Overall rating: 4/5
Most buyers of the new-look Mercedes-Benz B-Class will stick with diesel power, but with the facelift comes a new all-electric model called the Electric Drive. Its range is up to 230 kilometres, it has plenty of performance and it's undoubtedly a high-quality offering. Whether Irish motorists are quite ready for it remains to be seen.
In the metal 3.5/5
The Electric Drive version of the new-look B-Class is differentiated from its non-electric brethren by new front and rear bumpers and side skirts. LED daytime running lights are integrated into the front bumper too. The blue detailing in the grille and mirrors, plus the special wheels and decals of the launch car pictured are part of the 'Electric Art' package. The final specification of the car for the Irish market has yet to be confirmed, but it will be offered with 16-, 17- or 18-inch alloy wheels in some countries.
Inside, the Electric Drive we tested was of high specification, featuring the impressive (and likely optional) eight-inch display screen, plus a new design of leather steering wheel. The latter is trimmed in tactile leather with raised stitching. Elsewhere in the cabin blue stitching was used to mark this out as the electric model. No matter what the final specification, the Electric Drive B-Class will come with bespoke instruments, indicating what mode the drivetrain is in at any given time, plus the available performance and battery charge. It's quite clear and easy to understand - once you've been shown what is what.
Driving it 4/5
Overall the Electric Drive model is a lesson in refinement. Even the usual high pitched whine of an electric motor is suppressed, making it a particularly relaxing car to drive. The powertrain is smooth too, with no jerkiness present. Put your foot down at low speeds and chirrup from the front tyres signals a momentary loss of grip as all 340Nm of torque is deployed, but the traction control quickly, smoothly reins things in and the B-Class rapidly accelerates up to speed. Do this too often and the official 200-kilometre range (see 'Worth Noting' below) will not be achievable, but even on part 'throttle' it's a pleasingly responsive car to drive.
It makes sense to try out the various modes though. Default is E (for Economy) and drivers can choose S (Sport) or E+ to maximise efficiency. In the latter setting the maximum power output is cut in half and response to the accelerator pedal is noticeably dulled, though the full performance is available by pushing the pedal all the way down into the 'kick-down' region. Owners can also adjust the amount of regenerative braking they prefer using the paddles behind the steering wheel. D Auto is default (and it uses the radar cruise control - when fitted - to optimise regenerative braking); D+ simulates automatic transmission creep; and D- increases the braking effect when you lift off the accelerator - feeling not unlike engine braking in a conventional car.
What you get for your money
We'll shy away from giving the Electric Drive a rating for value at this stage. Though an approximate price of €40,000 has been quoted by Mercedes-Benz Ireland (it may be less), that will not be confirmed until 2015. Likewise the specification of the car.
Mercedes-Benz did its best to confuse us at the launch of the Electric Drive by referring to one of the options as the 'Range Plus range extender'. It's not, as you may well assume, an electricity generator in the form of a small engine (a la BMW i3), but in actual fact a software upgrade that allows owners to extract a little more range from the same battery. It extends the theoretical range from 200- to 230 kilometres. How? Well, to extend battery life, most car makers don't ever use the full capacity of a given battery. This Range Plus option, selected when charging, allows owners to do just that whenever they need to. Mercedes-Benz puts no limitation on this, and admits that it would reduce battery life if excessively used, but doesn't expect its customers to use it very often once they are familiar with the car. Regardless, all batteries come with an eight-year warranty.
The Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric Drive is a polished product, offering buyers in the market another premium-badged all-electric vehicle. It's particularly refined, faster than most will need, spacious inside and of very high quality. Despite the inclusion of some new technology it doesn't really move the EV game on a lot though, so is likely to remain a rare sight on Irish roads.