The logic behind Mercedes-Benz decision to lift the various petrol, diesel and plug-in petrol-electric hybrid drivetrains out of the engine bay of the GLA and replace them with an electric motor to create the new EQA is easy enough to understand.
Without a dedicated electric car platform to underpin the most affordable of its EQ branded passenger car models, the German car maker really didn’t have much choice, other than to rely on existing hardware, to make good on its earlier promise of delivering a zero-emission crossover-style SUV at a price point similar to the BMW i3 and Volkswagen ID.3. The creation of a unique structure, like that used by its key competitors, would have taken years, cost billions of dollars in development and ultimately delayed Mercedes-Benz’s electric car ambitions.
It’s not an ideal situation. The GLA’s platform was originally conceived to support electrification but in a milder plug-in hybrid form, not in the full electric guise of the EQA. As such its high-strength steel and aluminium structure has required a good deal of re-engineering, most notably to house its liquid-cooled 66kWh lithium-ion battery, which consists of three modules and is mounted within the rear section of a raised floor as well as beneath the rear seat.
Using the GLA as a base does, however, allow Mercedes-Benz to produce its latest electric powered model alongside more conventional versions of its popular compact crossover. Production takes place alongside the GLA in Rastatt, Germany, as well as other facilities, including Beijing, China, for some worthwhile economies of scale without the need for huge investments in infrastructure.
It also paves the way for a second model off a lengthened version of same structure, the MFA (modular front architecture) as it is known internally, in the form of the upcoming EQB – a pure electric version of the larger GLB.
Together, they are among six new pure electric models planned to launched by Mercedes-Benz before the end of 2022, including the EQS, EQE, EQS SUV and EQE SUV.
Before the covers are lifted on the EQA later this week, we’ve been invited to drive it in some decidedly cold and wintery conditions in Germany. The lightly disguised example you see here is among a fleet of pre-production prototypes that are currently raking up mileage in a final phase of durability testing head of an official start to Australian deliveries for Mercedes-Benz’s third electric EQ model by mid-2021. It’s described as being customer ready and wears an AMG line styling package, which is among three exterior optic options that are planned to be made available.
Keen observers will immediately recognise the similarities between the EQA and its combustion engine sibling. They share the same steel bodyshell and bumpers. The new electric-powered model does, however, receive its own unique blanked-off grille and some other mildly altered details. On the whole, though, it’s easily connected with the GLA from a visual standpoint.
|2021 Mercedes-Benz EQA250 (production specifications)|
|Electric motor||Asynchronous motor|
|Power and torque||140kW / 375Nm|
|Battery size||66.5kWh / 420V|
|Drive type||Front-wheel drive|
|Electric range (WLTP)||426km|
|Power consumption claim (combined)||17.7kWh/100km (WLTP)|
|Boot volume||340-litres / 1320-litres|
Mercedes-Benz has resisted the urge to lower the ride height of its second-generation crossover to improve the aerodynamics, preferring to retain the raised driving position. Nevertheless, some detailed changes to the underbody are claimed to have smoothed airflow for a better drag co-efficient, and with it improved refinement.
Inside, there’s a lightly reworked interior from the GLA with new EQ themed instrument and infotainment graphics, a backlit trim panel within the dashboard among other detailed changes.
It’s high on quality and offers a comfortably sound driving position with all the modern conveniences and safety features one could wish for in any class of car. Albeit with one key exception: suitable rear seat accommodation. To package the battery, Mercedes-Benz has raised the height of the rear floor. There’s no loss of overall legroom compared to the GLA, but because the rear seat is set comparatively low your knees are set quite high. There’s also a transmission tunnel running down the centre line of the interior.
It’s a similar story with the luggage compartment. To house the power electronics system for the charging system, the boot floor has been raised slightly and is unable to be hinged upwards. As such the EQA fails to deliver the same impressive 481-litre capacity as the GLA. It does, however, retain the 40:20:40 split-fold rear seat to enable longer items to be stowed.
The prototype driven here is the EQA250. Its ZF-produced asynchronous electric motor is mounted up front where it drives the front wheels through a fixed ratio gearbox, producing 140kW and a yet to be revealed amount of torque. Others are set to follow, including a performance-orientated dual motor model from AMG featuring four-wheel drive, according to usual reliable Mercedes-Benz sources.
There’s a familiar process to setting the new electric hatchback into motion with the same starter button and Direct Shift column-mounted gear lever found in just about all automatic Mercedes-Benz models these days. The electric driveline isn’t as silent as it is in the larger EQC – there’s a subdued whirr on start-up and high pitched whine as you set off, but it’s immediately calmer and quieter than any of the GLA’s combustion engines.
