NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- This is a comparison of the electric BMW i3 and the Mercedes B-Class Electric, both of which will be in U.S. showrooms in the next few months. Together with the Cadillac ELR they represent the first attempts at offering more premium competitors to Tesla's (TSLA) dominance of the segment.
The BMW i3 is already available in Europe, and orders are now being taken for delivery in the U.S. starting in May. You can't yet order the Mercedes but it will be available starting this summer in limited geographies, most notably California.
The BMW i3 starts at $42,000, and comments from Mercedes imply that its model might be priced close to that number. More about that later. Let's start by examining the differences between the BMW and Mercedes point-by-point, and the bigger picture will be clear once you get to the end of this comparison:
Front Seats: Both cars are tall and are easy to get into. You sit at least a couple of inches higher than a regular midsize car thanks to the battery being baked into the floor and the tall roof.
The Mercedes Electric interior otherwise surprises you by looking exactly like a regular Mercedes interior. Many people would fail a blind test. This is good because it makes for a very good seating position and overall ergonomics. It is very comforting in its familiarity. There is nothing weird.
The BMW i3 is similar in that it provides an excellent seat and driving position, except that I found it to be even better than the Mercedes. Remember, the Mercedes already gets an A-, so the BMW getting an A isn't much of a difference. The BMW's steering wheel telescopes more for very tall drivers.
Other than that, the BMW i3 looks anything but conventional. The front seat area feels more spacious and brings the most futuristic cabin in memory. You can easily move from side to side, in case someone has parked too close.
On the whole, while the Mercedes is great for the people in the front seats the BMW i3 is even better, arguably the very best of any car at any price.
Back Seats: The Mercedes has just enough foot, leg and head space for a six-foot-tall person. It even squeezes in a foldable airplane-style table on the back of the front seats, which I was able to place with zero space left around my legs. You can fit a third person in the middle.
The BMW i3 has suicide doors, making for an unusual entry into the back seat. I find it to be just barely acceptable for two people six feet tall. No third person can sit in the middle, which is a deal-killer for some prospective buyers.