It's about 110 miles from the Mercedes-Benz Research & Development center in Sunnyvale, California, to the beautiful, coastal region known as Big Sur. That's a long way to go just to enjoy a light lunch overlooking the Pacific Ocean. But in order for a new electric crossover like the 2020 Mercedes-Benz EQC to be competitive, a 220-mile day trip needs to be totally doable without having to stop and recharge.
When Mercedes first showed the EQC earlier this year, we were told it'd have a range of "around 200 miles" -- a fair bit less than the 234- and 238-mile ranges of the Jaguar I-Pace and Tesla Model X. But Mercedes later rescinded this 200-mile claim, saying it was "incorrect and should not have been included." The truth is, until the EPA actually tests the EQC closer to its on-sale date in 2020, we won't have an official number with which to compare the Mercedes to its rivals. But on a cool December morning, several weeks before the EQC makes its US debut at CES in January, Mercedes aims to show me that its electric CUV has legit real-world range.
The Mercedes of EVs
Parked out front of Mercedes' R&D center, the EQC appears a bit larger than I originally expected from photos. At 15.4 feet long, it falls somewhere between the compact GLC and midsize GLE -- longer than the former, but not as tall as the latter. The car has one heck of a schnoz and, unlike some EVs, a grille. ("The EQC has a grille because the car needs a face," designer Robert Lesnik told editor-in-chief Tim Stevens earlier this year.) From the rear, the EQC is handsome, with a full-width LED light bar and simple sculpting. The body sides are similarly unassuming, the blue accents in the 20-inch wheels serving as the only giveaway that there might be something different about this CUV.
Step inside and the EQC is immediately familiar. Soft, premium materials line the dash, and there are some great bits of stylized brightwork that make this cabin look a bit more modern than other recent Benzes. Notice the rose gold-like finish to the air vents, or the pronounced lines on either side of the dash that mimic the grille. I especially like how the long, rectangular piece that houses the pair of 10.2-inch instrument cluster and MBUX infotainment displays is positioned low in the cockpit, not obstructing the driver's commanding view of the road ahead.
Like other new Mercedes cars, the left screen shows typical gauge cluster information -- in this case, prominent speedometer and energy usage-recuperation meters, with other pertinent information in between. The right screen is where you'll find the MBUX infotainment system, the same as what's offered in the new. Mercedes adds an EQC-specific menu to the otherwise straightforward MBUX interface for this application, where you can see energy usage data, range and information about nearby charging stations.
Taken as a whole, the EQC looks and feels like any other Mercedes inside. The center console appears to be ripped out of a GLC300, with two large cup holders hidden under a flip-up panel, the MBUX trackpad controller housed closer to the driver and front passenger. The front seats are comfortable and supportive, the rear seats plenty accommodating for a pair of six-foot-tall passengers. And because the EQC's batteries are all housed flat and low in the car's frame, there's no reduction in overall cargo space. I don't have an official spec, but behind that power liftgate, there's more than enough room for a few suitcases or a suburban household's worth of groceries.
On the road
"It's not going to be the car with the highest top speed ... or longest range of all of them," Mercedes engineer Bastian Schult tells me as we cruise down the 101 freeway south of Sunnyvale. "We want to make the best overall package. We want to make a Mercedes out of this."
To that end, the EQC feels exactly like a Mercedes should. The ride is comfortable but compliant, the low center of gravity helping to prevent body roll through the often tight turns of California's Pacific Coast Highway. At no point does the EQC attempt to be overtly sporty -- instead, it's a well-balanced, smooth CUV. It's exactly the sort of experience you'd expect from any other Mercedes crossover. Just, you know, quieter.
When asked if Mercedes had considered adding some fake noise into the EQC driving experience -- à la the weird, low-frequency rumble the Jaguar I-Pace emits when you put it in Dynamic mode -- Schult said it was up for discussion, but ultimately decided against. Aside from the federally mandated external noises required for new EVs, the EQC is totally silent. A faint electric whirr accompanies a hard stomp of the throttle, but that's it. All you hear are the Pirelli Scorpion Tires rolling along the pavement, easily masked by the high-quality Burmester stereo.
A 80-kilowatt-hour battery pack provides motivation for two asynchronous electric motors, one at each axle. Mercedes says total output is a more-than-ample 402 horsepower and 564 pound-feet of torque, which is delivered solely through the front electric motor under light loads like freeway cruising, the more powerful rear motor kicking in when more energy is needed for acceleration or while driving uphill. Steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters let you toggle through various regenerative braking modes, with a "D Auto" setting using the car's sensors to dial in more regen to slow the EQC when approaching a car in front of you. More aggressive "D-" and "D--" settings bring more regen to the experience, the latter allowing for the sort of one-pedal driving many EV owners love. Put the EQC in its most economical mode, and you'll even feel a bit of resistance midway through the accelerator pedal's travel, helping you drive even more efficiently.
Going the distance
Over the course of the day, Schult largely goes easy on the EQC's throttle. He keeps a steady pace on the highway, matching the 65-mile-per-hour speed limit, passing slower cars and semi trucks that get in the way. It's easy to be efficient on flat surfaces, of course. Instead, it's PCH where things get tricky.
On the rolling coastal hills, I'd call Schult's overall demeanor conservative but not outrageously so. Yes, he's trying to eke out as many miles as possible, but not in a way that feels artificial. At no point is Schult using any tricky hypermiling techniques or being unnecessarily timid with acceleration, whether pulling away from a stoplight or merging onto the highway. Sure, he goes a little slow on some especially steep uphill climbs, trying not to dig too deep into the battery's reserve. But on the other hand, a request for an unplanned detour into downtown Santa Cruz is said to be no problem at all, Schult happily adding a few extra miles to the trip.
All told, the EQC's trip odometer showed 228 miles when we returned to the R&D center in Sunnyvale, with the battery showing a 7-percent charge. Schult says we could've easily driven another couple of miles, but not much more.
Your mileage may vary
Since the EQC is still technically in development, some changes could be made over the course of the next year that alter its real-world range and its final EPA certification. In Europe, the EQC is rated for a 450-kilometer range, or about 280 miles. But keep in mind the NEDC test is notoriously optimistic. The 234-mile Jaguar I-Pace, for example, has a 470-kilometer (292-mile) NEDC rating.
Still, a 228-mile journey in an EQC prototype shows real promise for what the production car might achieve. And it does it all while feeling as solid and composed as any other Mercedes crossover makes the 2020 EQC all the more compelling.
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