Most concept cars aren't designed to be driven. They're largely cobbled together to sit on a multimillion-dollar auto show stand and little else, so the ride quality is generally brittle and the interior feels barely sewn together. But the Mercedes-Benz Vision EQXX is no mere concept car. It's a fully baked development vehicle previewing a whole host of new EV technologies.
In order to quite literally drive this point home, the automaker drove the EQXX from Sindelfingen, Germany to Cassis, a small town in the south of France. The concept traveled 626.3 miles and still managed to arrive with about 15% charge remaining, enough for another 80-mile side quest. Now that it's here, at Mercedes-Benz's design center outside Nice, I'm able to ride shotgun with one of the development engineers who undertook the long test drive. One grab of the familiar door handle (nicked from the EQS and EQE) and I was met with a solidly built and fully functional interior that's straight out of a comic book.
Even something as minute as the 3D-printed elements on the door panel trim speaks to the automaker's increased focus on efficiency and sustainability. The impressively smooth leather on my seat? That's made from cactus. The silk-like fabric covering the bottom half of the interior? Recycled plastic bottles. That dope shag carpeting on the floor? More plastic refuse. The closest an animal ever came to this interior is by way of the seat inserts, which are made from mycelium, the underground root structure of fungus. 3D-printed pieces made from more recycled garbage adorn other corners. Every bit I'm allowed to touch feels like it would be right at home in a modern Mercedes-Benz.
The cabin itself is… cozy. There are four seats in here, sure, but given the insane taper of the EQXX's roofline, as well as the array of solar panels that replaced the traditional rear windshield, the rear seats feel a little dark and cramped. The front windows let in a fair bit of light, but everything I see over the car's short hood has a slight blue tinge, thanks to the blue dashboard topper and the extreme rake of the front windshield.
While the EQXX's powertrain is loaded with all sorts of tricks to maximize efficiency, the single electric motor on the rear axle doesn't feel like it's struggling to find power. While it was originally putting out 201 horsepower, the engineer tells me they were able to boost output a smidge to about 240 hp. Given the car's focus on lightness, it's no surprise that this Mercedes can get up and scoot as needed. And while my driver does goose it a couple times to show off, he's quick to remind me that the focus is efficiency above all else. He also never touches the brakes on our journey, swapping between coasting and strong regeneration to drive as effectively as possible.
Despite being a rolling engineering project, the EQXX feels normal on the road. The ride quality isn't EQS smooth, but not running a complicated (and heavy) air suspension setup is unnecessary, and I'd say the EQXX rides about as well as your average C-Class compact sedan. There's a hint of wind noise atop the windshield, but I don't hear a thing coming from the A-pillars or the side mirrors. It could probably quiet down a bit if the interior had more sound-deadening material, but again, weight is the enemy of efficiency, and Mercedes-Benz engineers have every component on this car labeled and measured down to the gram.
While out and about, I'm able to check out nearly every data point the car is collecting by way of its massive front screen. Running 47.5 inches from pillar to pillar, the real-life version of this screen lacks the bezel-free look it had when it debuted. What's here now is more of a thin, long strip of a display, but what it can show is impressive. Running on a modern video game engine (Mercedes won't say which… yet), the graphics are better than in any other car I've been in. Different screens show where the airflow is coming from, how much efficiency is gained or lost by things like solar energy, recuperative braking or tailwinds. It even predicts how much more or less efficient driving can be based on adjusting vehicle speed. There's a lot of wow factor here, but more importantly, this gives the engineers all the information they need to squeeze out every last electron.
At the end of our journey, I checked the screen and saw an estimated efficiency of about 8.3 kilowatt-hours per 100 kilometers. This is twice as efficient as the EQE, according to European WLTP estimates. Funnily enough, it's actually better than the record run, too, which burned a still-mind-boggling 8.7 kWh per 100 kilometers. Who knows, maybe Mercedes will try a second, more audacious run. After all, the automaker is still crunching all the data it picked up on the journey from Germany to France, in order to find ways to be even more efficient.
While many people just want larger batteries and the range that comes with it, all that added weight only complicates the efficiency equation. There's so much more that goes into building an EV that will give buyers peace of mind about staying charged. And to that end, the EQXX's innovations show us that we still have a long way to go before we're out of ideas.
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 Roadshow's staff are our own and we do not accept paid editorial content.