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Electric Shoot-Out: BMW vs. Mercedes

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Mercedes likes to be on the top of the heap, and that’s why it expects its new electric B-Class car to not only be great, but better than BMW’s far more fussed-over i3. Considering that the new car was shaped by a close collaboration with Tesla Motors (which supplied the motor and battery pack), it’s going to be an interesting shoot-out. Can we just certify that they’ll both be great?

The B-Class Electric should move out. Top speed is around 100 mph. (Mercedes-Benz photo)I’ve always liked the practical, five-seat B-Class, which is ubiquitous in Europe but absent from our shores. It’s coming now, but only as an electric car. There’s no compromise with trunk space—the batteries are under the floor.

Thomas Weber, research and development chief at Mercedes, said that the new B-Class, which comes to the U.S. next spring (before its debut in Europe), “really has no predecessor in the U.S.” He claimed the 134-horsepower car (with 228 foot pounds of torque) will reach 62 mph in 7.9 seconds, which is just about what the very sporty Chevy Spark EV delivers.

Benz needs a fast EV, because the Smart Electric Drive—which has other virtues as an affordable choice (a $139 a month lease, for instance)—is underpowered with just 47 horsepower (except for peak demand, when it has 74). That one, unfortunately, doesn’t benefit from the Tesla zoom-zoom touch.

The BMW i3 will be on the road in the U.S. this spring, the same time as the Mercedes B-Class. (Jim Motavalli photo)The BMW, which also comes here in the spring, won’t have as much range (80 to 100 miles). But it’s very competitive in performance, with 170 horsepower (184 foot pounds of torque) and zero to 60 times of seven seconds. I’ve driven an ActiveE, with the same drivetrain, and boy is it fun.  

According to Weber, the B-Class will also have real-life 124-mile range. “It’s not just on paper,” he said. VW is claiming similar range with its e-Golf—we’ll see. A third German entry, the e-Golf is also a lot of fun to drive

The VW e-Golf, also coming to the U.S. in 2014, is another barn burner. (Jim Motavalli photo)Weber said the B-Class will be “extremely competitive” on price. The i3 is $41,350, and $45,300 with the “range extender” gas engine (that I’d definitely order). The price doesn’t seem to have deterred many buyers—BMW reports that it might increase production to keep up with demand. But I’d still like to see the B-Class in the $30s.
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