Mercedes Sets $41,450 Price for Small EV, To Match BMW

By · April 29, 2014

At this very moment, the only luxury pure electric car on the market is the Tesla Model S, which has a base price between $70,000 and $93,400. But that will change in a matter of months, when two new small luxury EVs enter the scene—the Mercedes B-Class Electric Drive and BMW i3. Yesterday, Mercedes announced a base price of $41,450 for its electric car. It’s not a coincidence that its price is nearly identical to the BMW i3. In its press materials, Mercedes lists the i3 as its “main competitor.”

With the price announcement, luxury car buyers who want an electric car—but not interested in the Model S’s full-size dimensions and price—can now pit two well appointed but more affordable EVs against one another. Well-heeled buyers who previously accepted the relatively humdrum interior quality provided by Japanese or American models, can step back up to German refinement.

Judging from my brief time behind the wheel of both cars, they will equally deliver the high level of handling and comfort expected from a BMW or Mercedes. Buyers will need to consider two main factors that separate the two choices: styling and the availability of a range-extending gas engine.

Whereas the B-Class uses a small car platform that will feel right at home in a Mercedes dealership, BMW produced a quirky carbon-fiber exterior design that hardly feels like a Bimmer. Discriminating buyers will have to make a decision whether or not they like the somewhat stubby futuristic look of the BMW i3. Some will and some won’t. But the transition to the electric Mercedes B-Class will be easier—mostly a downshift to a smaller than usual Mercedes vehicle with a hatchback. (Besides, Mercedes sales staff can point to the Tesla-sourced powertrain as a compelling point of distinction.)

It remains to be seen how sales of the BMW i3 will be sustained after the most enthusiastic early adopters receive their cars. The iconoclastic visual design, and barn door treatment, might be a hit or it could prove to be a problem; however, one of BMW’s innovations—the availability of a range-extending gas engine that essentially doubles driving range and allows for quick refueling—more than compensates for any stylistic misgivings, even as it adds about $4,000 to the cost.

Mercedes, like a lot of other car companies, likes to use the “no compromise” message in its marketing. But 85 miles of range expected from the B-Class Electric Drive is a real limitation. The i3 with the range-extender, while adding some level of internal combustion, removes those range concerns.

Luxury buyers want a beautiful car—not necessarily one that looks as Buck Rogers as the i3. Yet, at the end of the day, range has more impact on the practical daily experience of drivers. That gives an advantage to the i3 over the Mercedes small EV. Nonetheless, the fact that this choice exists at all is great for electric car buyers—one more sign that the market for zero emissions battery-powered vehicles is on the rise.

Comments

· · 20 weeks ago

Yeah, I wouldn't quite classify the i3 and the B-classe as luxury cars, but that's just me. Also in the quite subjective "looks" department I am not so sure that the B-classe is that much "prettier" than the i3.

You also seem to forget that Mercedes already has a "luxury" pure EV, the SLS AMG Electric Drive.

· · 20 weeks ago

Another tin can conversion... I cannot imagine ever buying another car that does not use advanced composite body panels, with all due respect to Tesla. But maybe.

· · 20 weeks ago

"Buyers will need to consider two main factors that separate the two choices: styling and the availability of a range-extending gas engine."

I suppose that's true if you think you'll never have more than two people in the car at once. But for those of us who frequently carry 3 or 4 people in our cars the "2+2" BMW is immediately pruned from the decision tree without even a test drive.

· · 20 weeks ago

@RedLeaf - Good point. Although I sat in the back seat of the MB B-Class Electric, and it's very tight. I realize that I'm tall, and had the driver seat pushed back. But the back seat is really only big enough for kids, or adults on short trips. It's nominally a five-seat, but three humans of any size in the back seat would be a real squeeze.

· · 20 weeks ago

@Brad - My in-laws have a 2004 E320 and the legroom is lacking when I set the driver's seat to my driving position. So, this is not that surprising for the B-Class. As you know, RAV4 EV does not have this problem. The only bad thing in the back seat of the RAV is the weird overlap of the rear center and rear left seatbelts.

· · 19 weeks ago

@Brad - thanks for the info on the MB, I'll prune that from our list as well. Just this weekend we took several trips with 4 full-grown people in our LEAFs and everyone had plenty of room (and their own door).

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