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.”