Forgotten electric cars: the Mercedes B-Class Electric Drive | Top Gear
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Electric

Forgotten electric cars: the Mercedes B-Class Electric Drive

All-electric mini-MPV that was co-developed with Tesla. Yes, really

  • What is it?

    Mercedes’ first volume production electric car – a B-Class mini-MPV with 28kWh of battery instead of a petrol or diesel engine. It was a clever thing, too, with a powertrain co-developed with Tesla (more on that later) and a clever structure that meant it was just as practical as a normal B-Class. It went on sale in the UK in late 2014, with the first cars arriving in 2015.

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  • What kind of technology did it use?

    The Electric Drive, also known as the B250e, only had a 28kWh (usable) lithium-ion battery, but it was pretty efficient. Mercedes claimed around 142 miles on a single charge (more like 100 miles in the real world), which would take about nine hours on a normal household socket or as little as three hours if you could track down the right kind of public charger.

    For longer journeys, the B had a special ‘Range Plus’ button on the dashboard. Designed for occasional use only, it freed-up additional capacity in the battery to liberate around 20 more miles of range. Mercedes cautioned “over-frequent use of this function [could] reduce the lifespan of the battery more quickly”.

    In the UK the Range Plus button was part of the optional Energy Assist Pack. At £945 it was well worth having – its other big selling point was an adaptive energy recuperation system that used front-facing radar to vary the amount of regen based on traffic/road conditions. Some modern EVs have this, but many don’t…

    The driver could also manually adjust the level of regen using paddles on the steering wheel. The Pack also added privacy glass, a heated windscreen and extra insulation around the doors and windows were to reduce load on the air conditioning.

  • Was it fast?

    Not 0-62mph in three seconds fast, but yeah it was pretty quick. 178bhp and an instantaneous 251lb ft from the single electric motor meant 0-62mph in 7.9 seconds, though of course it felt quicker. I actually drove one of these back in 2014, and I distinctly remember its tendency to light-up the front tyres whenever you went near the accelerator in Sport mode. The top speed was around 100mph.

    Besides Sport, the Electric Drive had Economy and Economy Plus drive modes. Economy – the default mode – limited the B to 131bhp, while Economy Plus pegged power at just 87bhp and restricted the top speed to 70mph.

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  • Was it cheap?

    It wasn’t too bad actually. With the Government grant – which back then was a massive £5,000, versus just £3,000 today – the electric B-Class cost £26,950 when it went on sale in the UK towards the end of 2014. About the same as a B220 diesel. At the time the more techy but much less spacious BMW i3 was £25,980 (or £29,130 with the optional range-extender).

    There are still a few out there – you can buy one used in the UK for around £15,000.

  • Tell me something interesting about it.

    The B-Class Electric Drive uses a Tesla-developed drivetrain. Yep, really. Tesla and Daimler started working together in 2007 (ever wonder why the Model S has some Mercedes switchgear? Well now you know), and the Germans eventually took a ten per cent stake in the company in 2009 for a reported $50million. Daimler sold its remaining shares in 2014 – by now its stake was down to four per cent – for $780million. A tidy profit, but had Daimler held on to its shares until 2021, it could have made BILLIONS on the deal. 

  • What electric cars does Mercedes make now?

    Well there’s the EQC, which was released in 2019 and is based on the GLC. Then there’s the EQV, an all-electric version of the V-Class minibus/MPV. The EQA – an electrified GLA crossover – has just been revealed and is coming soon, but the one everyone’s waiting for is the flagship EQS

  • Why did it fail, and what did we learn from it?

    The Electric Drive was an expensively-engineered car with good tech and, relative to contemporary rivals and even other B-Classes, didn’t cost a huge amount to buy. A fundamentally good product, then, but it wasn’t as cool as the BMW i3 nor as cheap as the Nissan Leaf. And the world was a different place back in 2015, don’t forget, with none of the urgency with regards the mass adoption of EVs that there is today.

    As for what we learned – the Electric Drive taught us it was perfectly possible to build a good EV on a platform shared with a normal petrol/diesel powered car, so long as it wasn’t an afterthought (ahem, Ford Focus Electric).

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