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Mercedes-Benz Vision EQXX is a 621-mile luxury hypermiler

This research concept went from sketches to the real world in just 18 months. It's loaded with advancements that could be in your next EV.

The front end may not resemble any other Mercedes-Benz vehicles on the road today, but as the automaker's design language evolves, you'll probably see parts of this form reappear on other vehicles.

Mercedes-Benz
This story is part of CES, where CNET covers the latest news on the most incredible tech coming soon.

In the weeks preceding the reveal of the Mercedes Vision EQXX concept, which is destined for CES 2022, I interviewed Mercedes-Benz chief Ola Källenius about the concept car. In one line, he summed up the entire mantra of this new research vehicle: "In the electric era, the new currency is efficiency." That thought is what drove the company to create this car in just 18 months, and the result is mighty impressive.

Mercedes-Benz on Monday unveiled the Vision EQXX research car, a soup-to-nuts reimagination of a luxury electric vehicle with efficiency at the forefront. Thanks to a wide variety of technologies, many of which are destined for series production vehicles in the not too distant future, this rolling R&D laboratory is capable of driving more than 1,000 kilometers (621.3 miles) on a single charge.

Engineers could have simply slapped 200 kilowatt-hours' worth of batteries into a car to reach that number, but that wasn't exactly allowed. "We said, what if you could drive 1,000 kilometers on one battery charge, but you're not allowed to put a monster battery in the car, and it must resemble a real car that can carry four people, and it must be done with technology that could end up in a series car," Källenius said in his interview with Roadshow.

The challenge to the R&D department was set, and in just a year and a half, the EQXX went from sketches to a real, drivable concept. In the near future, the automaker will put its money where its mouth is and attempt a 621-mile trip across Europe on a single charge, because what good is this exercise if it doesn't have a real-world impact?

Impressive aerodynamics

Form doesn't follow function here. Instead, the Vision EQXX's form defines its function. Being able to slice through the air efficiently will dramatically increase an electric vehicle's range, which is why the car's drag coefficient will become an increasingly important figure in the future. By the automaker's own measurements, the Vision EQXX offers a seriously impressive drag coefficient of just 0.17.

Mercedes is no stranger to low drag coefficients, as its EQS electric luxury sedan is also quite the slippery beast with its 0.20 rating. But drag is just one part of the equation, and it can't keep getting lower forever. "Once you get down to 0.18, it gets very difficult to lower that number," Källenius said. "To stay around 0.20 or below, you're coming up against the natural border to a degree."

That's why the EQXX packs such a dramatic silhouette, especially at the rear, where turbulent air can cause all sorts of annoyances. I haven't seen a tail so purpose-built since the Volkswagen XL1, which relied on the same aero tricks to achieve impressive figures for the time. The EQXX takes this a step further with its retractable rear diffuser, which was included to avoid making the car narrower or longer than it needed to be.

This tail is magnificent.

Mercedes-Benz

But narrowness does play a part with the EQXX, too. The rear track is 50 millimeters (nearly 2 inches) narrower than the front. Like everything, it requires a tradeoff, and in this case, it's vehicle dynamics. "From an aero point of view, it's better with a narrower track," Källenius said, "but from a performance point of view, it's better with a wider rear track. So, I don't think that will become the new standard, but it's food for thought."

Tires also matter, because the friction between rubber and road is yet another place where efficiency can be lost. That's why you see many efficient cars in the modern era with tires built specifically to reduce rolling resistance, which again has a performance tradeoff in the name of effectiveness. Here, Mercedes teamed up with Bridgestone to develop a 20-inch tire to wrap around the EQXX's forged magnesium wheels.

It's worth noting that, like many other concept cars, the EQXX does give us a look at what's to come from the design department. In its press release, Mercedes notes that the headlight and front bumper give us a good idea of where the company's front-end design language will head next.

Oh, you thought Hyperscreen was the end-all, be-all of screens? Naw.

Mercedes-Benz

A living interior with a hyper-Hyperscreen

While the Vision EQXX's exterior is all about efficiency through aerodynamic engineering, its interior is all about efficiency through materials science.

There are so many materials in here that rely on nature or are otherwise environmentally friendly. The door pulls are made from a vegan silk-like fabric. Some seat-cushion pieces are wrapped in something called Mylo, which is a vegan leather alternative made from mycelium fungi. A different leather alternative is created from cactus fibers. The carpets are made from pure bamboo fiber, which both feels fancy and grows quickly in nature. Floor and door trim pieces rely on recycled PET bottles, while the microfiber material above the beltline relies on the same material. Finally, the interior also uses something called UBQ material, which is made from landfill waste.

