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2023 Mercedes-Benz EQS SUV First-Drive Review: Recipe for Success

The three-row SUV version of Mercedes' flagship EV has the same blend of tech and luxury in a more appealing package.

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In the year since the electric Mercedes-Benz EQS went on sale it's been a big success, outselling every other full-size luxury sedan in the US except for its gas-powered sibling. But that still only adds up to 4,048 EQS sedans and 8,739 S-Classes sold through the second quarter of 2022. What really matters to American consumers are SUVs, especially big ones, which makes Mercedes' new EQS SUV a really big deal.

The EQS SUV is exactly what it sounds like: The crossover equivalent to the EQS sedan. While still plenty blobby, the SUV's more traditional styling should appeal to a wider range of customers than the egg-shaped sedan, and it still boasts a slippery drag coefficient of 0.26, making it one of the most aerodynamic SUVs around. Compared to Mercedes' other large three-row SUV, the gas-powered , the EQS SUV is about 3 inches shorter overall but has a 3-inch-longer wheelbase. The EQS SUV's large black panel 'grille' features a massive Mercedes emblem, and the slim LED headlights have cool triangular light signatures. Running boards are thankfully optional, and the EQS SUV comes with a range of cool 20-, 21- and 22-inch wheels.

2023 Mercedes-Benz EQS SUV

Hyperscreen is standard on the EQS580.

Mercedes-Benz

From the driver's seat the EQS SUV's interior looks identical to the sedan, aside from the taller and more upright driving position. The EQS450 comes standard with the same wing-shaped dashboard as the sedan, which features a 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster and a 12.8-inch central touchscreen running Mercedes' latest MBUX software. Optional on the EQS450 and standard on the EQS580 is the Hyperscreen, which features three displays totaling 56 inches of display space housed under one seamless glass panel. Even with the Hyperscreen, the EQS has a good amount of real wood trim on the center console and door panels, with the option to get dozens of little aluminum Mercedes star inserts. The available Neva Grey and Biscay Blue color scheme is my favorite, as it really lightens up the interior and gives it a more airy feeling.

The EQS SUV comes with five seats as standard, but a third row is available, bringing the total number of seats to seven. The second row is electronically adjustable and can slide fore or aft by 5 inches, and the floor is almost completely flat. It's certainly more spacious than the EQS sedan, and the EQS SUV has more headroom in all three rows than the GLS. The first two rows of seats get Mercedes' plush comfort headrests, and the second row can be had with heating and ventilation. Third-row passengers have a cupholder and two USB-C ports on each side, and the rearmost seats are available with heating, too. The A-pillars are pretty thick, but otherwise the EQS SUV has good visibility all around.

2023 Mercedes-Benz EQS SUV

The EQS580 comes standard with the AMG Line kit.

Mercedes-Benz

There are switches in the cargo area that can electronically fold the second-row seats and slide them forward for easier access, but you have to manually fold down the third-row seats. Because of its smaller size and more sloping roofline, the EQS SUV has less cargo space than the GLS, but it's still quite spacious and the seats fold almost completely flat. With all three rows up the EQS has 6.8 cubic feet of space, and behind the second row there's up to 31 cubic feet of room, compared to 17.4 and 48.7 cubes, respectively, in the GLS. Fold everything down and the EQS SUV has up to 74.2 cubic feet of space, versus 84.7 in the GLS.

The EQS SUV's powertrains are identical to the sedan. The EQS450 has a single motor at the rear axle putting out 355 horsepower and 419 pound-feet of torque, while the dual-motor all-wheel-drive EQS450 4Matic boosts torque to 590 lb-ft. The range-topping EQS580 also uses two motors for a total of 536 hp and 633 lb-ft. Sadly, Mercedes has no plans to make an AMG version of the EQS SUV, but the EQS580 is able to hit 60 mph in a brisk 4.5 seconds. Even the base rear-drive EQS450 is no slouch, hitting 60 mph in 6.5 seconds with a nice surge of electric torque. All three use a 108.4-kilowatt-hour battery pack, and Mercedes says the rear-drive EQS450 has an estimated range of 305 miles, while the two AWD versions will do 285 miles on a charge, but judging by our past experiences with the EQ lineup, those figures should be easy to beat. With 200-kilowatt charging capability the EQS SUV can juice up from 10% to 80% battery in 31 minutes when plugged into a DC fast charger.

