Small Luxury EVs: Mercedes B-Class Electric Drive Will Take on BMW i3

By · November 26, 2013

2014 Mercedes B-Class Electric Drive

B-Class Electric Drive Specs & Features

  • Tesla powertrain
  • 0-60 m.p.h. in 7.9 sec
  • 174 HP; 251 lb-ft torque
  • 28 kWh battery
  • 10-kW L2 charging. No DC quick charge.
  • 5.8” display with USB connection
  • 5 passengers
  • Power front seats with 3 position memory
  • LED daytime running lights
  • Collision Prevention Assist with Adaptive Brake Assist
  • Attention Assist

Daimler introduced the all-electric Mercedes B-Class more than 10 months ago at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. Yet, as we draw closer to its launch in 2014, Mercedes has been quiet about the car. While BMW has put on a media blitz for the i3 EV, Mercedes has been quietly going about its business of refining and validating the small B-Class Electric Drive. Market introduction is scheduled for late summer 2014. I spent time with Heiko Schmidt, product manager for Mercedes Benz USA, at the LA Auto Show last week to discuss the B-Class Electric Drive. This is what I learned.

Availability of the B-Class EV will be limited when it launches next summer. “We’ll start in the so-called ZEV states,” Schmidt said. “But at a later stage it definitely will be introduced across the nation.” I didn’t get the entire list of initial launch states, but he confirmed that New York and New Jersey will be included, in addition to California. It will be available for purchase or lease. While pricing has not yet been announced, Thomas Weber, Daimler’s chief of research and development, recently promised it would be “extremely competitive.”

2014 Mercedes B-Class Electric Drive

Poke in the i

Mercedes took a completely different approach with the B-Class Electric Drive, than BMW did with the i3. That’s notable because the Mercedes press kit lists the i3 as the chief competition for the electric B-Class. They are both premium electric vehicles from German manufacturers, and will likely have very similar range and price. They are both hatchbacks, although the Benz seats five and is larger than the BMW.

When you look at an i3, it’s clear that BMW did everything they could to reduce weight and increase efficiency. With the B-Class, there isn’t any evidence to suggest that weight savings were considered. I asked Schmidt about this and he grinned—as if proud to admit that Mercedes didn’t spend much energy trying to lightweight the car.

He told me it will weigh about 250 pounds more than a European B-Class Diesel, which means the B-Class Electric Drive should tip the scales at about 3,900 pounds. “We believe this is the big advantage for the B-Class EV,” said Schmidt. “We needed this car to be a true Mercedes, and it will be in many ways—not to make any compromises in comfort or handling and that’s actually the big advantage we have over some of the competitors.”

2014 Mercedes B-Class Electric Drive

The B-Class Electric Drive charging at my restaurant last summer

I read that last comment as a direct shot at the i3, which sacrificed some creature comforts like power seats and has thin tires, all in an effort to lower weight and boost efficiency. Mercedes will also offer a full line of options and interior trim packages for the B-Class EV, the same as any car it sells.

On Range

The B-Class EV has a 28 kilowatt-hour battery pack—compared to the i3’s 22 kWh pack. Mercedes isn’t revealing exactly how much of that is actually usable. However, I did learn that the “Standard” charge will not fully fill the battery. To do that, you would elect the “Range” mode. This feature is obviously brought over along with the powertrain from Tesla.

Schmidt and I discussed range for a while. Although he promised that the B-Class ED this will be a true “100-mile EV,” I commented that unless the EPA range rating says 100, then it’s not actually a 100-mile EV.

2014 Mercedes B-Class Electric Drive

I know range is a moving target and one person can go further than the next with the same car just by driving it more efficiently. The EPA range rating isn’t perfect, but it’s the best we have to compare the range of one electric car to the next. Schmidt agreed and said something that I haven’t heard any other EV product manager (except for Tesla).

“We understand in the end, when a customer walks into the showroom, they look at what’s printed on the label,” he said. “It’s going to be one specific number. Our clear target is to have that in the three-digit range.”

Schmidt said he is hopeful to have the EPA range certification done and announced in spring 2014. When range-tested in Europe, the B-Class achieved 124 miles on the NEDC range rating test. This test is considerably less strenuous than the EPA 5 cycle test we use in the US, so it’s difficult to say exactly how it will translate. For comparison, the i3 achieved a 118-mile range on the NEDC test, so chances are the B-Class Electric Drive will likely have an EPA rating that’s three or four miles higher than the BMW i3.

Comments

· · 20 weeks ago

Thanks for the writeup, Tom. I assume this doesn't change your mind about the i3, though, or does it?

It will be interesting to see these two compete. The i3 has two significant advantages though: 1) optional REx, 2) optional CCS (if you happen to be lucky enough to have a charger nearby.

· · 20 weeks ago

It's a nice, very luxurious EV Brian but no, the i3 suits me better. Perhaps if I had a couple young kids I'd look at this closer though, as it may be a better family car. Plus, I really do love the i3 architecture and how BMW has created a car unlike any other with the all aluminum & carbon fiber body and frame, covered with plastic body panels. The Benz is basically a Benz that has an electric drive system, but nothing else is special. I suspect other people will like it for that exact reason though and Schmidt stressed that is the difference in their approach to BMW's. I think there is room for both

· · 20 weeks ago

@Tom,

Thanks for the info. Another choice. It is interesting that none of the "Tesla Clones" have DC fast charging options....

