BBC Autos

From Mercedes-Benz, a meeting of muscle and electrodes

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A year removed from the so-called Linsanity inspired by Harvard graduate Jeremy Lin playing for the NBA's New York Knicks, Mercedes-Benz demonstrated a similarly unfair combination of brains and brawn on 27 March in New York.

The brand’s precociousness took the form of two cars built on the same underlying hardware, with amazingly disparate characteristics.

In a global debut, the company showed the 355-horsepower, all-wheel-drive CLA45 AMG sedan, and the electron-consuming B-Class Electric Drive hatchback. Amazingly, both cars are built on the company's New Generation Compact Car foundation, a fact that is a testament to the flexibility of the first transverse-engine, front-drive chassis to reach the US wearing the three-pointed star.

The NGCC platform even extends downward to the tiny A-Class hatchback which, like the gasoline-powered B-Class, is not sold in the US. The CLA45 AMG blasts from a standstill to 60mph in 4.5 seconds, en route to an electronically limited top speed of 155mph, Mercedes says. The company also claims the 2-litre turbocharged engine is the world's most powerful four-cylinder.

Just as the sub-$30,000 starting price for the base CLA serves as a remarkable entry point to the Mercedes brand, so does the  CLA45’s $48,375 sticker help bring new customers to AMG, according to product manager Heiko Schmidt. That is well below below the $60,000 ballpark price on the C63 AMG sedan, fuelling the company’s hopes "for approaching a new customer," Schmidt said. And Mercedes has no delusions about the conquesting the CLA45 is capable of. When the car reaches dealers in November, Mercedes expects to sell a much higher percentage of AMG versions of the CLA than it does AMG variants of the C-Class.

The B-Class Electric Drive will not arrive on US roads until early 2014, and while Mercedes is not talking price yet, it is promising 115-mile driving range from the car's 28 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack.

Producing the equivalent of 134hp and 228 lb-ft of seamless electric torque, the B-Class accelerates to 60mph in under 10 seconds, Mercedes claims, toward a top speed of 100mph. 

Mercedes has worked to make the car quick to charge as well, with a built-in 10kW charger that will give the car sufficient energy for 60 miles in just two hours on a 240v outlet. A full charge takes four hours, with times roughly doubled when using a US-standard 120v outlet.

"We think there is a lot of momentum for electric vehicles in the US," Schmidt said, a rather contrarian view these days, given the wan sales of the Nissan Leaf and Ford Focus Electric. But Mercedes' ability to deliver a luxury experience under battery power will distinguish it to customers, he added. "They want a car that is not a compromise. They want the premium character.”