accomplished from near depletion in about 3.5 hours. However, the battery can also be charged to within 80 percent of its capacity (abut 60 miles of range) in just under two hours.
Regenerative charging while on the move is part of the energizing strategy for the B-Class Electric Drive. As is typical for cars of this nature, coasting and braking will also generate electricity, which can be stored in the battery pack. Mercedes has fitted a variety of regenerative modes in an effort to make it operate as much like a conventional automobile as possible.
Anyone who has ever driven a hybrid, or another model with an electric powertrain has probably experienced the aggressive deceleration that happens when you lift off of the throttle. This is variable in the B-Class. Paddles behind the steering wheel enable you to set the level of aggressiveness you desire, and you can even put it in an automatic mode. This will monitor traffic ahead of the B-Class and automatically institute regeneration when cars in its path slow down. It’s very subtle in operation, but if you pay specific attention to it, you can sense it functioning.
To free owners from worry about the longevity of the battery pack, Mercedes is guaranteeing the unit to hold at least 70 percent of its full capacity for either eight years or 100,000 miles.
2014 Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric Drive Review: Driving Impressions
Aside from its near-silent operation, very little about the Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric Drive will tell you it’s an electric car. You put the key in it, turn it to the start position like you would in any other car, put the transmission in drive, and go.
The electric Benz offers two driving modes; eco and sport. In the eco mode, acceleration is smooth and gentle. The Mercedes easily keeps pace with traffic, and most drivers will be perfectly happy driving it this way—particularly since it also maximizes the battery’s range.
In the sport mode, acceleration is considerably more brisk. While we didn’t do timed runs to 60, the visceral response you get from tipping into the throttle with the propulsion system set to sport is quite satisfying. While it isn’t an “ohmigod! this thing is hellafast” feeling like the one gets from the Tesla Model S, it is quick enough to be satisfying—keeping in mind this isn’t a performance car.
And, keeping in mind this mode depletes the battery more rapidly.
Running the B-Class Electric with the regeneration system set to its most aggressive setting plays nicely in more sporting operation. Delivering a response similar to the engine braking you get from an internal combustion engine, you can use it slow the electric B-Class to enter corners, without using the brakes.
Speaking of which, when you initially step on the brake pedal, the first bit of the range of travel activates the regenerative system so while you’re slowing; you’re not actually using the brakes. They kick in a little farther down in the pedal’s range of travel. Sensitive drivers may notice it right away, but once you become acclimated, it’s a non-issue.
Around town, the electric Mercedes delivers a smooth, comfortable and drama free ride. It’s quite pleasant actually. When you find yourself on a winding mountain road, you won’t have to worry about holding up traffic either, as there is more than a hint of sportiness built into the suspension setup. Yes, it’s bit on the soft side, but it holds the road nicely and exhibits very minimal body roll.
2014 Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric Drive Review: Final Thoughts
Depending upon your perspective, Mercedes-Benz has either delivered the perfect electric car, or the world’s most conformist one. The B-Class Electric Drive is so conventional in its operation, only its silence in operation will tell you it’s anything but a regular old car. In fact, you even need a key to start it—push-button start isn’t offered. Nor is keyless entry for that matter.
While you’d think something like that would be de rigueur for a model from a company whose motto is the best or nothing, keep in mind in the rest of the world, the B-Class Mercedes-Benz isn’t really a luxury model. Based on the company’s ultra compact A-Class, the B-Class is more like the Mercedes-Benz version of an every person’s car.
In other words, the B-Class is pretty obviously built to a price. This is pretty evident inside—once you look past the Mercedes switchgear, instrumentation, and cockpit layout. The upholstery is vinyl, that broad swath of “wood” across the dash is actually plastic, as is the dash and door panel treatments. Leather, genuine wood veneers, and metallic switches are reserved for more upscale MBZ models.
Also, the B-Class is one of the two smallest Mercedes-Benz models on offer. While we found legroom, headroom, and shoulder room more than adequate, we found ourselves sitting right next to the B-pillar once we had everything adjusted for comfort. This meant we had to lean forward to see out of it to check for oncoming traffic when merging or turning, rather than merely turning our head and looking out of the window.
It also meant the armrest on the driver’s door was too short—for us. Now for shorter people, or if your height is in your torso, this probably won’t be much of an issue. But here in the United States, any inconvenience experienced in a Mercedes-Benz product is magnified because of the nature of the company’s reputation for excellence in every measure—so to speak.
2014 Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric Drive Review: Pros & Cons
No gas stations required, smooth and comfortable ride, seamless operation, outstanding cargo capacity, and adequate performance potential…
No spare tire (uses run flats), more range is always a welcome thing, interior feels built to a price…