While the materials and style are certainly impressive, we have to talk about the screen. Källenius didn't have a name for it, but I call it the hyper-Hyperscreen.

Whereas the dashboard of the production EQS can be outfitted with several screens under bonded glass to create the impression of a dashboard-sized display, the Vision EQXX takes that technology to its inevitable conclusion. Spanning 47.5 inches from A-pillar to A-pillar, with 8K resolution, the hyper-Hyperscreen is truly a seamless display that fills the front half of the car. Mercedes worked with NAVIS Automotive Systems to create a navigation system that offers real-time 3D navigation, while the next generation of the automaker's "Hey, Mercedes" digital assistant has been tweaked to sound even more natural.

The Vision EQXX even applies the idea of boosting efficiency to the audio system. Many high-end setups simply throw more speakers into the car, which can eat up electrons unnecessarily. To remedy this, engineers reduced the number of speakers and placed them closer to each occupant's seat.

Even with a tapered roofline, there's still plenty of room for four people inside the EQXX.

Mercedes-Benz

Efficiency through engineering

You're probably used to seeing new electric vehicles packing mind-bending horsepower or torque figures, but as you might have guessed by now, that wouldn't exactly jibe with the Vision EQXX. Instead, this concept's electric motors produce just 201 horsepower, because speeding is only going to slow the car down in the long run.

In order to engineer every inch of efficiency possible into the EQXX, Mercedes looked to its Mercedes-AMG High Performance Powertrains department in the UK. These are the same galaxy brains in charge of ensuring its Formula 1 cars make the most with the least, which is a great skillset to have in-house.

After a ton of hard work, Mercedes' engineers created an entirely new battery pack for the EQXX, which offers a hair under 100 kWh of charge storage. Changing the composition of the battery's anodes allowed the company to improve the battery's energy density, along with a clean-sheet design that prioritized room for cells and low weight. Many of the electronic components required to run the EV were placed in a different location to further boost that density. The battery's 900-volt architecture packs even more power than what is available in the peppiest EV powertrains on offer today.

Engineering isn't limited to the powertrain, either. The battery's cooling plate is placed under the battery to make use of the air flowing under the EQXX's body. An active system of valves and pumps was built to keep the temperature optimal without requiring a bunch of energy to do so. Active shutters can redirect air to provide additional cooling as needed, closing when necessary to further boost overall range. Not that the shutters are terribly inefficient -- according to Mercedes, they only add 0.007 to the drag coefficient when opened up.

Every curve has a purpose on the EQXX.

Mercedes-Benz

Roof-mounted solar cells have yet to make a dramatic effect on modern vehicle efficiency, for the few models that offer it, but the Vision EQXX uses them nevertheless. After all, the sun is just sitting there in the sky, it may as well get put to use. The 117 solar cells atop the EQXX help power the car's ancillary systems, which the automakers says can add up to 15 miles of range on long-distance trips. Drivers in Phoenix, say, are likely to get more from this system than drivers in Boston, but it's still going to help. And with Mercedes working alongside German scientists on solar tech, there's a good chance we'll see more of this in the future.

And then there's the parts you can't even see. The EQXX's rear floor is made from a single aluminum casting. In fact, it's the largest aluminum structural casting that Mercedes-Benz produces. Carrying the ironically bulky name of BIONEQXX (don't ask me how to say that), the one-part casting is the result of four months of manufacturing R&D, offering the right stiffness for crash protection while staying lightweight enough to avoid dinging the efficiency. Part of its low weight comes from engineers mimicking biological structures found in nature, where structural support only appears where it's absolutely necessary. UBQ recycled landfill material was used to fill some gaps in the aluminum to keep weight down and water from sneaking in.

Now playing: Watch this: The Mercedes Vision EQXX EV at CES 2022
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See you in the near future

The Mercedes Vision EQXX is not a concept car in the sense that it's filled with fantastical technology that will remain either too unwieldy or expensive for use in series-production passenger vehicles. It's actually what the company calls a research car, similar to the F015 concept from 2015, where the focus is on highlighting technologies that not only can but will be put to use in the future.

"The battery technology is next-gen, it's technology that we are going to use in series production cars, pretty much one to one, in 2024," Källenius said. "And the same goes for the drivetrain, and many other things on the vehicle." So not only is the Vision EQXX worth your attention because it's impressive, but it also shouldn't be counted out because what you see here may very well help your next electric vehicle extend its range in a major way.