Once underway, the EQA initially feels quite brisk. There’s terrific response and seamless nature to the operation of its electric motor on a loaded throttle. At least it is up to 100km/h or so, where the accelerative potency begins to diminish owing to a combination of increasing rolling resistance and aerodynamic drag. That said, it remains punchy enough for authoritative overtaking and swift, almost silent progress.
Mercedes-Benz hasn’t issued any official performance claims for its entry-level EQ model just yet, though we’d be surprised if it didn’t dip below the 7.0sec mark for the run to 100km/h. Despite its obvious weight and comparatively modest reserves, it always feels strong and willing. Top speed, like that of the EQC, is set to be limited to 180km/h.
Arguably more impressive than the instant performance of the EQA’s drivetrain, however, is its energy regeneration system controlled via the steering wheel-mounted paddles. Depending on the driving conditions, the driver can choose between four different modes, D--, D-, D auto and D+, to alter the characteristics of the new hatchback’s regenerative braking when you step off the throttle.
In D--, the EQ A pulls up quite abruptly as the regeneration system harvests kinetic energy and stows it in the battery. In D+, it coasts without any perceptible braking to take advantage of the momentum. The former proves quite handy in city driving where you rarely need to actuate the brakes yourself, except when coming to a complete stop. The latter, on the other hand, is best suited at cruising speeds, where the new Mercedes-Benz model rolls on uninterrupted for extraordinary distances.
The nippy character and ability to pull up smartly of its own accord makes the new Mercedes-Benz model highly suited to urban driving. But as it retains the same steering geometry as the GLA, the EQA fails to offer quite the same sense of manoeuvrability as some rivals: the turning circle is more than a metre wider than that of the ID.3 by comparison.
Mercedes-Benz’s efforts to make the EQA more aerodynamically efficient than existing combustion engine GLA models has certainly paid dividends. There is some slight wind buffeting around the door mirrors at typical motorway speeds, though the overriding sound evident in the prototype we drove was the distant roar of its 19-inch winter tyres. As you’d expect from a car wearing the three-pointed star, refinement is clearly a strong suit.
For most, though, it’ll be the range that proves just as important. Mercedes-Benz says the EQA will be capable of more than 400km on a single battery charge, though it is not going into any detail just yet. To put this into perspective, early ID. 3 models are fitted with a 77kWh lithium-ion battery and boast a claimed range of up to 549km. Rumours abound of a long-range version with of the new Mercedes-Benz model with a range of over 500km, though it won’t likely form part of the launch line-up.
Charging performance? We know the EQA will support both 11kW AC and 100kW DC charging, but there is no specific information on charging times right now.
With its raised ride height and standard front-wheel drive, any expectations of sporting driving traits aren’t quite as marked in the EQA as they perhaps are in the lower riding and rear-wheel drive electric hatchback rivals like the i3 and ID.3. Nevertheless, there is reassuring sure-footedness to its handling that should ensure it finds appeal.
The standard GLA suspension, a combination of MacPherson struts up front and a multi-link arrangement at the rear, has been adapted to cope with the significantly increased mass brought on by the EQA’s battery with uniquely tuned springs, adaptive dampers and beefed up anti-roll bars. It grips gamely with impressive front end bite when pushed hard, hiding its weight well with precise steering, fluid changes of direction and nicely controlled body movements thanks to its comparatively low centre of gravity.
The latest generation of electric cars have progressed greatly in terms of ride – and the EQA is a shining example. Despite its considerable weight, it displays excellent compliance in comfort mode. It’s perhaps not quite as smooth-riding as the GLA over broken bitumen at lower speeds, but there’s particularly good absorption of road shock thanks to the adaptive properties of its dampers. Vertical body movements are also quickly quelled over long-wave intrusions at higher speeds, giving it an appealing calm nature – at least in combination with generous sidewalls of the winter tyres worn by the prototype we drove.
There are still a lot of questions to be answered, but at this early stage we’d certainly recommend placing the EQA on your shortlist of electric hatchbacks to consider.
Based on our brief drive, it has certainly has the performance, comfort, refinement and quality to leave a mark against the electric car competition. If projections hold true, it should also offer a worthwhile real-world range – the sort that could make it more than just an attractive commuter. The new compact crossover is not without its shortcomings, though, and most of them concern the packaging, leaving it behind some rival for overall space and practicality.