2014 Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric Drive: First Drive Page 2

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Under the hood, the motor assembly is compact, yet if you've seen the configuration in some other electric cars, it takes up a little more space than you might expect. The controller is located down low in the front, and a single liquid-cooling system moderates temperatures for the motor and battery pack. And the motor is placed in a way that actually uses the same engine mounts as the gasoline engine. To paraphrase the engineer: If it works, why not?

Curb weight for the B-Class Electric Drive is more than 3,900 pounds—definitely on the portly side for this kind of vehicle, and a whopping 1,300 pounds more than the BMW i3 or 600 pounds more than the Nissan Leaf (both conceived to be battery electrics, admittedly)—but that doesn't seem to get in the way of comfort or drivability in any way. As we noticed right away when we set out driving, that curb weight and long wheelbase contribute to this tall hatchback’s settled ride and sense of poise.

At first assessment, the B-Class feels tuned to fit right in with the conservative end of Mercedes-Benz's car lineup. So it was surprising that as we headed what we thought was too enthusiastically into a series of switchbacks, the B-Class didn’t complain—there's less lean than expected from a tall hatchback such as this, and excellent steering weighting.

Drives like a Mercedes, though

But the calibration feels entirely Mercedes-Benz. As with Mercedes models for decades, the B-Class has 'E' and 'S' modes for the powertrain. While 'E,' for efficiency, provides a soft accelerator tip-in and a nice linear reaction to your right foot, you need to press farther to get the kind of snappy responsiveness that's tuned into some electric cars (no complaint there, as it's easier to drive efficiently).

Switch over to 'S' and you get the more aggressive response in that first half inch on the accelerator. Additionally, you need to go past the accelerator-pedal detent (like the 'kickdown' position in an automatic-transmission car) to get all 132 kW of output in 'E' (up at the detent you get 98 kW, then the full amount is delivered with a sudden surge), whereas with 'S' mode, you get not only a more aggressive calibration but the full 132 kW right at the detent—no need to 'kick down' past it.

And the Electric Drive is quick, whether you're going by family-car standards or small-car standards; 60 mph happens in just 7.9 seconds, and for those first 30 or 40 mph you could give some sportier cars a good run if you wanted. Top speed is limited to 100 mph—electronically limited.

With the available Radar-based Recuperation System, the B-Class offers four levels of regenerative braking: D (Drive), D+, D-, and D-Auto. D-Auto ramps up the regen depending on how close you are to a vehicle ahead, the slope of the road, and your driving behavior, while D+ provides less regen—a full ‘gliding’ experience, really—and D- gives more regen.

Even in D-, it’s still not anything close to the one-pedal driving that’s offered in some EVs like the Tesla Model S, though, which left us wishing for a ‘D--‘ setting. While you're driving, you can click through the three regen modes with the paddle-shifters, or hold them down to access D-Auto.

In the B-Class ED's 'E' mode, in its default setting with the D-Auto mode, the B-Class drives like a 'normal' car—a car that those who aren't driving enthusiasts will find easy to drive. The B-Class here isn't jumpy or gimmicky. It responds in a nice, predictable way.

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