Mercedes' electric SUV might not have Tesla-beating range, but it offers more luxury than its rivals.
Overall driving range is perhaps the biggest talking point of any new electric car. Yet it won't be the key reason to buy a 2020 Mercedes-Benz EQC when it arrives in the US next year.
Instead, Mercedes is focusing on what it does best: making cars that genuinely feel more premium than everything else in the class. Oh, sure, the EQC will still be plenty competitive in terms of its power and range. But what sets it apart from the Jaguars and Teslas of the world is just how lovely it feels from behind the wheel.
Like the Audi E-Tron, Jaguar I-Pace and Tesla Model X with which it'll most closely compete, the Mercedes EQC is a curvaceous SUV that straddles the line between compact and midsize proportions. It rides on the same 113.1-inch wheelbase as the compact GLC-Class crossover, but it's a little longer overall, and doesn't stand quite as tall.
For better or worse, the EQC doesn't immediately stand out as a brand-new or electrified Mercedes-Benz offering. Sure, the fascia is a bit more stylized than the company's other models, and tasteful blue accents in the headlamp housings are a subtle nod to this car's electrified guts. But honestly, if you showed me a picture of the EQC and said, "This is the next-generation GLC ," I'd probably believe you.
The EQC pictured here wears Mercedes' AMG Line exterior, which adds a unique grille and a more heavily sculpted lower fascia. In this guise, it looks even less like an EV, and to my eyes, this treatment is the most appealing. If you're the sort of person who wants an electric vehicle because of the statement it makes on the road, the EQC might not be for you. Personally, I'm glad Mercedes doesn't need to rely on weird styling or gimmicky doors to get its electric message across. But I will say I'm not exactly thrilled that an illuminated version of the company's three-pointed star badge will be standard on every US-spec EQC.
Inside, you'll see a similar exercise in restraint; the EQC's cabin is almost too familiar. The center console seems to have been ripped right out of the GLC300, with a large flip-up panel in the middle that hides a pair of cup holders. I love the rose-gold accents on the vents -- Mercedes designers say they're supposed to mimic the copper color of the wires found in the battery system -- and the stylized bits of brushed metal on the doors and behind the infotainment screen are really quite beautiful. But for better or worse, no part of the EQC's cabin looks or feels new or innovative.
On the other hand, its interior boasts the same superb quality you'd expect from an SUV with a three-pointed star on the hood. Every surface feels even better than it looks, and the quilted leather seats are equal parts cushy and supportive. None of the EQC's aforementioned competitors offer an interior this plush.
Four average-size adults can stretch out in relative comfort, and the cargo hold is large enough to accommodate all of their carry-on suitcases and backpacks. Final US-spec cargo dimensions are still TBD, but given the EQC isn't too far off the GLC, you can safely use that as a point of reference.
The EQC's in-car tech is headlined by Mercedes' MBUX multimedia system, set up on a pair of 10.2-inch screens atop the dash. MBUX is the same here as it is in any of the company's latest models, with a couple of EQC-specific features built in, including screens that show your energy use and range, as well as navigation data for nearby charging stations. Speaking of navigation, it comes standard on every EQC, as do Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and a Wi-Fi hotspot.
Mercedes lets you control MBUX in myriad ways. You can touch the center screen, or use the thumbpads on the steering wheel or the touchpad on the center console. Of course, you can also just talk to the AI assistant, saying, "Hey, Mercedes" to wake it up. I still find the AI a little too eager to chime in, asking, "How can I help you?" when I only mention the word "Mercedes" midsentence in conversation. But I do like that I can just say, "Hey, Mercedes, where's the closest charging station?" and it'll display a list of options without me having to search through the nav.
The 2020 EQC400 uses an 80-kilowatt-hour, lithium-ion battery, with a 7.7-kilowatt onboard charger. On a Level 2 wall-box charger -- the kind you'll have installed at home -- the EQC can replenish its battery in about 10 hours. Step up to 110-kilowatt DC fast charging and Mercedes estimates achieving an 80% charge in just 40 minutes. Given the EQC's relatively conventional design, you won't be surprised to learn the charging port is located on the SUV's passenger side, behind the rear door, just like a conventional fuel tank.
The 80-kWh battery provides ample motivation for the big EQC, with 402 horsepower and 561 pound-feet of torque sent to an asynchronous motor at each axle, giving the SUV all-wheel drive. Off-the-line acceleration is quoted at 4.8 seconds to 60 miles per hour, or about the same as a Mercedes-AMG GLC43. The instant torque delivery is addictive, and one of the most fun aspects of EV driving. The Mercedes delivers it without any skittishness or wheelspin -- just a smooth, consistent rush of power. Under light power demands, the EQC largely runs in front-wheel-drive operation, the larger rear motor only kicking in when needed.
