When it comes to carrying a driver, four passengers and more luggage than you know what to do with, MPVs like the Mercedes-Benz B-Class do the job without fuss. But what if you want something more eco-friendly? That’s where the Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric Drive steps in. The popular family runabout shuns the usual petrol and diesel engines for an all-electric powertrain, bringing zero-emissions and guilt-free driving to those who can afford the £30,000+ asking price.
If the Mercedes B-Class was a person, you’d never ask it on a date. There’s nothing particularly attractive about a glorified box, even if it does have a three-star badge on the front. You can see why buyers of the petrol and diesel version tend to be a bit long in the tooth.
The B-Class is, however, designed with practicality and utility in mind. When sitting inside you soon learn to ignore the niggling suspicion everyone thinks you must be borrowing your grandparent’s car for the day, and begin reveling in the abundance of space.
Anyone with a family will appreciate the five-seat, five-door arrangement of this premium compact MPV. There’s more than adequate headroom and legroom and getting in and out is easy. We’ve seen few cars with such large door bins and it even has a two-tiered glove compartment.
The addition of the battery means the rear seat backs sit at an angle when folded down, eating into the available space somewhat, but that’s no dealbreaker.
Performance & handling
Electric motors provide maximum torque in an instant. This means the 177hp, 340Nm motor delivers a healthy shove off the line. There’s so much instant grunt, the skinny low-rolling resistance tyres will regularly break traction, spinning up as you launch off the line.
0-62mph is said to take 7.9 seconds, but it feels faster than the stopwatch suggests. Keeping up with traffic is child’s play, even when you have selected the Eco mode, which restricts engine power to 98kWh until you floor the pedal. Overtaking really is a doddle, especially with a 100mph electronically limited top speed.
The B-Class Electric Drive is a capable handler, too. Surprisingly capable, in fact, given its weight, size and skinny tyres. Hit a corner too fast and it will understeer predictably, but that’s as bad as it gets. Most of the time it remains composed and compliant. Plucky, even.
Lumps and bumps can make the ride a bit wallowly from time to time, but it’s comfortable and it doesn’t roll much through bends or during changes of direction.
Regenerative braking is a feature on the B-Class Electric Drive, as it is on most electric cars. It’s rather aggressive here, meaning you can simply lift off the accelerator and the car will scrub off speed dramatically. In stop slow-moving traffic you’ll rarely have to touch the brake.
A highlight of the B-Class is the high seating position, which feels somewhat empowering. Visibility is especially good, making reverse parking and other manoeuvres easy.
Economy & environment
The CO2 emissions are a particular highlight, mainly because there are none to speak of. It’s also reasonably cheap to recharge if you’re on a low cost electricity tariff.
The B-Class Electric Drive is designed to get its energy from a special charger. While you could hook up a cable from a standard UK socket and plonk it into the charging port behind the fuel filler cap, the charge would take an awfully long time. Expet a 30-hour wait on a 120-volt US outlet, or at least overnight on more potent UK electricity.
It is, therefore, a good idea to pay a bit extra (how much extra is being decided) and get the wall charger, which can charge at a faster rate. It can recharge from flat to provide 62 miles of range in around three hours. Total range is 85 miles on a full charge.
The Mercedes B-Class has a temporary range extender option. The range extender here isn’t a small petrol motor, as you might find in the range extender version of the BMW i3. Instead, it’s a software solution that lets you use more of the car’s battery capacity than is normal, charging it to a higher level to provide greater range.
The only proviso is you have to press a button to take advantage of range extending while the B-Class is charging. If you’re already on the move it won’t do a thing.
That extra 15 per cent range brings the total to a smidge under 100 miles, which is enough for those who potter around locally, but perhaps not enough for those who embark on long trips.
Mercedes provides the battery with an 8-year warranty. Should the capacity drop by 15 per cent within that time you can get a new battery free of charge. After that, things might get expensive.
A useful addition is a Mercedes app for the B-Class, which allows you to pre-condition the car before you get in so it’s not too hot or cold. You can also check charging levels remotely.
Equipment & value
We expect the B-Class Electric Drive will retail for around £32,000. Knock off the government plug-in grant of £5,000 and it starts to look competitive in its segment.
Cheaper electric vehicles are available and many will go further between charges. The Renault Zoe is almost half the cost, although you will have to lease the battery. A VW e-Up, which is admittedly much smaller, can do more than 100 miles in the right conditions.
Arguably the Merc’s biggest rival is our current favourite electric car, the BMW i3, which starts from £34,000 before the £5,000 government grant.
You would be wrong to think the Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric Drive has an impressive set of standard features. Even things like navigation, often a standard feature on electric cars, will cost you extra.
Still, the bog-standard infotainment system and its 5.8-inch display is one of the better solutions on the market when it comes to functionality and ease of use. Plus it has a USB port for connecting media devices. The optional Comand system and its 7-inch display and navigation is worth the extra pennies, mind you.
One of the best safety features of the Mercedes B-Class Electric Drive is Collision Prevention Assist with adaptive Brake Assist. The radar-based system and its audible warning ensures any lapse in concentration doesn’t result in a tragedy or an expensive repair bill.
It comes with seven airbags as standard so the B-Class should fare well in the event of a crash, especially seeing as the petrol and diesel B-Class scored five stars in Euro NCAP testing. You will need to pay extra for Blind Spot Assist, Lane Keeping Assist and Active Parking Assist.
We’re not convinced this is a car that could satisfy our every need. The Merc’s limited driving range lets it down somewhat, as you’ll need to plan medium or long journeys with military precision, or buy another car for such occasions — at least until charging infrastructure catches up. That said, it’s an ideal solution for the small niche of buyers who have lots of disposable income, a dislike of fossil fuels and a need to carry large loads of people short distances.
The BMW i3 is a trendier prospect and is able to travel further between charges. However it does lack the interior space provided by the B-Class.
If you don’t have far to go, crave comfort, space and want to stop lining the pockets of oil companies, the B-Class Electric is an interesting proposition.