Mercedes-Benz is known as one of the world’s premier luxury carmakers, and also has been taking a strong position on green technology over the last several years. For instance, its S250 CDI BlueEFFICIENCY was selected for the World Green Car award in 2012, despite being a diesel turbo rather than a hybrid. The company has also been testing limited production runs of fuel-cell powered cars in the United States since 2010.
However, the new B-Class Electric Drive crossover SUV is going to be a first for the German auto manufacturer. Although Mercedes-Benz has produced hybrid SUVs in the past, and continues to produce other hybrid models, this is the first pure electric model that Mercedes-Benz has brought to the mass market. The car is based on the company’s successful B-Class compact crossover, which is a favorite in Europe and is also on sale in Canada – albeit with a traditional gas engine. However, the B-Class is new to the United States – with one very notable exception.
Back in 2010, Mercedes-Benz carried out a limited-availability launch of its latest hydrogen fuel-cell powered vehicle – and this was also based on the B-Class platform. There were only several dozen of these vehicles available in the United States – and they could only be leased, not purchased. However, the feedback on the fuel-cell technology in these cars has been positive, which may be a good sign for the upcoming B-Class Electric Drive. Mercedes-Benz has probably also made a good decision by launching a battery-powered electric car to the mass market first, rather than going with a fuel-cell model – while recharging points for battery-powered cars are readily available, the infrastructure for distributing hydrogen to fuel-cell vehicles is limited at this time.
Another good sign for the B-Class Electric Drive is that much of the electric engine technology in the vehicle is a product of the partnership between Mercedes-Benz and Tesla, one of the current leaders in the electric car market. In fact, Tesla has been extremely successful commercially with its models, and has set the standard for reliability in electric drives. Given the combination of this proven electric technology and a commercially successful platform in the B-Class, the new model represents a relatively low risk for potential purchasers.
The new B-Class Electric Drive will provide a very reasonable 174 hp and 250 pound feet of torque. Given the size of the vehicle, that is more than enough for both city and highway driving. It may seem strange to talk about highway driving with an electric car, but the range of the vehicle is also very good for a battery-powered car. Mercedes-Benz claims that the range will be more than 100 miles when the battery is fully charged – and the good news is that it only takes four hours to recharge the vehicle from a full discharge. In fact, the company also claims that the car will be able to drive 60 miles after just two hours of charging. Obviously, that’s not enough to go on a cross-country trip, but it’s perfectly acceptable for a long commute into work. The short charging time is also a bonus – recharging is significantly faster than for a Toyota RAV4 EV, which is the only other compact crossover electric vehicle on the market.
Initial reports from people who have driven prototype versions of the car indicate that while Mercedes-Benz has put a lot of effort into creating a fuel-efficient battery-powered car, it hasn’t made any major sacrifices when it comes to the level of quality that people expect from the company. The consensus is that the ride is extremely smooth and that the levels of trim are everything that you would expect in a vehicle from one of the world’s leading luxury carmakers.
“The B-Class Electric Drive is whisper-quiet on the highway. Mercedes says it employed extensive noise countermeasures to ensure the electric B-Class is silent at speed,” writes Popular Mechanics. “Paddle shifters on the steering column control the level of regenerative braking you get from the powertrain..”
If the Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric Drive sounds like something you are interested in, then you will have to restrain your enthusiasm for at least a few months more. The company plans to start selling the vehicle this summer in California, Connecticut, Maryland, Oregon, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont, and anticipates rolling it out to the rest of the country in 2015. The price has not been announced to date.