First Drive: Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric Drive
Available in the UK from Spring 2015, the brand’s first fully electric car will be offered in a single, high-spec trim level, with equipment based on the conventionally-powered AMG Line. Pricing, after the £5,000 Plug-in Car Grant, is expected to fall roughly in line with the 136bhp B200 CDI automatic, or around £1,000 more than the smaller BMW i3.
It isn’t completely new, though. This is essentially the same car Mercedes-Benz has been selling to North American customers since May. It joins the European B-Class range as part of a mid-life refresh, powered by a 180bhp electric drivetrain developed as part of an ongoing partnership with Tesla Motors.
That’s enough to make the Electric Drive the second most powerful B-Class, after the 184bhp B200 petrol. Yet with that familiar silent surge of off-the-mark torque, it feels even quicker than the claimed 7.9-second sprint to 62mph suggests. So not only is it ideal for picking through urban traffic, but it’s got plenty of power for motorway use too.
Although the sandwich floor has been abandoned, some of the thinking has been carried forward. Natural gas and electric versions of the B-Class feature a partial double floorpan under the rear bench to accommodate tanks or batteries. In turn it means there’s no loss of boot space, and the rear bench still slides fore and aft as in a conventionally powered car. It also means that this drivetrain won’t slot straight into an A-Class.
Fully charged, the lithium-ion battery promises a 125-mile range, largely dependent on which of the three driving modes are used. While Sport unlocks full performance, Economy and Economy Plus modes progressively soften the throttle, restrict top speed and cut power output, though both are overridden by the kickdown switch. There’s also an optional Range Plus function, an overcharge mode which adds another 18 miles, but which can shorten battery life if used regularly.
Regenerative braking is completely adjustable and the car defaults to an automatic option, which uses the collision avoidance systems to monitor speed limits and other traffic then sets the strength to suit. Drivers can also manually select between three modes, allowing the car to coast freely or to brake aggressively when the throttle is lifted. Otherwise, it drives just like a very quiet, automatic B-Class.
There is a downside, though. With a maximum charging speed of 11 kilowatts, it takes a minimum of three hours to fill the relatively large 28kWh battery. Although this has a long enough range for mainly urban drivers, the inability to reach an 80% charge in half an hour means this really is confined to shorter routes than many of its direct rivals.
However, that’s still where most electric vehicles are deployed and the B-Class has a lot going for it. Compact, flexible and very refined, it may have taken 20 years to come to market, but it’s an interesting option in the growing battery-electric sector.
Mercedes-Benz isn’t openly predicting volumes for the B-Class Electric Drive in Europe, as it’s an entirely new part of the range. But this is a very versatile, very comfortable option for drivers who don’t need to cover longer distances.
Segment: Compact MPV
Type: Battery-electric vehicle
Price: £27,000 (predicted, after £5,000 Plug-in Car Grant)
Electric range: 125 miles
CO2 emissions (tailpipe): 0g/km
Charging Port: Type 2 AC