PALO ALTO, CA – Daimler’s sole entry in the U.S. electric-vehicle market has been a version of the Smart Fortwo, a car that looks like it was sawed in half in a botched magic trick.

But that lightweight is getting some company, the heftier battery-powered Mercedes-Benz B-Class. The 3,924 lbs. (1,687 kg) 5-door wagon goes on sale in 10 so-called ZEV (zero-emission vehicle) states this summer, and all 50 by 2015.

A couple of interesting facts, perhaps anomalies, about the new arrival:

  • A gasoline powered B-Class isn’t sold in the U.S. Instead, the version with an internal-combustion engine is a Euro-car that also dabbles in Canada and Mexico. It is 700 lbs. (304 kg) lighter than its EV sibling.
  • Although Daimler is renowned for its engines, and claims direct ancestry to the first gasoline-powered car ever built, start-up electric-car maker Tesla is providing the ’14 B-Class EV powertrains. A media preview for the new car here is near the Tesla facility supplying the electric motors, 28-kwh lithium-ion battery packs, transmissions and the like. They’ll make a round trip. Tesla will ship the systems to Europe for final assembly. Then the finished products will head to the U.S. Welcome home, Sparky.

Mercedes hails the coming of the B-Class EV. “It’s a big deal for us to have our first all-electric vehicle in the U.S.,” says Christian Bokich, a spokesman for the German luxury automaker.

Every all-new vehicle deserves a tagline. Mercedes came up with this one for its EV: “Zero emissions, zero compromise.”

Not bad, considering the B-Class offers high-class comfort and driving dynamics as it whisks past gasoline stations (“Sorry, Charlie, no sale”), and up twisty roads offering scenic views of the Silicon Valley (“Is that Mark Zuckerberg’s house down there? No, it’s Stanford University.”)

The media drive is long enough for the wiry car to show its muscle (0-60 mph in about eight seconds) and athleticism, but not so long as to zap its battery power.

Eighty-five miles (136 km) is the estimated range. Beyond that, you’ll find yourself on the side of the road, needing the EV equivalent of a gas can. But 85 miles is respectable range. It beats the Smart EV’s 68 miles (108 km).  

“If a person’s driving needs involve long distances, this is not the right vehicle for them,” says Mark Webster, general manager of Mercedes-Benz USA’s e-mobility program.

But the B-Class EV is a purchase candidate if your commute is, say, 60 miles (96 km) and you want to do some extra driving beyond that. It’s also the right vehicle if the $41,450 sticker doesn’t shock you or your budget.

Getting a Charge Out of Life

It takes about 3.5 hours to charge the hatchback from a 220V/40 Level 2 charger. A Range Plus feature adds 18 miles (29 km) of range, but Mercedes warns against getting carried away with that button-operated option. Using it nightly will reduce the life of the battery that lies flat between the front and rear axles, providing a low center of gravity.   

Aiding the recharging cause on the car itself is an automatic downhill regenerative-power system and an optional 4-level radar-based recuperation feature, a form of cruise-control that works in concert with the brakes.

The electric motor delivers 177 hp and 251 lbs.-ft. (340 Nm) of torque, about the equivalent produced by a 3.0L internal-combustion engine. The B-Class EV is no slow poke but in the interest of extending range, it’s top speed is electronically capped at 100 mph (160 km/h).

Mercedes describes prospective B-Class buyers as progressives who already own at least one vehicle. They’re people who are wired with a California mindset without necessarily living there. On the issue of how many of them might buy premium-brand EVs, Mercedes declines to provide sales projections for its new offering.

But Webster optimistically cites a growing interest in EVs in the U.S. “Electric was seen as frumpy in the past, but now it’s sexy,” he says. But not luridly so. Children under 18 are allowed in the 5-seater B-Class.

For automakers, the allure of EVs is not that they rake in lots of money. It’s that they help companies meet stricter government regulations on emissions and average fuel economy.

If a graceful and nimble car like the B-Class EV springs from those rules, then regulators have gone above and beyond the call of duty.

'14 Mercedes B-Class EV Specifications

Vehicle type 5-seat hatchback
Powertrain Electric-drive system with 28 Kwh lithium-ion battery
Power (SAE net) 177 hp (132 kW)
Torque 251 lb.-ft. (340 Nm)
Curb weight 3,924 lbs. (1,780 kg)
Base price $41,450
Range 85 miles (136 km)
Main competitor BMW i3
Pros Cons
Sustainability Potential range anxiety
No compromises Not cheap
Quick off the get-go Speed limited to 100 mph (160 km/h)