LOS ANGELES, June 25, 2015 — Not all zero emissions electric vehicles (EVs) make everyday driving sense, but the Mercedes-Benz B Class Electric Drive offers a smooth, comfortable, family-friendly ride to make it the top pick in today’s narrow luxury EV lineup.
For this review, I drove the B Class through Hollywood’s posh hills and along LA’s fast-moving boulevards, on bad roads and good, on hills and flats. It performed like a champ.
It’s not easy to find the perfect electric vehicle to fit into your trying-to-be-green life. Let’s get real. Going all-electric can be a major lifestyle change, which is why most two- or three-car families keep at least one petro-powered vehicle for long distances and when the availability of facilities to charge outside the garage is an unknown entity. Who wants to pay $40-50,000 for a brand new, luxurious rolling green toy only to have it stop dead with no electric outlets in sight? That’s never fun.
But on a weeklong road test through LA’s windy and pothole-filled Hollywood Hills (think Laurel Canyon and Mulholland Drive), this professional green car reviewer discovered the B Class Electric Drive is perhaps one of the best EVs on the road today for busy urban-meets-country families.
Here in LA’s moneyed 90046/69, the most popular EVs seem to be the Chevy Volt, Nissan Leaf, BMW i3 and Fiat 500e. What this green auto expert doesn’t see cruising multi-million dollar cottage streets or winding around curvy “country” roads (if you can call it that when tour buses roll by every few minutes) is Kia’s Soul EV and the Mercedes-Benz B Class Electric Drive.
While the Soul EV is a good choice for families with five seats and generous cargo room, it certainly is not as luxurious or as roomy as the others. So it seems the B Class Electric Drive should get the top spot as the best EV for, say, some environmentally-conscious celeb’s cliff-hanging Mulholland Drive garage.
While we tested a 2014 model, the 2015 Mercedes-Benz B Class Electric Drive has been only slightly modified and is available in all 50 states this summer. MY14 Base price is $41,450, excluding $925 destination and delivery. The pricing stays the same in 2015, with a base price of $41,150, excluding $925 destinatin and delivery. Excluding leasing, the B Class Electric drive is also eligible for a $7,500 federal tax credit and a possible $2,500 California “clean vehicle rebate for lease with a minimum 36-month term or purchase,” according to MB USA.
The B Class’ exterior, unfortunately, is somewhat baffling. “Boxy and boring” is how my car-savvy husband described it. A top PR influencer friend said, “It looks like a Yugo.” Ouch! I actually enjoyed the compact boxiness of this little-on-the-outside-yet-big-on-the-inside utilitarian ride. The racy hood and sculpted side lines give it some much-needed design interest, but overall, isn’t it just a get-around-town family car?
Where the B Class shines is inside. Slip in the driver’s cockpit and you immediately feel encapsulated in the warmth of oh-so-guilty leather, the strength of burnished and shiny silver and the so-wrong soothing feel of textured and oh-so-modern molded plastics.
The leather-wrapped steering wheel with thumb controls feels perfectly placed in your hands and ready to command just about the entire inside-the-capsule experience. Seemingly endless controls have three-way memory on the left. An infotainment screen is slightly to the right. In the center, more digital controls and information are perfectly placed and easily viewed. As long as you plugged in your electric wundercar overnight in the garage, you are good to go for about 60 to 70 miles of zero emissions, uber comfortable driving enjoyment.
MB’s 5.8-inch infotainment screen needs some updating, although the base system is certainly good enough for the vehicle’s price. The display can be upgraded to a more robust 7-inch COMAND multimedia display with the B Class Electric Drive’s only option, which also includes a suite of advanced safety technology upgrades including “blind spot assist,” “lane keeping assist” and “advanced parking assist” (or PARKTRONIC).
Wide enough for three adults and roomy enough even for adult legs, the B Class Electric Drive’s second row seating is equally comfortable. A cozy leather-wrapped bench brings both sensuality and functionality to the back seat of this green ride. The two back seats are outfitted in what seems to be especially for tweens and teens with cool nylon “magazine” racks built into the backs of the front seats.
In addition, each bucket seat has a pull-down table with cup holder much like an airplane seat. Although this is a great idea for families with kids who are shuttled to school and extracurricular activities, the table itself was produced from an alarmingly thin plastic and did not fold easily enough for hard-on-equipment progeny.
Being a Benz, the 2014 B Class Electric Drive shines when it comes to driving performance (0-60 seconds in 7.9 seconds). Given this EV’s intense regenerative braking, the B Class had surprisingly rapid acceleration for its all-torque-all-the-time 177 hp Tesla electric drive system (251 lb. ft. max). The steering, handling and suspension all come together in heart-pounding Benz fashion to create a smooth, almost dream-like electric gliding motion.
This compact CUV’s tiny turning radius adds to the pure pleasure of zipping through and around the sagebrush hills of Hollywood, where producers, actors and execs all must drive up and down these craggy hills to go anywhere or do anything. In urban settings, such as just below along historic Hollywood and Sunset boulevards, the compact B Class is also excellent for stop-and-go traffic; it actually recharges itself better in city driving. It is impressive in LA’s tight parking situations.
The most frustrating part of testing the Benz B Class Electric Drive was charging on its impossibly slow 28 kWh lithium ion battery. This challenge could easily be overcome by having an electrician cheaply install a 240-volt outlet in your Mulholland garage. For our real family road test, with no outlet in our underground dungeon of a parking garage, however, we discovered the B Class took up to six hours to charge fully at a 240-volt public station even while on the maximum charge setting. And it did not charge up to 85 miles as in MB’s estimates, but topped out at around 72 driving range on a full charge.
This is why the B Class is best for homeowners for around-town use, as this handsome CUV can be plugged in just about every time you glide it into the garage and certainly filled to the max overnight for another 72 miles of almost free fuel.
Although we did not test the accompanying smartphone app, MB says it allows B Class Electric Drive owners to do things such as “determine the current state of charge of the lithium-ion battery or show the vehicle’s current range on a map,” and display “at a glance where the vehicle can be recharged along the way.” It also includes pre-heating and pre-cooling functions.
EVs aren’t for everyone. Not yet. But if you are seeking to get off the violent petro dollar in a luxuriously green utilitarian ride, then the Mercedes-Benz could be the best pick for your next new car purchase. Never driven an EV? It’s certainly worth a test drive at your nearest Mercedes-Benz dealer to see how much fun EVs can be to drive and own.