Mercedes-Benz wants 50% of its new car sales to be full electric or plug-in hybrid by 2030, and by 2025 it won't sell any internal combustion vehicles without mild hybrid systems. It's a bold ambition and leading the charge – so to speak – is the brand's first series production electric vehicle, the 2019 Mercedes-Benz EQC 400.
In keeping with the green theme, Mercedes-Benz decided Norway would be the perfect place to launch the EQC. And rightfully so – almost 60% of new cars sold in the country are powered by electricity.
It's not hard to see why: Norwegian electricity is sourced almost entirely from renewables. Only 2% of annual production is sourced from fossil fuels.
Sharing a platform with the mid-sized GLC SUV, the EQC 400 is the first of 10 new all-electric models the company has invested $16 billion into developing by 2022.
In terms of dimensions, the EQC 400 measures 4761mm long and 1884mm wide. Its 80kWh battery pack offers an NEDC driving range of around 450km and, while pricing is yet to be confirmed for Australia, it's expected to come in under $150,000 when it goes on sale in October.
Australia will get a single variant – the AMG Line with 20-inch alloy wheels, which can be optioned to a 21-inch. At launch, Mercedes-Benz will also offer the EQC 400 Edition 1, which includes 21-inch alloy wheels and diamond-stitched upholstery as standard, amongst other goodies.
At first glance, I wasn't a huge fan of the EQC in pictures. But it has presence about it in person, and Mercedes-Benz has focused on making it look different enough to stand out from the wider range, but close enough to the current Mercedes-Benz design philosophy it still appeals to loyal customers.
Crack the driver's door open and you'll notice Mercedes-Benz has focused on luxury and giving the interior an upmarket, premium feel. Some design elements hark back to the vehicle's origins – such as the heat sink-esque cladding on the door and the copper coloured air vents.
The rest of the cabin feels very Mercedes-Benz, and that's a good thing. The last thing Mercedes-Benz wanted was a science project or a vehicle that felt 'different' to a customer.
The brand says most buyers already own another car, and a big chunk of those buyers already own a Mercedes-Benz, so breaking with the existing design philosophy was never on the cards.
That means cabin dimensions and space largely apes that of the GLC with which it partly shares a platform. Up front there's plenty of leg and head room, while in the second row most occupants will find it easy to get in and out, and even stretch out.
If the driver or front passenger pushes their seats back, leg and toe room can be a little compromised, but overall the size of the car is perfect for family buyers.
Cargo capacity comes in at 500 litres, which is short of the Jaguar I-Pace by around 150 litres. The EQC also has limited storage beneath the cargo floor and no storage under the bonnet, but there's adequate room beneath the cargo floor for a charging cable and other odds and ends.
While Benz's competitors in this segment currently offer storage within the front cavity, Mercedes-Benz has gone down another path. With the ultimate design aim of a quiet cabin and excellent NVH (noise, vibration and harshness), Benz engineers instead used the space to create a safety and vibration isolation structure.
Nestled around the front axle motor and control module, the structural halo provides rigidity and protection in the event of a crash, and further isolates all vibrations and inherent movements within the drive module.
It's a little confusing to think an electric car needs vibration isolation, but a number of parts within the drive system can suddenly move, which creates a torque event about the body fastening points. This movement can sometimes be picked up by passengers in the cabin.
Further to this, any motor whine can be transmitted through the same fastening points, as can vibration from the air conditioning compressor.
To combat this, Mercedes-Benz used the structural halo to act as a safety aid, but also built in rubber isolators that take vibration away from structural joints, which ultimately prevents noise and harshness entering the cabin. And it well and truly shows when you're on the road and putting the EQC through its paces.
Central to the cabin's infotainment is MBUX (Mercedes-Benz User Experience). First debuted on the all-new A-Class, the touchscreen uses two 10.25-inch high-resolution screens pumping out 1920x720 pixels of crystal-clear information. Backed by an ultra-fast Nvidia chipset, the system is among the best in the business.
It's backed by a voice command system allowing you to ask the vehicle to do virtually anything related to the car's functions. For example, you can ask the sunroof to open, or the interior ambient light colours to change. The best part is, functionality is constantly being added by Mercedes-Benz engineers through over-the-air updates.
Another feature I loved was the AR (Augmented Reality) satellite navigation. As you approach an intersection, the vehicle begins displaying the forward facing camera with an overhead direction marker and street name. This information gives you an additional visual cue and helps determine exactly where you need to turn as you approach an intersection.