· · 20 weeks ago

@Brian: Just to say, optional CCS is an advantage only if you happen to have an eVgo charger nearby; they're the only ones committed to installing CCS at this point, and there's no firm date on that. CCG, the new owners of Ecotality (hence the largest charging network in the U.S.), have no plans to deploy CCS at this time. I don't think anyone expects the i3 to sell in LEAF numbers, and as we know GM's Spark EV plans are unclear beyond minimal compliance levels.

But your point was that this was an advantage over the M-B EV, which will have no Level 3 charging at all. Fair enough, but that means the M-B is one more car not adding to the population of potential Frankenpluggers.

With such a small set of vehicles on the road supporting this "standard," I'd say outside of the eVgo network in California the jury's very much out on the likelihood of CCS chargers showing up in any given area.

· · 20 weeks ago

Thanks Tom for the conundrum. While I am partial to the i3’s low weight and efficiency, I have to say its edgy styling queues (black glare shields, barn doors, complicated belt line) do it no favors. The more fluent lines of the B-Class are offset by its minivan silhouette and pudgy weight. And while the i3 dash has it’s technical charm, I’d much rather the analog dash in the B-Class. And though range may be less, the i3s smaller battery will adds more miles per charge hour than the B-Class once away from Rabobank’s faster L2 sites. It’s a tough choice that will likely hinge on individual circumstances and personal preferences.

BTW, I noticed the charge port door is on the driver's side where it belongs, will the B-Class display %SOC?

· · 20 weeks ago

I'm never sure what to make of comments like "at a later stage it definitely will be introduced across the nation," since it's hard to quantify "later". At least there's no indication that production would be limited to CARB-ZEV compliance minimums, but as with most such announcements, I'm unimpressed by any EV not offered for sale across the U.S. The price of such vehicles is a head fake, since there's really no need to earn profits on cars sold in such small numbers, and the value of access to the California market (especially for M-B) is huge.

I'll reserve judgment until we see the price if/when it hits Des Moines.

· · 20 weeks ago

Everyone knows I don’t like Mercedes for their oilies connections and for their pompous design, but on this B class they have a better view then BMW. The car has indeed normal doors and a normal backseat, something which is a basic must have or a car just isn’t a car but rather a weird concept thing.
On the materials they use, well who cares, perhaps the better compromise is aluminum, but if high strength steel can do it why not. The i3 Carbon fibers can be nice but is clearly a bridge too far since the “car” doesn’t even have the above mentioned basics.
The only regret is that Mercedes didn’t include a micro AVL wankel range extender which is indeed needed if you don’t have a 400 miles range.

· · 19 weeks ago

If, and this is a big if, the B-Klasse ED has 28kWh usable battery (as the other Tesla powered, and strictly California compliance-only Toyota Rav4 EV is advertised, albeit with 41.8kWh usable), then perhaps if it can just squeak by with the same 250 watthours per mile economy (4 miles per kWh) at highway speeds and/or around town like a Nissan LEAF can do, then it should hit the magic 100 mile range number (4 * 28 = 112 miles).

However, I am convinced this will be a pure CARB-ZEV compliance-only car, like VW, GM, Honda, Toyota, et al, are doing. It's easy and cheap to throw out teasers and press releases of "maybe" something bigger, but we know EXACTLY where these cars will be sold, and approximately how many. Having said that, if Mercedes offered a CHAdeMO plug, I might consider this over a LEAF, even at a premium price.

Since Frankenplug Cast Members BMW and VW have both announced CHAdeMO plugs for their Japan EV sales, I might even consider the i3 with a CHAdeMO plug, but likely not over the B-Klasse ED with CHAdeMO. By the way, for those keeping score, not a single one of the high volume EV manufacturers have announced any plans to offer a Frankenplug version ANYWHERE in the entire world:

Mitsubishi - 30,000 sold worldwide - CHAdeMO
Nissan - 80,000 sold worldwide - CHAdeMO
Renault - 25,000 sold worldwide - Chameleon
Tesla - 20,000 sold worldwide - Supercharger (USA) and Mennekes based Supercharger (Europe)

GM has sold about 500 Spark EVs.

Since NRG / eVgo comes up often with the pro-Frankenplug folks, just remember the threshold to install even one of those 200 stations over four years, in California only, has not yet been reached. EVERY ONE of those will also have a CHAdeMO world standard plug sitting right there, too.

New to EVs? Start here

  1. What Is An Electric Car?
    Before we get going, let's establish basic definitions.
  2. A Quick Guide to Plug-in Hybrids
    Some plug-in cars have back-up engines to extend driving range.
  3. Electric Cars Pros and Cons
    EVs are a great solution for most people. But not everybody.
  4. Seven Things To Know About Buying a Plug-In Car
    A few simple tips before you visit the dealership.
  5. Federal and Local Incentives for Plug-in Hybrids and Electric Cars
    Take advantage of credits and rebates to reduce EV costs.
  6. Eight Factors Determining Total Cost of Ownership of an Electric Car
    EVs get bad rap as expensive. Until you look at TCO.
  7. Quick Guide to Buying Your First Home EV Charger
    You'll want a home charger. Here's how to buy the right one.
  8. Electric Car Utility Rate Plans: Top Five Rules
    With the right utility plan, electric fuel can be dirt cheap.
  9. The Ultimate Guide to Electric Car Charging Networks
    If you plan to charge in public, you'll want to sign up for charging network membership (or two).
  10. Eight Rules of Electric Vehicle Charging Etiquette
    Thou shalt charge only when necessary. And other rules to live by.