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BMW i3 vs. Mercedes B-Class: Which German electric car is better?

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Robert Galbraith/Reuters/File

(Read caption) An attendee looks over a BMW i3 electric car at the Electric Power Research Institute's Plug-In 2014 conference in San Jose, Calif. in July.

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It's taken awhile, but electric cars are finally getting some serious attention from the mainstream automotive press.

Maybe it's increased consumer interest, or maybe the fact that there are now enough widely-available models to warrant comparisons, but electric cars are starting to show up more in the pages of enthusiast "buff books."

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In a recent comparison, Car and Driver pitted the 2014 BMW i3 against the 2014 Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric Drive.

Showing how far plug-ins have come in gaining credibility with the establishment automotive press, the focus wasn't the cars' electric drivetrains, but rather the wildly different approaches the two German carmakers took with their respective products.

"The B-Class is an electric Mercedes-Benz," the Car and Driver staff said, "BMW's i3 is a moon buggy."

The magazine praised the B-Class' upscale interior, and noted that the silent electric motor's instantaneous torque delivery fits nicely with the "Mercedes ideal" of smooth and quiet internal-combustion engines.

However, testers were less impressed by the car's restrained styling, and its handling capabilities. These factors may or may not be relevant to the average electric-car buyer, though.

The BMW i3 has generated significant controversy with its radical styling, but testers seemed to like it, and also felt the car's rear-wheel drive layout produced better handling.

The equally avant-garde interior came in for criticism, including rear seats that staff declared uninhabitable for humans.

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Ergonomic quirks aside, the BMW took the prize for trying to be different. Car and Driver reasoned that mere efficiency is boring, while "ambition is exciting," and the i3 is very ambitious.

With an EPA-rated 124 MPGe combined (138 MPGe city, 111 MPGe highway), it's also the most efficient battery-electric car currently sold in the U.S. BMW has all of its bases covered, apparently.