Mercedes B-Class Electric Drive picture of side © 2014 . All rights reserved.

Mercedes B-Class Electric Drive review: Silence is golden

Mercedes-Benz was kind enough to let me drive the B-Class Electric Drive around the tech capital of the world: Silicon Valley, California. Here, Apple, Google and Microsoft nestle in close proximity alongside many other tech giants and start-ups that have, quite honestly, shaped the world we know today and will know tomorrow.

Silicon Valley is also home to the Mercedes-Benz Research & Development North America. It is, therefore, the perfect place to test out a powertrain of the future and one that could relegate the combustion engine to the scrap heap. The thing is, are we ready for the change and has Mercedes got it right? I decided to investigate.

Mercedes B-Class Electric Drive review: Silent operator

So what’s special about the B-Class Electric Drive?

Only a trained eye could tell the the Mercedes B-Class Electric Drive apart from its petrol and diesel cousins. The exterior styling is identical save for a few minor aesthetic tweaks. That means you can seat five comfortably with plenty of leg and headroom.

Where the B-Class Electric Drive differs is under the bonnet. Here a Tesla-developed electric motor is mated to a Tesla-developed 28kWh battery. A Mercedes powertrain control unit governs torque and power distribution among other things

Tesla’s involvement was to help get the electric B-Class to market as fast as possible. Mercedes said it had the know how to build the necessary electrics, but chose to partner up with the Californian company that gave us the Model S.

The Mercedes B-Class electric motor outputs 132kW of power (177bhp) and 350Nm of torque, which explains how the weighty vehicle can manage 0 to 62mph in an impressive 7.9 seconds.

Performance is one area where electric cars can show off. Although the addition of a giant battery adds weight (and eats a bit into potential boot space with the seats folded), electric motors generate huge amounts of torque in an instant. This means the B-Class, like most electric vehicles, is more than capable of keeping up with traffic.

   Mercedes B-Class Electric Drive picture of front Does it look and feel like a Mercedes-Benz?

Definitely. There’s no skimping on the interior, which means you are getting a generous dollop of luxury and comfort. The seats are very comfortable and the dashboard is solid as a rock. Everything feels sturdy, looks great and performs as it should.

Handling wise, the B-Class Electric Drive has a few extra pounds to carry around corners, which obviously has an impact. But you can still throw it into corners and it will do its thing with remarkable composure. The steering provides a bit of feedback and lumps and bumps are soaked up adequately.

I will say this is a car you find yourself cruising around in, as opposed to trying to touch the apex. This is down to the limited range compared with its fossil fuel counterparts but also because the B-Class Electric Drive is remarkably comfortable and quiet, thanks to the complete lack of engine noise. Only the hum of rubber on tarmac and the supercharger-esque whir of the electric motor breaks the silence

Arguably this particular Mercedes is ugly, hence why you usually see it driven by people who are quite possibly losing their sight. But the cost of style is made up by practicality. The interior is spacious and passengers will find it comfortable. Factor in a plethora of cubby holes and we doubt the worst hoarders will find fault.

Mercedes B-Class Electric Drive picture of side

How far can it go before it runs out of juice?

85 miles if you drive like a pro, less if the weather is cold or hot. The battery size is pretty good compared with its electric rivals, but the premium interior and large body only add to the weight. A Renault Zoe and VW e-Up can both manage more than 100 miles, while the admittedly more expensive Tesla Model S can do more than 200 miles.

Luckily there is a range extender option, which will cost you an extra US$800 (the UK price is being decided). This handy extra is a button the on the central console that, when pushed, gives you an extra 15 per cent range.

A mighty useful upgrade for those worried about ‘range anxiety’ (fear of running out, basically), but there are a few caveats. First, you must press the button before charging. Second, it does put extra strain on the battery.

Speaking of the battery, Mercedes said it will replace the battery over an 8-year period if the maximum capacity drops below a certain level (15 per cent drop, if I recall correctly). This does ease the worry of overdoing it with the range extender button.

Mercedes B-Class Electric Drive picture of Tesla electric motor

How cheap is the B-Class Electric Drive to run?

Very cheap, actually. Running costs are very low because it spews zero CO2 emissions (making it exempt from the 75g/km limit for the congestion charge in London) and refilling it uses up electric, a much cheaper commodity than petrol or diesel. An overnight charge will be less than £2.

Charging can be done from a standard UK socket, although this will take far longer than if you use the optional wall charger unit from Mercedes-Benz. A price for the wall charger is yet to be confirmed. I reckon around £1,000 is likely.

Mercedes B-Class Electric Drive picture of digital dials

So the B-Class Electric Drive is a viable option?

Kind of. While the running costs are very low, the initial cost to buy the B-Class Electric Drive is high. We’re talking £32,000 or thereabouts. Factor in the government plug-in grant of £5,000, which has been extended to 2017, and you are spending £27,000 – a couple of thousand more than a standard B-Class petrol or diesel.

£27,000 is actually pretty good given the premium nature of the beast, but there are some problems. Firstly, resale values of electric cars are typically poor as someone will eventually have to spend thousands to replace the batteries. The 8-year warranty only goes so far.

Secondly, the B-Class Electric Drive is somewhat limited to city errands and the occasional longer drive. But longer routes will require more planning, as you may find charging points are sporadic at best (although things are slowly improving). Remember, drive 42.5 miles and you would need to turn around then to make it home in one.

Mercedes B-Class Electric Drive picture of rear

Any exciting gadgets and gizmos to speak of?

The Mercedes Comand system is one of the best infotainment systems on the market, although navigation will cost you extra. You can easily hook up a device for audio streaming or chuck in a CD. There’s also a USB connection and a few apps to enjoy.

Sadly Apple CarPlay (seen here in the 2015 Mercedes C-Class) is nowhere to be seen, but from what we’ve seen it needs a bit of work before it leaves the standard infotainment system behind.

Verdict

I can see the Mercedes B-Class Electric Drive making someone with a few quid spare very happy. But I’m not sure the usual B-Class driver, who tends to be a bit longer in the tooth, will want to bother fathoming out how to charge it.

It is, therefore, better suited to families who want lots of space and the three-star badge at the front. There’s certainly no disputing it holds a family and a ton of luggage without breaking a sweat while keeping you away from petrol pumps.

The downside is taking the family abroad or down to Devon will take at least two charging stops. The issue of range will be somewhat moot once the UK enjoys better charging network infrastructure, but until then range anxiety and the logistics are a problem. 85 miles (nearly 100 with the range extender) is somewhat limiting.

Still, as electric cars go, there are few that offer the brilliance of German build quality. If you are looking for a highly spacious car and you very rarely venture too far or have a second backup car for longer journeys, the B-Class Electric Drive comes highly recommended.

For everyone else, you’ll need to wait until battery technology catches up. Or save up and buy the Tesla Model S.