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First Drive: 2014 Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric Drive

Highs

  • Refined and high quality drivetrain from Tesla
  • Clever energy regeneration and storage features
  • Stylish and comfortable interior
  • Quiet, refined ride

Lows

  • Average range
  • Relatively high price
The B-Class ED combines the refinement, quality, and features you would expect from Mercedes, with EV tech straight from the Tesla factory.

The growing links between the tech industry and the automotive industry are nowhere more visible than when it comes to electric vehicles.

The all-new Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric Drive (ED) might demonstrate that trend more than just about anything else. After all, its powertrain comes from Tesla and its onboard tech was developed with Google and Apple in mind.

On the ride from the airport to the hotel in Palo Alto, the reality of just how linked these industries are hit home. Not only did I pass the headquarters of just about every major tech company from Google to Facebook, seemingly every third car was a Tesla Model S, which is manufactured in Fremont just up the road.

2015 Mercedes-Benz B-Class EV

If the B-Class ED hopes to succeed, it has to work in this techy environment. Frankly, it has its work cut out for it; the EV market is quickly becoming crowded with options.

Before we go any further, let me explain something. Although the car is called the B-Class ED, I’m going to refer to it here as the B-Class EV. To me, ED doesn’t make it clear that the car is all electric, rather than some kind of hybrid. Plus, pretty much no one will call it the ED. So, from here on out, it’ll be the EV. Capiche?

An EV for grownups

At a glance, the B-Class isn’t off to a good start, at least when it comes to standing out.

When I first saw the line of little EVs waiting for my fellow journalists and me outside the hotel, my reaction was not, “man look at those electric Mercedes!” But rather, “Oh, so that’s what the Honda Fit would look like if Mercedes built it.”

Don’t get me wrong; I actually like the way the B-Class looks. It’s a well-proportioned car with great design touches. I especially like the headlights. However, the basic shape does not scream out to the onlooker. Essentially, you might not notice it.

Once you step inside, the exterior subtlety begins to make sense.

The interior is artful and pleasant, with excellent leather seats and a well-designed dash. The wood trim might be fake, but it is good enough that I had to poke at it to be sure.

The car’s tech features are plentiful, but don’t shout their presence at passengers with gaudy buttons. Occupants even get reasonable rear seat legroom and a shockingly large cargo compartment.

The total effect is of a refined and grown up car. It may not be as mind-shatteringly pretty, as, say, the interior on a new C-Class. The message is clear, though; this is first and foremost a Mercedes, not just an electric car.

Not a sports car, but also not a slouch

The same is true when you “fire” the EV up. If it weren’t for the fact that this car was nearly silent, you would have a hard time knowing that you weren’t in a normal internal combustion-powered car.

This is first and foremost a Mercedes, not just an electric car.

Thanks to its 177 horsepower (132 kW) and 251 pound-feet of torque Tesla-built motor, the B-Class EV will get up and go when prompted. But if you leave it in its standard eco-mode, the throttle mapping will only reluctantly let you get to all that torque.

To get your fill of electrifying wheel spin, you have to put it in sport mode. What’s the price of full-throttle torque stomping? According to Mercedes engineers, leaving it in sport will result in something around a ten-percent reduction in range.

Still, with a 0 to 60 time of 7.9 seconds, this is more of a cruiser than a sports car. And it’s as a cruiser that it excels.

The driving experience is the sort of refined and civilized breeze that you would expect from a Mercedes-Benz. The steering is nice and precise without being uncomfortably sporty, and, thanks to the absence of gears, acceleration is smooth.

2015 Mercedes-Benz B-Class EV

The only real complaint I have is that the ride over rough surfaces is a little less comfortable than I would like. To my rear-end and back, it felt as if the added weight of the batteries was making the suspension work a bit harder it ideally should. Still, this is far from a deal breaker. It just may not be to the normal standard of German excellence.

Charging … and recharging

Perhaps the most important questions with any EV are A.) How far can it go on a charge? And B.) How long does it takes to fully recharge?

Despite the Tesla connection, the B-Class EV winds up on just the high side of normal. It’ll refill its batteries with electrons in an impressive two-hour recharge time on a 240-Volt, stage-two charger and then go an EPA-estimated 85 miles.

That being said, there are some things you can do to squeeze a bit more out of the batteries.

Its powertrain comes from Tesla and its onboard tech was developed with Google and Apple in mind.

The B-Class EV’s most impressive feature is its dynamic energy regeneration system. Like any hybrid or EV, the car can regenerate battery power during braking and coasting. But the B-Class is awfully smart about it.

Where most modern cars have steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters that activate transmission shifts, the B-Class has paddles that effect how aggressively the car regenerates energy.

On its most aggressive setting, every time you take your foot off of the accelerator, the regeneration kicks on. This feels odd, almost like the parking brake has been left on. But it works.

Even better, the driver can set an automatic mode that uses radar to track the car in front, and turns the regen on and off depending on distance. This allows a driver to use the car’s charge most efficiently.

There are also some things that you can do to get a bit more oomph into the batteries. For starters, using the cars connectivity, you can set it to heat or cool itself at a prearranged time. This means that climate control can draw that power from the grid rather than the batteries before the driver sets out in the morning.

2015 Mercedes-Benz B-Class EV

Lastly, there is an overcharge function called battery plus. This allows the batteries to take on enough extra juice during charging to add 15 miles worth of range. So why don’t you always get this extra boost? In short, it’s bad for the battery. Fortunately, even liberal use of this “cheat code” won’t impact the battery’s warranty.

Stuck in the middle

When stripped of context the B-Class EV is an excellent car. It drives well, looks good, and offers more than enough range for most day-to-day driving. Add context back in, though, and the picture is less clear.

The B-Class is still a good – maybe even great – example of the EV segment. With a price starting at $41,450, though, this won’t be a cheap car, even after the federal tax credit is taken into account.

What’s more, the B-Class EV is far more competent than it is exciting. Because of this, it doesn’t seem like a vehicle that will cry out to people who weren’t already interested in an EV.

That being said, if you are thinking about an EV, then this is a fine example of the breed. After all, this isn’t just an EV … it’s a Mercedes-Benz EV.

Highs

  • Refined and high quality drivetrain from Tesla
  • Clever energy regeneration and storage features
  • Stylish and comfortable interior
  • Quiet, refined ride

Lows

  • Average range
  • Relatively high price

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