First Drive: Mercedes B-Class F-Cell

Richard Bremner

Electric cars are getting plenty of air-time right now, and what many of us are rapidly learning is that all electric cars are not the same. Many might not consider the Mercedes B-Class F-CELL to be an electric car at all, in fact, because it is powered by hydrogen.

The chief attraction of fuel-cell vehicle so far has been their cleanliness, the only emission jetting from the exhaust pipe being water vapour. But electric cars are what they are, because their fuel cells convert that hydrogen into electricity, which in turn drives an electric motor. The advantages over a purely battery-powered electric vehicle are considerable. First, the range between fill-ups is two to three times as great – this Mercedes manages 250 miles between stops - and refuelling takes no more than three minutes, just as with any conventional car.

But there are considerable downsides, not the least of them being the lack of a refuelling network. Building a matrix of hydrogen pumps is vastly more expensive than installing charging stations for EVs, which is why Mercedes and several infrastructure providers have committed to build a network in Germany that it's hoped will spread at a decent pace across Europe - though it's looking less good for isolated Britain. Nevertheless, various developers of fuel cell cars, including Honda, Ford, Renault, Nissan, and General Motors as well as Mercedes-Benz, promise that there will be several thousand hydrogen fuel cell vehicles on the road by 2015. That's a bold claim, but less of one when you hear Mercedes research boss Dr Thomas Weber say that it is ready right now to produce fuel cell cars in quantity. Its most developed vehicle is the B-Class F-CELL sampled here, which the company reckons is as usable as any car in its range bar the lack of a fuel supply.