2014 Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric Drive (© Mercedes-Benz USA)Click to enlarge picture

Mercedes-Benz introduces the B-Class Electric Drive as its first electric car in the U.S. In Europe, the B-Class hatchback is offered with gas and diesel engines, but stateside it comes only with a Tesla-sourced electric powertrain.

The Toyota Prius has caught on with American buyers as a "green" fashion statement. But the hybrid sedan really does more than that. With seating for five and a hatchback design that offers useful cargo space, the Prius is practical as well as green. Yes, it's great to be environmentally conscious, but it's also important to tote the family around, too. Mercedes takes on the Prius this summer, when it releases its first electric car in the United States: the B-Class Electric Drive. Like the Prius, it's a hatchback with room for a family of five and their stuff. With an 85-mile range, the new B-Class Electric Drive isn't quite as versatile as the Prius, but range is the only compromise buyers make to go green the Mercedes way.

Model lineup
The 2014 Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric Drive goes on sale as a single model priced at $41,450 (buyers also qualify for a $7,500 federal tax credit). Initially it will be offered in Oregon, California and several East Coast states that subscribe to zero emissions vehicle standards. A 50-state rollout begins early in 2015. The B-Class comes well equipped, with features such as MB Tex vinyl upholstery, a navigation system, a 5.8-inch display screen, the mbrace2 technology suite, and power front seats with 3-position memory. It also comes with numerous safety features, including a driver's knee airbag and Mercedes' Attention Assist and Collision Prevention Assist.

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Available options include leather upholstery, blind spot assist, lane keeping assist, ParkTronic advanced parking assist, Mercedes' COMAND infotainment system with a 7-inch screen, a radar-based regeneration system, and a Range package that includes a heated windshield, extra insulation in the roof and doors, and a partly covered front grille. This is an overcharge system that allows the battery to add an additional 15 percent charge capacity, which increases the driving range approximately 14 miles.

Under the hood
The 2015 Mercedes-Benz B-Class features a powertrain supplied by Tesla. It combines a 132-kilowatt-hour electric motor with a 28-kwh lithium-ion battery. Total output is 177 horsepower and 251 lb-ft of torque.

The B-Class can be charged on a 120-volt or a 240-volt outlet. The 120-volt charge takes more than 30 hours, so buyers will want a Level 2 (240-volt, 40-amp) charging station that will require only about three and a half hours for a full charge. Mercedes will offer a charging station as part of the purchase or lease price, but a price for that feature is yet to be determined. The B-Class can't take a 480-volt quick charge.

View Pictures:  2014 Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric Drive

Inner space
At $41,450, the B-Class Electric Drive is priced near the bottom of the Mercedes lineup, and the interior materials reflect that. Soft-touch materials are used in abundance, but some of them don't match the quality of Mercedes' higher-line cars. For instance, the MB Tex vinyl upholstery has a leatherlike look, but it's not as supple as leather. The dash is soft to the touch, and it is accented by real wood trim, but the look isn't very interesting unless a light upholstery color is chosen.

Mercedes' COMAND infotainment system, standard in most of its cars, is optional here. It's run through a rotating knob on the center console that drivers use to choose the communications, entertainment and navigation functions displayed on a tabletlike 7-inch screen on the dash. Most of the climate controls can also be found on the center stack, so drivers won't have to delve into COMAND to change the temperature. The center stack also has buttons that can act as shortcuts to the various COMAND functions. Mastering the use of the dial and these buttons will take some time, but this system is fairly intuitive.

The hatchback design of the B-Class makes it family friendly, and the battery sits in an "energy space" below the floor so it doesn't intrude on passenger or cargo space. Headroom and legroom up front are plentiful. Rear-seat passengers have an equal amount of headroom, but legroom becomes tight if anyone front or back is over six feet tall. Given the hatchback design, it seems like Mercedes should have pushed the rear seats back a couple of inches. Mercedes does, however, include a pair of fold-down trays in the back of each front seat for rear passengers to use as cupholders and tray tables as on an airplane.

The hatch area offers 17.7 cubic feet of cargo space, and the rear seats fold down — but not flat — to expand that to 51.4 cubic feet. That space would be more useful if the rear seats folded flat, but Mercedes chose to make the seat bottoms more comfortable by adding contour, which prevents the seat backs from folding completely flat. It's a tradeoff passengers will appreciate.