A particularly impressive thing about this powertrain is how seriously silent it is. Yes, I know, EVs are quiet to begin with, but Mercedes went a step further when developing the EQC and worked to isolate the electric motor's operational noises as much as possible. With the radio switched off and under hard acceleration you can hear a faint whirr, but that's it. Plenty of insulation keeps road and wind noise out of the cabin, too, making for one of the quietest motoring experiences available today.
Electric powertrain aside, the EQC moves down the road like any other Mercedes SUV. The chassis tuning errs on the side of comfort over sharp handling -- even with the car set to its Sport drive mode -- but the EQC won't fall apart should you toss it into a bend. The low center of gravity helps the crossover feel planted and stable, and the relatively light steering offers enough feedback through the wheel to keep you aware of what's happening at road level. Even on its largest 21-inch wheel-and-tire setup, the EQC offers a more compliant ride than a Jaguar I-Pace or Tesla Model X. Given the EQC's mission in life, it drives exactly the way it should.
A couple of neat tricks help you eke out every mile, the first of which is really quite simple (and effective). Put the EQC in its Eco drive mode, and the throttle's resistance increases substantially, with an actual stop point about halfway through the travel. This means you won't be overaccelerating, which drains the battery more rapidly. Should you need more speed than this mode offers, kicking down on the throttle harder will allow you to break through the stop point.
Then you have the regenerative braking modes, of which there are several. In the car's standard "D" operation, it idles forward and drives like a traditional, gas-powered car. D- and D-- modes are activated via the steering wheel-mounted paddles, and dial in more regen as desired. D- feels like the best setup for true one-pedal driving, while D-- is tuned a bit too aggressively for smooth operation (though I imagine you'd get used to it if you owned an EQC).
Finally, you can select D Auto, which uses the car's forward-facing sensors to slow the car using regenerative braking as you approach a lead car. Think of it as being like halfway adaptive cruise control: Say you're going 70 miles per hour on the highway and lift your foot off the throttle as you approach a car going 65 mph. In this D Auto setting, the EQC will automatically slow down using regeneration without you having to touch the brake pedal. It will not, however, accelerate back up to your cruising speed should that slower car move out of the way.
If you want honest-to-goodness adaptive cruise control, it -- as well as lane-keeping assist and blind-spot monitoring -- is available as part of the EQC's Driver Assistance Package.
The EQC won't arrive in the US until early 2020, so its official EPA range estimate is still many moons away. Under Europe's NEDC test cycle, Mercedes says the EQC can go anywhere between 277 and 293 miles on a full charge, depending on vehicle spec. But remember, the NEDC ratings are notoriously optimistic, and there's no solid formula for converting this number into a realistic US expectation.
My best look at the SUV's real-world range came last year, when I rode right-seat in an EQC prototype from Mercedes' research and development center in Sunnyvale, California, to the coastal region of Big Sur and back. Loaded with four adults, the EQC traveled 228 miles without recharging, the battery indicating a 7% charge at the end of the day. Bastian Schult, the engineer who led that test, was definitely driving with an eye toward max range, but he wasn't exactly a slowpoke, either.
Mercedes officials won't speculate on the EQC's US-spec range, simply because there are so many variables to take into consideration. But don't be shocked if the final EPA number ends up being somewhere between 200 and 220 miles. That'll put the EQC behind the Jaguar I-Pace (234 miles) and Tesla Model X 75D (238 miles) -- not to mention the longer-range 100D and new, 325-mile long-range Tesla models -- and closer in line with the Audi E-Tron (204 miles).
The truth is, for people who've taken the plunge into EV life, the difference between 204, 228, 234 and 238 miles is actually sort of negligible. These folks aren't draining their batteries all of the time; being able to charge at home or at the office is a given. Because of this, Mercedes executives aren't exactly sweating what the actual EPA number will be.
Besides, the Mercedes-Benz EQC more than makes up for any range shortcomings with its excellent accommodations and wonderful on-road manners. You'll likely pay a bit more for the privilege than for an Audi E-Tron ($74,800) or Jaguar I-Pace ($69,500). But that's expected for every other Mercedes model, too.
Official pricing won't be available until the EQC launches next year, but I'm expecting it to fall closer to the Tesla Model X's $83,000 MSRP -- not including available incentives, natch. The Tesla might still best the Mercedes in terms of all-out range, but with the Mercedes' better on-road manners and far more premium cabin, those not sold on the church of Tesla might find Mercedes' newcomer EQC a solid choice.
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