This small Mercedes electric car directly competes with the BMW i3. Its powertrain is provided by Tesla Motors, but engineers turned it into a comfortable and relaxed commuter car. If driven with care, the well-appointed B-Class could offer around 100 miles of range from a battery pack capable of holding 31.5 kilowatt-hours of juice.
The Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric Drive will not look out of place in a Mercedes showroom. It utilizes the brand’s familiar visual details, such as: a front-to-back swooshy crease in the sheet metal; prominent grille with three horizontal sections and the star emblem; and headlights that wrap around to the sides. The B-Class is well designed and attractive—although not particularly striking. Except for “Electric Drive” badging, it provides little indication of its battery-based powertrain.
That’s exactly what Mercedes wanted: an understated high-end battery-electric model that doesn’t scream about its green cred. The company is assuming that there is a market among well-heeled tech-savvy executive types that want to show discretion.
The most novel aspect of the B-Class’s design is its size and shape. It will be the smallest car available from Mercedes—a full foot shorter than the CLA luxury compact. The profile is less stylish than the CLA, and more utilitarian. Yet, Mercedes-Benz prefers to describe the B-Class as a Compact Sports Tourer, rather than a hatchback or multi-purpose vehicle.
Among cars offered with a plug, the two vehicle most similar in stature are the Ford C-Max plug-in hybrid, which is a couple inches longer and wider than the B-Class, and the Honda Fit Electric, which about a foot shorter. Both of those vehicles, like the B-Class, are hatchbacks intended to squeeze as much utility as possible out of a compact vehicle.
Of course, the electric Benz is in a much higher league when it comes to quality materials and luxury textures. The dash is not full of EV-centric graphics, but uses a relatively modest 5.8-inch color display, situated above the brand’s quintessential three large round air vents in the center.
What’s completely hidden in the B-Class is its use of a “sandwich design” under the floor. It provides a space for alternative energy sources—whether batteries, compressed gas, or hydrogen—directly beneath the seats. When offered with these non-traditional powertrains, designers lift the cabin by nearly a foot. That gives this small luxury EV a tall road position—not quite like a SUV, but with a similar sense of high perspective and visibility.
As stated above, the entire drivetrain system in the B-Class Electric Drive is supplied by Tesla Motors. That comes with the standard 10-kilowatt onboard charge. To take advantage of that capacity—a step up from the 6.6-kW charger on most EVs—you’ll need a sufficient supply from the grid, and a 40-amp 240-volt wall box.
At the media event we attended in early May, Mercedes mentioned that a dedicated home charger (EVSE) will be offered with the car. Further details were not available.
Many of the EVSEs on the market today have a capacity of 30 amps, so unless Mercedes comes through with a 40-amp wall unit (or you provide your own), then B-Class drivers should expect a charging rate that adds about 20 to 25 miles of range in an hour, rather than 30 miles or so from 40 amps. The difference is not huge. Besides, a full charge from empty to full—depending on all the various factors—will take four to five hours.
Even though Mercedes used Tesla’s system, access to the Tesla Supercharger network is not available. Furthermore, this generation of B-Class Electric offers no quick charge port (for using CHAdeMO or SAE Combo public quick charging). Mercedes engineers told PluginCars.com that they preferred to use the existing fuel door on the back left side of the vehicle, rather than changing the car’s sheet metal to accommodate a bigger port for faster charging. Quick charging is being considered for future model years.
Mercedes also considered—but ultimately rejected—the use of a small range-extending gasoline engine, in a desire to keep the EV system simple and compact.
The Mercedes B-Class Electric Drive has not yet been rated by safety agencies. The EV is equipped standard with a radar-based collision warning system, and brake assist. The system gives the driver a visual and audible warning, and directly assists with braking if the situation requires. The list of optional features includes Blind Spot Assist, Lane Keeping Assist and Active Parking Assist.