The electric car got off to a rocky start. The 1886 "Dog Cart" sucked, New York's electric hansom cabs sucked in 1897, the '67 Amitron sucked, the '69 electric Rambler sucked. The lunar rover didn't suck, but it would have if it had been used on the highway, rather than the moon. Even the GM EV1 sucked, even though a few people loved it.
Now, the Tesla Model S is bloody brilliant. This car is going to go down in history as one of the most influential and important cars of all time. Mercedes owns a small stake in Tesla Motors, and that partnership has given birth to this: the Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric Drive. No, it's not half as sexy as the Model S, but it's also not nearly as expensive. For the record, we're thankful that that American staff convinced ze Germans not to call it the "B-Class ED," because nobody wants to spend more than $40,000 on second-rate erectile dysfunction.
The real question is: "Like most other electric cars, does this one suck?"
To find out, we flew out to Palo Alto, Calif. to see the car, see Mercedes' tech-centric R&D facility in silicon valley, drink enough espresso to stay awake during presentations, and drive it around.
The first thing you need to realize about the BCED is that it is in no way a Tesla Model S. It's a particularly tall hatchback like the ones favored by Europe's soccer football moms and it's rocking a modest 177 hp and a good 251 lb-ft of torque. It's enough to get from zero to 60 mph in an acceptable 7.9 seconds, and it jumps off the line very willingly due to the fact that all those lb-ft of torque are available immediately. It's not bad.
When the roads get curvy, it's by no means fast, and not even sporty, on account of the significant amount of body roll, but it does an acceptable job and a few grins can be found coaxing it down a winding hillside stretch of road. What it does do well is handle predictably. This isn't a car that's going to surprise people and throw them into a ditch/tree/stop sign. It's not bad.
This isn't just a competent econo-box either; it's a Mercedes, and because of that, we expect two things: that it will be available in at least 6,789,332 different shades of grey and that it will be luxurious and comfortable. Regarding the first, it does indeed come in white, grey, and greyer, and a really bright blue that some Mercedes personnel told me, regrettably, won't be called "blue as fuck," as I suggested. I'm guessing that it will be called "the sky is still blue because you bought an electric car, you exemplary consumer, you."
Regarding the luxury, it's a typical Mercedes. The seats are comfortable, the interior design is pleasing to the eye, hand, and probably tongue, and the car comes with the usual allotment of comfort and convenience gadgets, including smartphone-controlled climate control. The floor in the rear is higher than you expect it to be, on account of the battery pack, and this means that tall people will be folded up into a demi-fetal position; it's not too bad, but I (6'1") wouldn't want to go on a long trip back there. It's not bad.
Speaking of long trips, nobody will be going on long trips in this car, as it runs out of juice after around 85 miles. Although that doesn't sound like much, Mercedes did look at the driving habits of Americans and concluded that this is more than enough for about 7/10 of us, except on extraordinary days that include road trips and cross-country flights from shadowy paramilitary organizations hell-bent on vengeance. It's not bad.
It's not a car that's going to be massively popular as a background image or featured prominently in the eighth installment of the Fast & Furious series, but I wouldn't make fun of anybody for buying one. It's most definitely doesn't suck; it's actually pretty good, and for an electric car, that's exceptional.
Oh, and better looking wheels are coming soon, because those do suck.