Luke Ottaway's picture

Consumer Reports underwhelmed by first drive of Mercedes B-Class Electric

The influential publication came away largely unimpressed with its first experience with the new all-electric offering from Mercedes. Here’s why that is not a surprise.

Last week Consumer Reports got its hands on the Mercedes B-Class Electric Drive for a preliminary evaluation, and the respected magazine found the $41,450 B-Class ED to be uninspiring next to some of its competitors in the battery electric segment.

“Feels dated”

Consumer Reports is known for giving objective and even-keeled reviews of just about every vehicle they evaluate, and the first impressions of the B-Class ED are no different. The electric Mercedes is praised for its range and space, as its 36-kWh battery enables 100 miles of rated range if the Range Plus mode is used to charge the battery beyond its default threshold.

The upright body style of the minivan-like B-Class ED creates a relatively roomy interior for a small car, and drivers will like the commanding view of the road. The review goes on to describe the regenerative brake feel, which is adjustable with paddles behind the steering wheel to vary from only a mild pull upon release of the accelerator to the type of one-pedal driving made popular by the Tesla Model S and BMW i3.

That’s about where the good news ends, however. Consumer Reports observed that the B-Class ED appears to be “one of the least-efficient electric cars on the market,” and the publication was not impressed with the stiff suspension, mediocre handling, and a cabin that is “not all that quiet” compared to other electric vehicles.

The most telling line from the brief review: “While most electric cars are smooth, quick, and quiet, we found the B-Class feels dated compared with some others.”

Why is that unsurprising?

The early impressions of Consumer Reports are not unexpected for a few reasons. The B-Class ED is based on a legacy vehicle sold overseas, and certainly was not optimized for an electric powertrain and battery. It is a relatively tall and heavy (3,858 pounds) vehicle, less than ideal for driving dynamics.

The size and weight of the B-Class ED combined with the 177-hp Tesla-made induction motor also causes efficiency to suffer at just 84 MPGe, as we explained back in July. Despite a battery pack of 36 kilowatt hours, far more than the 22-kWh and 24-kWh packs of the BMW i3 and Nissan LEAF, the B-Class ED can only manage about 20 more miles even in the range-extended full charge mode.

Though the B-Class ED aims to provide a more refined driving experience than its chief rival, the similarly-priced BMW i3, Consumer Reports seems to be of the opinion that it falls short of that goal. Granted, competing with the i3 is asking a lot of a converted gasoline car – the BMW electric was designed and built from the ground up to take advantage of all the benefits of electric driving.

For its part, Mercedes doesn’t seem to be too concerned with battery electrics for the time being. The B-Class ED is not a compliance car - though it is currently available in only limited markets, it will be available nationwide starting next year. However, it will not sell in large numbers and was never intended to be a big seller. Mercedes is instead bullish on plug-in hybrids, revealing plans for a plug-in hybrid offensive that will electrify 10 vehicles in its lineup by the end of 2017 with the automaker’s modular plug-in hybrid powertrain architecture.

Given Mercedes’ commitment to plug-in hybrids and lack thereof to battery electrics, it is hardly surprising that Consumer Reports found that the B-Class ED does not live up to the standards of other electric vehicles.


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Comments

At $42K I would have expected this car to get a better review but then again Mercedes is not know for making cheap ( price wise) cars. Maybe some more help from their friends at Tesla would have been prudent. Can't believe this car only has 177 HP motor.