Riding shotgun in a final-stage Mercedes EQC prototype in Melbourne left us impressed by its refinement, cohesiveness and interior design. The first Benz EV sold here is almost certain to convert many.
Mercedes-Benz will soon launch its first full-electric vehicle in Australia, the EQC. To build interest, the company has imported a test prototype version – essentially the same as the imminent production model – for customers and media to take a look at.
We’ll make it clear from the get-go that we’re not pretending this is a full review. We spent an hour with the EQC’s chief vehicle tester Karl Scheible (overseeing millions of kilometres from Sweden to Death Valley) being ferried around. We’ll take it.
This GLC-sized crossover will hit the market in October as Daimler’s alternative to the Jaguar I-Pace, Tesla Model X and Audi e-tron quattro, though the main target will be existing Mercedes owners keen to make the switch to zero (local) emissions cars.
You can expect the EQC to be priced around $150,000, placing it between the Mercedes-AMG GLC43 and GLC63 performance SUVs in the pecking order. When put that way it seems less of an outlier, and should line up against its rivals well enough.
The EQC is just the first of many Daimler EVs planned, with seven Mercedes EQ-branded models due by 2022. Most of these will be coming to the Australian market, where the company enjoys the status of top-selling luxury car brand.
Mercedes Australia has reason to be confident with its EQ family, having taken hundreds of ‘expressions of interest’ in the EQC from its existing petrol- and diesel-powered owner pool.
With the cost impediments of EVs still abundantly clear in entry models like the $50,000 Nissan Leaf – each kWh of usable battery power adds around $200 to $250 to the cost, meaning a battery pack costs anywhere between $6000 and $20,000 – it's vital that luxury brands lead the charge.
The EQC packs a 650kg array of lithium-ion batteries in the floor, made by LG but put together by a Daimler subsidiary in Germany, before being sent to the EQC assembly line in Bremen. They have usable energy of 80kWh, and power two asynchronous motors, one on each axle.
The combined system outputs of these paired motors are 300kW peak power (408hp) and 765Nm of maximum instantaneous torque, with the car’s electronic brain able to run the car using the front motor, the rear motor, or both at any ratio. That’s all-wheel drive without the driveshaft.
The 0–100km/h sprint time is 5.1 seconds, and the maximum driving range is either 450km (NEDC) or “more than 400km” on the superior WLTP cycle, despite NEDC consumption of 22.2kWh/100km before brake-energy recuperation, adjustable through five modes from coasting through to one-pedal driving.
You may note that this makes it slower than a Model X and has a lower claimed range than the I-Pace. Mercedes counters this by saying the comfort and quietness are more important than sprint bragging rights, and that maximum range is less important than charging time and plug availability. Yet, for a Mercedes product not to lead the pack in some way goes contrary to the brand’s ethos.
Charging? A public (à la Tritium) DC charger will top you up from 10 per cent to 80 per cent in just 40 minutes, while you can add 150km of range over a cup of coffee, and a wall box with a 7.4kW onboard cable will be sold with the car for overnight charging. The infotainment system also has live traffic updates and takes you to nearby charging stations.
In terms of safety, Mercedes-Benz considers its technology centre for vehicle safety (TFS) “the most advanced crash test centre in the world”. Well, it would, wouldn’t it? Nevertheless, the company claims to have put the EQC through almost every crash test under the sun.
A new subframe surrounds the drive components located in the front section, and this unit is supported by the usual mounting points. The battery is surrounded by a frame with an integral crash structure. Deformation elements are installed between the frame and the battery.
A battery guard in the front area of the battery is able to prevent the energy storage unit from being pierced by foreign objects. The high-voltage system can also be shut down automatically in a crash, depending on its severity. A distinction is made between a reversible and an irreversible cut-off.
The charging process is automatically curtailed if an impact is detected when stationary at a quick-charging station (DC charging). There are also shutdown points where emergency teams can deactivate the high-voltage system manually. As soon as a protective system (airbag) is triggered, an emergency call will be sent to emergency services, sending your GPS coordinates.
The five-seat, 500L-booted interior uses the familiar MBUX infotainment with Siri or Alexa-style voice commands, though the design and materials are quite EQ-specific. It’s a more modernist take on the company’s familiar cabins, really.
Dynamically, there’s air suspension at the front that’s easier to package, and steel springs at the back. This odd set-up is kept under control by the weight distribution and the super-stiff monocoque, apparently. Each motor can control torque flow to the wheel across its respective axle.
While our passenger ride was incredibly brief, the pace our prototype carried through corners thanks to its low centre of gravity and roll axis, combined with the ride comfort and noise isolation, was frankly quite striking. The Michelin Pilot Sport low-rolling-resistance tyres are much quieter and grippier than some other LRR tyres we’ve experienced.
Mercedes Australia has been taking pre-orders for a while now, and has hundreds of what it calls registrations of interest. Most of these are current GLE, GLC or even S Class owners. We suspect it’s the same for Audi and Jaguar. If you order today you’ll be waiting until 2020, since the initial allocation is spoken for.
It leaves us to conclude that while Tesla might have led the way, Mercedes-Benz and its luxury rivals are about to offer some stiff competition indeed, especially since the EQC will be priced between a GLC43 AMG and its fiery GLC63 sibling, models that sell in their thousands.
By the end of 2019, there will be 12 EVs on sale: the Renault Zoe, Hyundai Ioniq, Nissan Leaf, Renault Kangoo Z.E, Hyundai Kona Electric, BMW i3, Tesla Model 3, Jaguar I-Pace, Tesla Model S, Mercedes EQC, Audi e-tron quattro and Tesla Model X. In early 2020, the Porsche Taycan and Kia Niro are expected to join, and VW’s I.D isn’t that far off.
Is the EQC the best of these? Can’t say, yet. It’s certainly the most ‘Mercedes’, and that will be enough for many of its loyal fans. In a more macro sense it’s just great that the EV market is maturing before our eyes, and given development of solid-state batteries is always up in the air, this group is unlikely to be dramatically undercut or outdone in the immediate future.