After decades of toying with zero-emission powertrains — including low-volume retrofitted Electric Drive iterations of the B-Class and Smart ForTwo — Mercedes-Benz is debuting the EQC, its first BEV (battery-electric vehicle) built from a clean-sheet design. As the inventors of the automobile, Mercedes’s first BEV targeted for mass production is more than a landmark; it’s quite likely a bellwether for the success of the electric powertrains in the company’s fleets worldwide. The EQC will likely act as an electrified canary in the coal mine, revealing whether EVs have potential to appeal to everyday consumers, or if they’ll remain relegated to a niche that caters to the NPR crowd.
The Good: Did anyone think Mercedes-Benz wouldn’t nail the electric powertrain on their first purpose-built BEV? Its 80-kWh lithium-ion battery pack channels 402 horsepower to two electric motors, one attached to each axle. This allows 564 pound-feet of instant torque to be intelligently distributed by Benz’s well-established 4Matic all-wheel-drive, zipping the substantial SUV (curb weight is still to be revealed) from a standstill to 60 mph in less than five seconds. Boasting a European-test-cycle-claimed 259-mile range, the pack can charge from 10 to 80 percent in just 40 minutes at a DC fast charger — although that same charge will take nearly 10 hours on a 240-volt Level 2 wall unit.
Who It’s For: Luxury car buyers interested in a zero emission vehicle — because of environmental concerns, to use HOV lanes and dedicated parking spots or simply save money on gasoline — but don’t want to make a big deal out of it. While many BEV shoppers will opt for Teslas to broadcast their green credentials, buyers of the EQC aren’t concerned with flashing their eco-bona fides. Sure there are some aesthetic cues that signal this is an electric vehicle, like its pancake wheels and hard plastic grille, but most laymen would have a difficult time discerning the EQC from its petrol-chugging Benz brethren. Which seems to be exactly what Mercedes-Benz was aiming for.
Watch Out For: Even with all that torque available at all four corners, the EQC lacks the sportiness of its Jaguar and Tesla competitors. This is mostly due to the SUV-soft suspension, which is luxuriously pliant but allows for a lot of body roll when placed against the I-Pace and Model X. Perhaps engineers tuned down its dynamics to make the EQC feel more like a boilerplate SUV, but enthusiasts are going to wish Benz hadn’t.
Review: It may seem weird to use this as a compliment, but Mercedes-Benz’s new EQC is in many ways unremarkable. Yes, the EQC is an electric vehicle, but it feels like a traditional internal-combustion crossover in almost every way. Even the mundane roads outside Oslo, Norway the Mercedes event planners chose to showcase the EQC on seemed to underscore just how ordinary the vehicle is supposed to be.
But the EQC is extraordinary, of course: more than 200 miles of range per charge; absurd torque at your beck and call; and pleasant in every way you’d expect from a Mercedes SUV. While Tesla prefers a minimalist approach to its interior design, the EQC resembles any of Benz’s top-tier SUV offerings; there are double 10.25-inch touchscreen digital displays spread across the dash, a piano black central console and metal Burmester speaker grilles at the bottom of the A-pillars. All the touchpoints — seat controls, vents, buttons, switches, door handles, etc. — are also metal, with 64-color ambient lighting spicing things up. And even as cold rain pelted the windshield and sunroof (the latter being somewhat small in this age of sprawling panoramic tops), inside, the EQC was tomb-like quiet and cozy.
The exterior looks much like a GLC-Class, even though the EQC shares not a single piece of sheet metal with its petrol-chugging kin. The most salient EV visual cues are matching LED light bars above the front grille and connecting the rear tail lamps, and 19- to 21-inch rims that hide aerodynamic features. (They’re better-looking than the aero-optimizing disc wheels of many EVs, but still seem a bit chintzy).
It’s not until you dig into the various Driving and Braking modes that the EQC really starts separating itself from gasoline-swigging competitors. There are four drive modes — although unlike other vehicles that alter several parameters under the circumstances, shifting between Eco, Comfort and Sport will only change throttle aggression. Because there’s only one gear, shift speed and shift points are not affected, and the EQC lacks adjustable dampers. (That’s is a shame, as the heavy SUV could use a stiffer suspension setting to better absorb its mass through the corners.)
The most efficient mode, Maximum Range, also applies speed ceilings and haptic feedback through the steering wheel if the vehicle senses you need to slow for any reason (more on this in a bit). It even encourages more dramatic regenerative braking, in order to ensure you reach your targeted charging station. Considerately enough, even Maximum Range won’t affect the climate control functions; Mercedes doesn’t want passengers to ever be uncomfortable, no matter how thrifty they choose to be.
Speaking of regenerative braking, the EQC features four levels of it. D, the default, barely slows the vehicle on its own; it feels as if you’re going against a strong headwind. Dial it down to D+ and you feel zero deceleration, like cruising in a gas-powered car. Dial the regen braking up to D- and you instantly feel deceleration the moment you lift off throttle; dial it up even further to D – -, and it feels like hard braking. This is where “one-pedal driving” kicks in; commuting around town, you can make a game out of never touching the brake, as the EQC will quickly scrub speed just by lifting off the accelerator. Notably, unlike a Tesla, the EQC will never come to a complete stop without actually applying the brake pedal.
There’s also an additional intelligent mode called “D Auto” that’s activated by pulling on the paddle shifters for two seconds. Using a combination of map/GPS info, radar, cameras, and traffic sign recognition that’s been networked together, the EQC reads your environment and alters regeneration levels to maximize energy recuperation. If it senses you approaching a car or corner or notices a speed limit change, D Auto will increase regen braking as soon as you lift your foot from the throttle.
Some people don’t like this level of interference, but driving the rain-slicked roads outside Oslo, the purpose of D Auto came into focus. I found the setting ideal for curvy roads where you might apply brakes before entering corners; simply lifting your foot from the throttle significantly slowed down the SUV.
Verdict: Taken in totality, the EQC in feels and looks like an ordinary SUV in most superficial ways — which seems to be exactly what Mercedes was aiming for. But once you start playing with its bag of EV tricks — not to mention the joyous piles of torque on hand — the EQC offers enough futuristic touches to separate it from the petrol-chugging pack. Will that combination of today’s looks and tomorrow’s powerplant win over some reluctant buyers who’ve chosen “normal” cars in the past? It just might.
2019 Mercedes-Benz EQC Specs
Powertrain: Two asynchronous electric motors and an 80-kWh lithium-ion battery; single-speed transmission; all-wheel-drive
Torque: 564 pound-feet
0-60 MPH: 4.9 seconds
Driving Range (European Testing): 259 miles
Mercedes-Benz hosted us and provided this product for review.
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