How about a Merc you run off the mains? Jonathan Crouch takes a look at the B-Class Electric Drive.
Ten Second Review
The Mercedes-Benz B-Class might not seem the obvious choice to spearhead the three-pointed star's assault on the electric car market but stick with it. Unlike many electric cars it can make a lot of sense on the balance sheet and from a driving perspective.
The idea of an electric car is beguiling. The ability to glide about town noiselessly with no tailpipe emissions, propelled effortlessly by a giant groundswell of torque is most certainly the way forward, devoid of chugging diesel engines and minus hundreds of moving parts and their potential for costly failure. The thing is, many of us have considered an electric car but very few of us, after even the most cursory investigation, have gone on to take the plunge. Mercedes-Benz thinks it has the car that could well convince us. Engineered in conjunction with Tesla, the B-Class Electric Drive doesn't seem the most exciting electric car out there but perhaps that's the genius. It normalises electric power.
Power comes via a 177bhp electric motor that punts it silently to 62mph in 7.9sec and on to a limited top speed of 100mph. Introduced to vie with the Volkswagen e-Golf and BMW i3, the batteries, motor and other drive ancillaries tack another 200kg to the kerb weight, lifting it to a big-boned 1650kg. Fortunately, all the weight from the battery packs is located low down, beneath the sandwich rear floor section, so the Electric Drive retains a pleasantly low centre of gravity. Optional paddle shifters behind the wheel don't change gear but instead let the driver choose three different levels of regenerative braking. The best economy comes in the car's Economy Plus mode, which is best for steady state cruising. Here the engine develops 83bhp which limits top speed to 68mph. Switch into Economy and you get 132bhp on tap while Sport unleashes the full 177bhp. Both Economy modes can be overridden by using the kickdown function if you need instant overtaking power. It's properly quick with all of the electrical horses freed up, the instant pickup feeling pretty brisk for such an unprepossessing mini-MPV. It asks quite a lot of its front tyres given the weight on board but the steering is good.
Design and Build
If you were hoping for a car with all the theatre and innovation of the BMW i3, the Mercedes B-Class Electric Drive is going to come as a major disappointment. From the outside it looks much like any other B-Class. The Q-branch went to a lot of trouble building James Bond an invisible car in Die Another Day. They could have saved themselves the bother and given him a Mercedes B-Class. This anonymity might just be the B-Class Electric Drive's ace in the hole though. If you don't want to draw attention to yourself and prefer to keep your eco credentials on the down low, here's your ride. The battery packs sit under the rear seats which, as a consequence, are mounted marginally higher in this car compared to a B-Class with an internal combustion engine. That's only going to be noticed by taller rear seat passengers. The plus point is that the luggage bay is of the same dimensions as the standard car too, so you get a bit more space than you'd find in a BMW i3, fully 501-litres in the back which rises to 1,456-litres if you fold the rear seats.
Market and Model
The Sport trim level gets a unique design for the front and rear bumpers, 17-inch alloy wheels, LED daytime running lights, a seven-inch central display, Artico trim, automatic climate control, a reversing camera and cruise control. It's also available in a choice of eight paint colours. The charging level of the lithium-ion battery and vehicle range can be queried from a distance and, depending on the temperature, you can even pre-heat or pre-cool the vehicle ready for a specified departure time. To really get the best out of the B-Class Electric Drive, the £945 optional Energy Assist Package is a must. This features adaptive energy recuperation systems to sense road conditions using a forward-facing radar. When traffic is identified, increased recuperation is employed to make the most of any deceleration. Likewise, it can use signals from the COMAND system to read the topography of the road ahead and adapt accordingly. The driver can override the regenerative regimen using the paddles mounted behind the steering wheel to always keep on top of the amount of energy being regenerated. It's clever stuff.
Cost of Ownership
You'll pay around £27,000 for a B-Class Electric Drive and although Mercedes quotes a range of 124 miles, if you bank on 100 and drive it carefully, you shouldn't find yourself caught out. A Full recharge using a typical 16-amp home wall socket will take about nine hours if you've depleted the battery but use a 400-volt three-phase electricity supply and you can have the power meter showing 100 per cent in just three hours. Given that a B220 CDI Sport will cost you over £27,000, the Electric Drive model suddenly becomes quite interesting. A full recharge will cost you around £3 in electricity which is not bad for 100 miles of usage. You'd probably use two and a half gallons of diesel to cover that distance in town, which would be over £14. Residual values ought to stand up very nicely too.
If you don't need your car to travel much more than 100 miles per day, it's hard to think of reasons why you wouldn't buy the Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric Drive over a diesel counterpart. It's cheaper to run, it's far more refined, it's quicker, it's just flat-out a nicer place to be. No, you won't be able to take off on a 200 mile round trip on the spur of the moment, but given that this car will probably be a second, or indeed third, car for most families, that might not be an overriding concern. Where this B-Class appeals most is in the maturity of its engineering. It's not making a big song and dance of its electric propulsion. It just gets on with a job and does it extremely well, delivering practicality and real-world utility. It feels like the first sensibly-priced electric car that really offers a viable alternative to its petrol or diesel equivalents. The B-Class Electric Drive delivers a convincing case for electric power. We might just have turned a corner here.