Covering all the news from an auto show is not an easy task, especially one that's so huge as Frankfurt. I do my damnedest to go see every new debut in the flesh at every auto show I attend before packing my bags and heading off to wherever the next plane takes me, but it's rare that I have time to go take a second look and really ponder a given machine.
At this year's Frankfurt show, I made a special trip to go back to theand take a second look. It was a long look at that. But this prototype machine is more than a sultry shape with striking proportions, the Vision EQS has huge potential to reshape people's perception of near-term electric luxury. So, when offered a chance to get a little closer to the thing, to learn more about it and even to get behind the wheel, let's just say I didn't need to think for long.
While many manufacturers are in the process of tightening their belts, Mercedes-Benz is one of the few that can still be counted on to roll out futuristic concept cars at every opportunity. Over the past few years, many of those concepts have had a two things in common: electric drivetrains and autonomous capability.
Looking at machines like theor the it's easy to see that the company is preparing for a future where luxury motoring means automated driving. While the world comes to grips with the reality that true autonomy is still a long way down the road, however, here comes the Vision EQS, painting a picture for a much nearer-term future of luxurious driving.
The Vision EQS, you see, is meant to be driven. The crop-topped steering wheel may be unusually shaped, but it is present and isn't even designed to fold up and hide in the dashboard or anything fanciful like that. This is a car that will be engaging to drive, and so I was eager to drive it.
Yes, the car will offer(meaning it can mostly take care of itself in limited circumstances, like on the highway) but that's secondary to the car's promised 470 horsepower and 560 pound-feet of torque. That power, delivered from two motors to all four wheels, is a little more than what you get today in an S450 sedan. However, an additional 200 lb-ft of torque, all available from 0 rpm, should make for an engaging drive, while 435 miles is the promised range.
Given the conceptual nature of this car, all those numbers may well have come out of a hat, but they at least show the intent. What's more significant is that the platform this car will be built upon is something that Mercedes-Benz tells me will underlay a new generation of electric cars. The structure of the car, a combination of aluminum, steel and carbon fiber, is engineered such that future models can rely on the same basic underpinnings, stretched or shortened as necessary to target the appropriate segment.
In other words, while the EQC SUV is the tip of the Mercedes-Benz's electric spear, what lies beneath the Vision EQS will become its platform. Interesting, too, that it is a sedan and not an SUV. With crossovers and their ilk dominating the sales charts, many have said the era of the sedan is over, yet that's clearly what the EQS is, and it comes from a company synonymous with luxury sedans in the eyes of many. The EQS shows that Mercedes-Benz sees a future in that segment.
While the most significant part of the Vision EQS lies underneath, the more visible bits are not lacking in significance. The hallmark of the car is its holographic headlights, which rely on platters spinning at 2,000 rpm and 500-strong LED arrays to create 3D images that appear to hover in space. They, plus a 229-strong field of LED stars at the rear and a 360-degree ring of light that connects it all together, provide a new, more comprehensive means of signaling the car's intentions than a humble blinker.
On the inside, those lights continue, with another band of ambient lighting that again could be used for signaling, perhaps flashing red in the direction of a wayward cyclist or pulsing green when a traffic light has changed.
The rest of the interior is stark white at this point, relying on overhead projectors to beam a next-generation flavor of the company's MBUX infotainment system. But that's just for the concept. In the future, Mercedes-Benz designers want to find a way to hide displays beneath thin wooden veneers. Instead of having a dashboard that looks like it's come down with a bad case of the touchscreens, the dashboard would be calm and clean and controls would only light up and appear when needed. That sounds lovely to me.
Also lovely is the palette of intended materials. Mercedes-Benz isn't just committed to making the car emissions-free, it wants to source cruelty-free vegan leather for the seats, carpets made of recycled soda bottles and a headliner made of plastic waste pulled out of the ocean. These are exactly the sort of aspirational touches that could turn a future shopper into an owner.
And then of course there's the look, the shape and profile that first captivated me about the EQS. While you never know just how well these concepts will translate into a production car, Mercedes-Benz did a reasonably good job of bringing the Concept EQ to reality as the EQC without losing its swoopy charm.
For the EQS, I was promised that we'll be seeing a production car that looks much like what you see here in the not-too-distant future. How soon? That, sadly, nobody would confirm, but I'd hazard a guess that we're probably looking at a few years at the most.
I've been lucky to drive a number of prototypes, some more functional than others, and I'm sorry to report that this current vision of a future Vision EQS is limited in terms of what it can actually do. Part of the problem was that the car was unexpectedly barred from driving on real roads, which restricted my time behind the wheel to a small, private parking area a long way from Tokyo. Another problem was the weather. Constant, heavy rain featured in the week leading up to my drive. Given the nature of the car's construction, a downpour would mean Wicked Witch of the West-like scene of bubbling devastation.
Thankfully, the weather finally cleared for the day of my reacquaintance with hand-built EQS. Easing in behind the wheel -- gently so as not to break anything -- the first impression is of a rather more sporty seating position than in the current. That's partly to define the personality of the car, but it's also partly to solve a problem. The EQS, you see, has a 110-millimeter problem to deal with: the height of the battery pack that lives in the floor of the car. You can't really lower the floor without causing ground clearance issues and Mercedes designers didn't want to raise the car that much, so they got creative with seating position and a few other tricks to maintain the sleek profile you see here. Dimensionally, the car is close to a current S-Class sedan.
To accentuate the sportier seating, the designers lopped the top off the steering wheel and created a sort of internal double-bubble profile to the roof, which is glass with a central support structure running fore-to-aft Visibility is excellent and the sweeping, waterfall shape of the dashboard that sweeps around the interior is truly striking.
Starting the car requires opening a compartment hidden in the center console, exposing an unsightly portal to a bundle of wires and a very humble looking set of PRNDL buttons. I'm told to keep my foot on the brake, press P and then drive.
It's just that easy and we're away with just a subtle whir and whine from the drivetrain, plus the sound of all the pebbles and other bits the massive, 24-inch tires are picking up. There's no sound insulation to speak of, so the driving experience is raw to say the least. The steering has none of the quickness you'd expect from a sporty driver's sedan, and that 460 hp is nowhere to be found. But despite that, after a few moments I'm smiling. And, a few laps later, I still am.
I'm also sweating because the vents on the dashboard are fake and there's no HVAC system at all to counter the sun blazing through that glass roof. But, still smiling.
In a market dominated by numb SUVs and a future seemingly dominated by autonomous living rooms on wheels, it's more than a little refreshing to see a concept that not only looks remarkably good but is intended to be good to drive as well. How close will reality come to matching this template? Only time will tell on that front, but I'm happy to say this is Vision I can truly get behind.
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