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.

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