Ola Kallenius is tall, handsome and surprisingly young to be the next chairman of Daimler and Mercedes-Benz cars. He is also surprisingly here, in Oslo, making an unpreviewed appearance at the press-preview drive of the Mercedes EQC.
Such events don’t usually merit the presence of auto companies’ senior-most executives, but there’s a lot of synchronicity at play here. Norway has the highest electric-vehicle market share in the world. The car we’re here to drive is the first electric car from Mercedes-Benz. And the launch coincides with the reveal of Ambition2039, the company’s new strategy for achieving a carbon-neutral fleet within 20 years.
Ambition39 is a story in itself – and the EQC is its opening chapter, according to Kallenius. Speaking on the car, he says “the biggest surprise is that it’s no surprise.“ At one level, that statement is itself a surprise, at least when you consider the EQC’s timing: Among its luxury-brand rivals, the Tesla Model S launched in 2012, Jaguar’s award-magnet i-Pace arrived in Canada last fall and the Audi e-tron is due this summer. The EQC won’t reach Canada until early 2020.
Tardiness aside, it enters the luxury market’s mainstream segment looking and driving much like you’d expect a luxury SUV would. There’s no contrived stylistic weirdness. The EQC presents as a regular luxury SUV that just happens to be electric. Even the charge port is positioned on its right rear haunch, just like on oil-fuelled Mercedes SUV.
Mercedes says the EQC “sits between an SUV and an SUV coupe” in appearance. It also straddles two SUV size categories. Its 4,761-millimetre overall length sits midway between typical compact and mid-size SUVs. It’s bigger than an i-Pace, smaller than an e-Tron.
Two electric motors, one for each axle, produce a combined 300 kW and 765 Nm of torque. The 80-kWh battery pack lies flat under the floor and can be DC fast-charged at up to 110 kW, which can replenish the state of charge (SoC) from 10 per cent to 80 per cent in about 40 minutes.
The battery capacity is a little less than some key rivals’, but Mercedes adopted strategies to maximize range. The front motor is optimized for efficiency in the low- to medium-load range, while the rear motor “determines dynamism,” the automaker says. There are Eco and Max Range drive modes, with a haptic accelerator pedal that “pushes back” against watts-wasting driving habits; Eco Assist uses navigation date and traffic-sign recognition to prompt the driver when to coast, or to use the regen braking paddles – for example, when approaching a lower speed-limit zone.
North American EPA range figures aren’t available yet, but we’re guessing around 350 kilometres based on the 450-plus in notoriously optimistic European NEDC testing. With the i-Pace claiming 377 km EPA and some Teslas up to 500 km, we suspect efforts to boost the EQC’s range may explain its slow road to market.
Meanwhile, we picked up our EQC test car at Oslo airport with a planned 160-km drive ahead of us … and less than 80 km of range showing on the car’s display.
No worries. Nineteen kilometres down the road, the Navi brought us to a DC fast-charge station, where 27 minutes of charging at 100 kW replenished the SoC to 69 per cent from 19 per cent, and the range to 214 km from a remaining 57.
The rest of the drive was characterized more by range complacency than range anxiety. On slow rural or urban roads, and making ample use of the Max Range mode, 145 km of driving delivered us to the hotel with 153 km of range still showing on the display.
That’s really impressive, but mild, mid-teens temperatures and low speeds helped. Returning to the airport the next morning, we used 94 km of indicated range over 83 km of actual driving.
So, real-world all-season range in Canada remains to be seen.
Likewise the pricing. Jaguar and Audi both ask $90,000 for their rivals, but the EQC is a size class smaller than the Audi and packs less battery capacity than either.
What we can say for now is that the EQC is a quick, quiet, practical and comfortable SUV that also happens to be electric – and has the cachet of a Mercedes star in its grille. As Kallenius says, no surprise.
- Price: TBA
- Engine: Dual electric motors, 300 kW
- Transmission/drive: 1-speed/AWD
- Fuel consumption (L/100 km): TBD
- Alternatives: Audi e-Tron, Jaguar i-Pace, Tesla Model X
We see just another coupe-ish SUV. Although the grille treatment is distinct from other Mercedes models, it still has a “face” (a lit-at-night Mercedes star set against a black-panel background) and doesn’t scream “look at me, I’m weird, I’m electric!”
Ironically, the most unconventional aspect of the cabin is already familiar from several established oil-fired Mercedes models – i.e., the single five-inch high, 22-inch-wide screen that sweeps across the dashboard, with configurable digital gauges in front of the driver and the Navi/MBUX multimedia display on the right. One EQC touch, however, is the rose-gold-coloured air-vent louvres. Comfort at the wheel is satisfactory; rear-seat space is adequate, but hardly generous for the size of vehicle.
Like most electrics, the EQC seems to moderate the electric motors’ instant-on torque on initial launch to preserve occupants’ necks. After a slight softness in the first second or so, the electric motors silently surge it to 100 km/h in 5.1 seconds. More dramatic is the rolling acceleration, for example, the step-function response when you floor it to pass a car doing 80 or 100 km/h. Dynamically, this is no Jaguar i-Pace: Up to a point there’s a pleasing feel of light, easy-handling agility, but pushed harder, it feels clumsy and heavy.
As you’d expect, the EQC will be rich in today’s must-have technologies. Besides the “hey Mercedes” MBUX conversational interface, there’s Interior Assist, a form of gesture control, and Augmented Navi projects a live video image of where to turn as you approach the next intersection. A new facet on the semi-autonomous driving side is lane guidance that, in heavy traffic, automatically keeps the EQC off-centre to leave room for coming-through emergency vehicles.
The hold is functional, with 40/20/40 split seats that fold flat and flush, but the 500-litre volume is at the low end of the spectrum.
The verdict: 8.0
A low-profile EV for those who don’t need the whole world to know they drive an EV.
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