2023 Mercedes-Benz EQS SUV

The seats fold almost flat.

Mercedes-Benz

Overall the EQS SUV's driving experience is just as serene as the sedan. There's a little more wind and road noise -- blame the larger body and bigger wheels and tires -- but the SUV's standard air suspension is more softly damped and provides a smoother ride, if a little more body roll. Standard 10-degree rear-wheel steering is a huge boon, making the 201.8-inch SUV much easier to drive around town and park in tight spaces. Regenerative braking is strong enough to give the EQS SUV one-pedal driving, though it has the same mushy brake pedal as the sedan that moves under regen to simulate the related braking effort. The steering is lighter than on the sedan and doesn't provide much feedback, but it firms up in Sport mode and the EQS SUV is satisfying to drive on a twisty road.

Surprisingly, where the EQS SUV most impresses me is off-road. Mercedes fitted a pair of EQS580s with 20-inch wheels wearing aftermarket Cooper Discoverer all-terrain tires -- a setup that might become an option sold through dealers but is not yet currently available -- and let me loose on a tough off-road trail that was designed for ATVs. The EQS has an off-road drive mode that raises the air suspension by an additional inch and optimizes torque delivery for rough and slippery surfaces. There are off-road pages on the infotainment and gauge cluster screens that show things like roll angle, torque distribution, wheel articulation and more, and the front cameras are used to create a "see-through" hood view to help place the front wheels over dangerous terrain.

@cnetcars Off-roading in the @mercedesbenzusa EQS SUV! Would you take this electric luxury crossover off the beaten path? #mercedes #mercedesbenz #eqs #eqssuv #mercedeseqs #eqs580 #offroad #offroading #denver #luxury #luxurycars ♬ Aesthetic - Tollan Kim

Because of the EQS' rear-wheel steering I'm able to maneuver the SUV around tight corners and narrow sections that a or couldn't manage. The trail is littered with sharp rocks, deep ruts, off-camber berms and other hazards, and the EQS takes it all in stride without even scraping the bumpers. At one point I drive across a section designed to test articulation, with two wheels in the air for multiple moments, and the EQS feels stable and easy to drive. The electric motors' instant torque and regenerative braking make the off-roading experience a lot more pleasant, plus the lack of engine noise lets me better enjoy the beautiful Colorado landscape. Hill-descent control is standard, and works great when going down a steep decline. For a huge, 6,228-pound electric SUV that wasn't really designed to dominate a trail, the EQS SUV is seriously impressive off the beaten path. Almost no owner will use this capability, but it's awesome that it's possible.

No matter what version of the EQS SUV you get it'll come stacked with features. Augmented reality navigation, leather upholstery, a biometric fingerprint scanner, 64-color ambient lighting, heated and ventilated front seats, a fabulous Burmester 3D sound system with Dolby Atmos, a panoramic sunroof, wireless charging, six USB-C ports and active parking assist with a 360-degree camera system are standard across the board. Safety features like adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, active steering assist, automatic emergency braking with cross-traffic assist, automatic lane changes and blind-spot monitoring are all included as well. Available features include five-zone climate control, an augmented-reality head-up display, massaging front seats, animated ambient lighting, a rear-seat entertainment system, acoustic laminated glass, a HEPA air filtration system and an Executive Rear Seat package that adds a tablet in the second-row armrest, a wireless charging pad and rear side airbags.

The EQS SUV is already reaching dealers now, with the rear-wheel-drive EQS450 starting at $105,550 including a $1,150 destination charge -- only a couple grand more than the EQS450 sedan. Adding on all-wheel drive to the EQS450 costs $3,000, while the EQS580 SUV rings in at $127,100, or just $150 more than the EQS580 sedan. With the same blend of technology and comfort wrapped in a much more appealing crossover package, the EQS SUV seems like a surefire hit.

2023 Mercedes-Benz EQS SUV Is a Three-Row Electric Luxobarge

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Editors' note: Travel costs related to this story were covered by the manufacturer, which is common in the auto industry. The judgments and opinions of CNET's staff are our own and we do not accept paid editorial content.

Daniel Golson Former social media editor

Article updated on September 29, 2022 at 9:00 AM PDT

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