German Electric Car Battle: Audi A2 v BMW i3 v Benz B-Class E-Cell v VW Golf Blue eMotion

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2014 BMW i3 concept live photos, 2011 Frankfurt Auto Show

2014 BMW i3 concept live photos, 2011 Frankfurt Auto Show

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With the dust settling on press days at the Frankfurt Auto Show, we can take a breath, think about what we saw, and start to sort out our impressions.

One very clear message: German carmakers are taking electric cars seriously. Finally.

Both Audi and BMW unveiled electric-car concepts that are thinly disguised versions of models that will go into production in 2013 and 2014. Mercedes-Benz showed a range-extended electric version of its new B-Class compact hatchback, and Volkswagen again showed its Golf Blue eMotion prototype electric car.

Together, these are four plug-in electric cars from the four makers that are the bulk of German car sales in the U.S.

All are subcompact or compact five-door hatchbacks. Two are dedicated minicar or subcompact designs that share no body panels with any other model in the carmaker's range; the other two are adapted versions of gasoline compact cars.

2011 Audi A2 Concept

2011 Audi A2 Concept

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How do they compare?

STYLING

  • Audi A2 Concept: With the exception of the beltline light band that encircles it, the A2 Concept isn't that adventurous, although it does pay tribute to the original, highly fuel-efficient A2. If you ignore the blanked-out grille, you might never know it was electrically powered--or even particularly special.
  • BMW i3 Concept: The division between the aluminum lower portion (which holds the powertrain and seats) and the carbon fiber-reinforced plastic upper body sets the little i3 apart from the rest. The glass roof and doors (which won't make it into production) add flash, but the absence of a B-pillar and the rear-opening "carriage doors" at the rear to ease access make the i3 the most distinctive of the group.
  • Mercedes-Benz B-Class E-Cell Plus: The new B-Class is less upright and stodgy than its predecessor (not sold in the States), and it will be the smallest Benz ever sold in the U.S. Styling changes for the E-Cell electric model are unknown.
  • Volkswagen Golf Blue eMotion: The production version of the all-electric Golf will be built on the next (seventh-generation) Golf, which will be launched in 2013 or so. Today's prototypes use the previous, current generation. We don't know what the next Golf will look like--but expect the electric version not to vary much from the rest of the lineup.

The Mercedes-Benz B-Class E-Cell Plus concept. Image: Mercedes-Benz

The Mercedes-Benz B-Class E-Cell Plus concept. Image: Mercedes-Benz

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POWERTRAIN

  • Audi A2 Concept: 31-kWh lithium-ion battery pack; 85-kilowatt (114-hp) electric motor driving the front wheels; optional range-extending gasoline engine of unspecified design and output.
  • BMW i3 Concept: 21- or 22-kWh lithium-ion battery pack; 125-kilowatt (170-hp) electric motor driving the rear wheels; optional rear-mounted 600cc twin-cylinder range-extending gasoline engine.
  • Mercedes-Benz B-Class E-Cell Plus: Lithium-ion battery pack of unspecified capacity; 100-kilowatt (134 hp) electric motor driving the front wheels; front-mounted 1.0-liter turbocharged three-cylinder range-extending gasoline engine.
  • Volkswagen Golf Blue eMotion: 26.5-kWh lithium-ion battery pack; 85-kilowatt (114-hp) electric motor driving the front wheels; no range extender.

 
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