A quiet revolution is sweeping like a gentle breeze through German prestige car maker Mercedes-Benz, with the launch this week of the brand’s first mass-production electric vehicle, the EQC.
The all-new, all-electric SUV represents a watershed moment for the world’s oldest car maker, as the first tangible evidence of its shift towards mass-market manufacturing of electric vehicles (EVs).
Appropriately, the drive program sets off from the trendy 'Mercedes me' café in inner-city Melbourne. It’s the sort of venue that will be instrumental in generating awareness and interest in the all-electric EQC, as Mercedes sets out to reinvent itself and attract a new generation of owners.
Not that generating hype has been a problem to date; some 4000 Australians registered interest in the new model within days of the website going live last February.
Mercedes is coy about how many went on to place an order, but the brand’s dealer and customer development manager Jason Nomikos tells Executive Traveller that “supply is not as good as we’d like it to be”. Suffice it to say that anyone placing an order today will be looking at delivery in the second half of 2020 at the earliest.
The soft sell
The purchase process itself has also been radically disrupted, with the EQC ushering in a new retail model. Instead of on-selling the SUVs to dealers, Mercedes-Benz retains ownership during the sale process, setting a fixed price for the cars and enabling customers to purchase entirely online, or via a visit to a handful of authorised dealers where there won’t be the option to haggle.
Further simplifying things is the fact the EQC will be available as a single variant, priced from $137,900 (plus on-road costs) and with a limited range of options when it arrives in showrooms on December 9. Our test vehicle was specced up to $145,600.
At this price the EQC is clearly positioned to slot neatly between Tesla’s Model X Long Range ($135,000) and its Performance model ($144,200), and likewise hits the bullseye between Jaguar’s I-Pace EV400 SE ($130,200) and EV400 HSE ($140,800). Some customers not quite ready to make the full leap to electrification might also consider the forthcoming plug-in hybrid GLC SUV.
The EQC is similar in size and looks to the GLC, but Mercedes is adamant the former is an all-new model and not merely an electrified version of the latter, pointing to the fact the vehicles share just 15 per cent of components. Beyond that, the EQC’s electric powertrain is a radical departure not just from the combustion engine-powered GLC, but from virtually every Mercedes-Benz since founder Karl Benz’s original 1886 Patent-Motorwagen.
Flicking the switch
A sizeable 405-volt, 80kWh lithium ion battery forms part of the vehicle floor, supplying power to twin asynchronous electric motors situated at either axle. The front motor handles most of the powertrain duties in regular driving mode, with the rear kicking in when more dynamic driving is called for, and both motors contributing regenerative braking energy back to the battery during deceleration.
Combined maximum output of the motors is a healthy 300kW, with a turbocharged V8-like 760Nm of torque accelerating the EQC’s hefty 2.4-tonne kerb weight to 100km/h in an impressively brisk 5.1 seconds.
With an energy consumption rating of 21.4kWh/100km, the family SUV offers a claimed range between top-ups of 434km (ADR), which is about the same as the standard range of a Tesla Model X (425km).
Bear in mind, though, that just as ADR fuel consumption figures for internal combustion vehicles are notoriously optimistic, the same is true for EVs. The alternatively calculated WLTP range figure of 353km is likely closer to the mark. Over the course of our 240km drive, which incorporated congested city streets, open freeway, and spirited driving on undulating rural roads, we consumed 28kWh/100km, reducing range to 286km.
All quiet on the electric front
Out on the road, the direct drive system at each axle and single speed transmission ensures remarkably smooth and linear acceleration, with no gear changes to interrupt the powerful and instant delivery of the twin motors. Add to this the eerie quiet of the electric drivetrain, enhanced by acoustic laminated glass and a pillowy soft ride, and you have a drive experience that rivals the range-topping S-Class limousine for refinement.
The interior is not quite S-Class luxe but it is familiar Benz fare, meaning high-quality materials and a layout among the classiest and most intuitive of all the prestige brands. There are some EQC-specific design touches that speak to the car’s electrification, like copper-coloured air-vents, inspired by electrical wiring, and the vents themselves being shaped like a circuit board.
On the charge
On the charging front, Mercedes has partnered with Chargefox to provide every EQC owner with a generous five-years of free charging at any of the latter’s expanding network of ultra-rapid charging stations, which are more typically found in highway and rural locations.
There’s also a growing number of pay-as-you-go fast charging stations available, and customers have the option of purchasing a Mercedes-Benz Wallbox ($1250 plus installation) to facilitate speedier home charging. Charge times vary from a slow 4km added every half-hour from a standard 240V AC outlet, to 15km per half-hour using the Wallbox, to 199km using a DC fast charger, and onto the current holy grail of 220km of range in 30 minutes if using a DC ultra-rapid charger.
Comparisons between the EQC and the similarly priced Tesla Model X are inevitable. Despite arriving on the scene some four years after the Tesla, the EQC doesn’t match the brash American for pace, seating capacity or range. What it does offer, however, is a level of materials quality plus fit and finish that you simply don’t get in a Tesla, along with superb refinement, strong performance and that famous three-pointed star on the grille.
For many prestige buyers wary of taking a punt on the Silicon Valley upstart, these facts alone may be enough to steer them towards the first electric car from the world’s first car maker.