Mercedes-Benz has revealed its latest in a growing line of hardcore four-wheel-drive prototypes, the EQC 4x4² – a one-off engineering exercise conceived to explore the ultimate off-road capability of the German automaker’s first dedicated electric-powered model.
The fully operational EQC 4x4² is based on the EQC 400 4Matic, complete with a twin electric motor drive system developing a combined 300kW and generous 760Nm of torque in combination with an 80kWh lithium-ion battery made up of 384 individual cells and a single-speed transmission to channel drive at each end.
Together with its added off-road focus, the new prototype is claimed to preview the sort of engineering touches Mercedes-Benz is considering for upcoming models from its newly announced G sub-brand, which is modelled on the operations of AMG and Maybach.
It also plans to sire a new series of models aimed at buyers seeking a combination of luxury and extreme off-road performance, including a pure-electric version of the G-class due out in 2022.
At the same time, the EQC 4x4² provides subtle hints to some of the ideas behind a Tesla Cybertruck and Rivian RT1-rivalling pick-up truck that CarAdvice understands has been proposed as part of a future electric vehicle line-up at Mercedes-Benz’s commercial vehicles division.
The high-riding electric SUV was created by a small team headed by Jürgen Eberle, a Mercedes-Benz development engineer who also played a key role in the earlier G500 4x4² and E-Class All Terrain 4x4² – the former of which reached limited production after its unveiling in 2015.
“Despite the trend towards electric vehicles right now, there remains great enthusiasm for traditional off-roaders," says Eberle.
"Our aim was to combine these two with a car that provides the best of both worlds – fully electric, but with the ability to go off-road in a serious way."
To provide the EQC 4x4² with the ability to take it well away from the bitumen, it receives a heavily reworked suspension featuring multi-link portal axles that serve to site the wheels much lower than the axle hubs for vastly increased ground clearance in a process similar to that undertaken with the G500 4x4² and E400 All Terrain 4x4².
Further modifications include increased track widths and 20-inch wheels from the old R-class shod with rugged-looking 285/50R20 Cooper Zeon tyres.
Together, they have necessitated the fitment of new plastic wheel arch extensions to keep it compliant with Germany’s vehicle registration process.
They not only increase the overall width of the standard EQC 400 4Matic by 20mm, but also provide it with a toughened appearance fully befitting its off-road brief.
Eberle says the ground clearance has increased by 153mm over the standard EQC 400 4Matic at 293mm, giving Mercedes-Benz’s latest four-wheel-drive prototype 58mm more clearance than the standard G-Class.
The approach angle is up by 11.2 degrees at 31.8 degrees, while the departure angle increases 13.0 degrees to 33.0 degrees.
The crucial breakover angle has also been improved by 12.6 degrees at 24.2 degrees, and the fording depth is up by 150mm to 400mm.
What’s it like to drive?
Our drive of the EQC 4x4² took place in a large quarry that had been turned into an off-road park about an hour’s drive south of Mercedes-Benz’s Stuttgart headquarters in Germany, with deep sand, water crossings, muddy patches, rocky tracks, steep inclines, treacherous declines, and side slopes among other obstacles.
It’s hardly the sort of place you’d expect to see a leather-lined electric vehicle – but that in itself is very part and parcel of its appeal.
Climbing up into the new prototype is quite a stretch, but once you’ve reached the elevated driver’s seat, it’s all fairly familiar and every bit as well finished as the standard EQC 400 4Matic.
It’s a strange feeling being perched well above the ground, but the view is quite commanding in the same way it is in Mercedes-Benz’s other portal-axle creations, though you can’t see the corners very well.
We move off in complete silence; however, the sound of gravel beneath the tyres quickly replaces it. The strong torque qualities delivered by the twin electric motors provide convincing propulsion in all situations.
Despite the difficult conditions, Mercedes-Benz’s latest engineering mule feels strong and powerful.
All up, there are seven driving modes, though we concentrated mostly on the most extreme of them: Off-Road Plus.
Eberle and his team have altered the throttle mapping of the standard EQC 400 4Matic, and it allows suitably sensitive modulation where the traction is questionable.
The portal axles don’t feature reduction gears, so you cannot choose low-range gearing. However, the fixed-ratio gearbox provides exceptional smoothness.
The steering is light in weighting but as precise as any off-roader I’ve driven, while the brakes offer a reassuring feel with a progressive pedal action despite the sophisticated regeneration program to which they are combined.
One key advantage over conventional combustion engine off-roaders is the tight turning circle, which gives the EQC 4x4² outstanding agility and a terrific sense of manoeuvrability.
Wheel articulation is also very impressive – and there’s no rubbing of the tyres against the inside of the body, even when an individual spring is fully compressed.
There are no locking differentials like you get in the G-Class. Still, the brake-actuated ESP system is quick and sensitive enough to provide outstanding traction and sure-footedness.
With all that ground clearance, it proved unstoppable, even on the most demanding obstacles. I tried hard to place it in a situation where it might get stuck, but with some patience behind the wheel while the ESP system transfers drive to each individual wheel, the high-riding prototype always managed to get itself out of trouble.
Mercedes-Benz is not making any claims about the weight of the EQC 4x4². But with the EQC 400 4Matic hitting the scales at 2495kg, it’s obviously quite exceptional, even by portal axle off-roader standards.
And then there’s the question of range. Again, there’s nothing official, but with the standard model offering a claimed 417km, you wouldn’t want to head too far off the beaten track. Not unless you are towing a spare battery to top up the energy reserves when they run low.
EDITOR'S NOTE: As a prototype vehicle, we've left this review unscored. For our coverage on the EQC electric SUV you can buy right now (if not take off-road), see our links below.