It's genius technology that made driving in a foreign country a piece of cake.
Backing that tech is the use throughout the vehicle of USB-C (the new standard in high speed data and current transfer), plus wireless phone charging.
While MBUX ticks all the boxes for a modern infotainment system, it doubles as a method of authorising and paying for public charging infrastructure. During the launch program we used MBUX to unlock and authorise charging at a public Ionity fast charging station in Norway.
It shows the available number of plugs available, confirms charging costs and allows you to remotely authorise charging upon arrival. It's an excellent system and mimics the ease of use and functionality of Tesla's highly-praised setup.
Driving the EQC is a set of asynchronous electric motors – one on the front axle and one on the rear. The motor on the front axle is designed to cater for low and medium loads and is driven by efficiency.
The motor on the rear axle takes the bulk of the vehicle's dynamic driving requirements – that is, rapid acceleration and the agility required by the driver when the vehicle is in Sport mode.
Beneath the vehicle's floor is an 80kWh battery pack made of two 48 cell pouches, plus four 72 cell pouches. Rated at 405V and 230Ah, the battery pack is liquid-cooled to maintain both performance and longevity.
Charging comes in the form of either a single-phase AC charger using a Type 2 plug capable of up to 7.4kW of power, or a 110kW DC fast charger using a CCS Type 2 combo plug. Mercedes-Benz has cleverly designed a retractable plug flap for both AC and DC outlets, plus a charge disconnect button within the housing to make ending charging sessions easier.
As you set off, the eerie silence you become used to in an electric vehicle is amplified in the EQC. It's literally silent as it motors along and is devoid of artificial cabin noises to keep you entertained. There is an external noise at speeds below 30km/h in both forward and reverse, but inside the cabin you won't notice anything.
Mercedes-Benz has mastered EV brake pedal feel, with a smooth and easy transition between regeneration and braking. Most other manufacturers still can't get this combination right, so it's good to see Benz hit it for six on its first attempt.
I'll reference the Jaguar I-Pace here, simply because we've been living with one for almost 7000km now, but the acceleration is different to any electric vehicle we've sampled. Where the I-Pace pins you back in the seat and moves ahead at warp speed, the EQC gives you a taste of hard acceleration and then tapers off to a constant torque delivery.
With 300kW of power and 760Nm of torque it has absolutely no shortage of grunt, but the way it delivers that torque is more focused on smoothness than an unrelenting back shove. It's kind of pleasing to see a different take on this instead of the sick-inducing rollercoaster ride feel you get in some more powerful EVs.
Part of the genius extends to the drive modes on offer. The driver can switch between four regeneration modes using paddle shifters on the steering wheel. You can move from light or heavier regeneration to a one pedal driving mode, where you simply release the throttle to slow down instead of using the brake. On the opposite scale you can also enter a coasting mode, where there isn't regeneration.
In addition to those configurable modes, the driver can then switch between Individual (custom drive settings) to Comfort, Sport Eco or Maximum Range. While you can figure out what most of them do, it's the Maximum Range mode that had us most intrigued.
This mode dulls the vehicle's heating and cooling, but also adjusts the throttle pedal feel. It firms up the pedal so that you don't accelerate too hard unintentionally, and uses vibration through the pedal to indicate when you should lift for an approaching intersection or downhill section. The mode is designed to extract the absolute most from the battery packs.
Mercedes-Benz admits the EQC isn't a sports car. While the I-Pace delivers a balance between SUV space and a sporty feel behind the wheel, Benz has focused more on luxury. Find a set of corners to attack and you'll notice the near 2500kg kerb weight begins to limit what the car can do.
While it's sporty enough for most, don't expect to be setting a speed record across your favourite mountain road.
To that effect, it's worth noting just how impressive the ride is. Utilising coil springs at the front and air suspension at the back, Mercedes-Benz had nailed a near-perfect urban and highway ride. It soaks up bumps beautifully and irons out the types of imperfections you come across doing a run through the urban jungle.
During our drive out of Oslo's city centre, into the mountains and back again we consumed a combined 20.8kWh/100km. This is about on par with Mercedes-Benz's official figures and places drive range at around 385km.
While pricing and exact specification is yet to be confirmed for Australia, we do know that it will be on sale locally in October and the specification level will be quite high, with the AMG Line offered standard.
We're looking forward to getting a chance to test the car locally, and figuring out whether it's the new benchmark in luxury electric vehicles in Australia. Either way it's a positive sign of things to come and shows Mercedes-Benz is heading in the right direction for an assault on the EV segment.