This is not the first time we have driven an all-electric Mercedes on Norwegian roads. Back in 2012 we drove the SLS AMG E-Cell zero emissions supercar here. Seven years later we are back to drive the EQC 400 4Matic, the first mass production Mercedes EV.
Norway is best known for its breathtaking fjords and mountain scenery, and most outsiders do not realise that by utilising the natural wealth of their hinterland, its people have progressively turned their country into the most eco-friendly developed nation on the planet.
With over 90 percent of its electricity generated by hydroelectric power, and a thriving offshore oil industry, Norway is a major exporter of electricity and oil, and its air quality is outstanding. Over 40% of the cars here are EVs with the percentage rising all the time. It was certainly a fitting backdrop for Mercedes to launch their first mass production EV.
If volume sales are the key to recouping the enormous development costs of developing electric cars and their charging eco-system then manufacturers have to package the technology in the type of vehicle that people most want. Right now that is the compact SUV, a worldwide trend that shows no sign of slowing down.
In 2017 Mercedes design chief Gorden Wagener told us that it was very important for the new EQ models to clearly express their power source in an authentic Mercedes way.
With strong family styling ties to other Mercedes SUVs the EQC looks like a slightly larger, more muscular GLC, with a proportionately lower and sleeker roofline that gives the new electric SUV its sleeker, more rakish appearance.
The EQC is built on the Mercedes MRA (rear drive) platform shared by the C-Class and GLC models. With the same 2,873mm wheelbase of the latter the EQC uses the rear floor panel from the GLC Coupe to achieve its longer rear overhang. It thus ends up 105mm longer overall than the GLC at 4,761mm. Width (including door mirrors) and height are 2,096mm and 1,623mm respectively.
Although it does not have a combustion engine the EQC still needs a radiator and liquid heat exchangers for battery cooling and air-conditioning. Look past chrome edged slats and you will see the powered flaps that open or close according to speed and temperature. That big grille emblazoned with the three-pointed star is indeed ‘authentic’. That said, the two side intakes flanking the front spoiler have black plastic inserts with no actual function.
Judicious use of black paint on the lower parts of the nose, side sills and rear valance visually reduce the body height. The full width rear light strip is only be applied to Mercedes models in the EQ range and helps the EQC stand out at night. The rest of the time, it visually helps to give the car a sleeker and more purposeful stance.
Even with conventional door mirrors the EQC boasts a drag coefficient of 0.28, a dramatic improvement over the GLC’s 0.31. A special aero package available later will further reduce drag to 0.27, making it a match for the Audi e-tron equipped with the optional exterior camera mirrors.
Thanks to an asynchronous electric motor powering each axle the EQC has permanent four-wheel-drive. The total output of its two motors combined is 300kW, which equates to 408hp and 560 ft lb (760Nm) of torque.
Developing peak power just off idle an electric motor delivers its maximum output near instantaneously, so the EQC has the strong and linear thrust appreciated by anyone who has driven an electric car.
However, power-to-weight ratio is another issue, and the EQC and its 1,437 lb (652 kg) of Lithium-ion batteries tips the scales at a whopping 5,500 lb (2,495 kg), which is about on par with a Rolls-Royce Phantom.
That actually makes for an interesting comparison as the 453 hp first generation Phantom wafts to 60 mph in 5.7 sec while emitting 347 g/km of CO2. In parenthesis the zero emissions EQC sprints to 62 mph (100 km/h) in just 5.1 sec, showing off the EV’s superior low-end torque and 4WD traction off the line.
Where the Rolls-Royce has its top speed limited to 155 mph (250 km/h) the EQC is capped at 112 mph (180 km/h). Electric cars deplete their batteries very rapidly indeed when pushed to high speeds, and while the EQC has a claimed NEDC range of 276-292 miles (445-471 km), this is drastically eroded by high speed driving and big throttle openings.
The Mercedes Lithium-ion battery was designed to be a compact package useable across different EQ vehicles and features a modular system comprising two modules with 48 cells, and four modules with 72 cells.
Charging times are always the bane of EVs and Mercedes has been working very hard to extract shorter times from their dedicated three-phase high performance DC charging system. This can apply a 10-80% charge in just 40 minutes, while the domestic AC socket still takes a yawning 11 hours to bring the big 80 kWh battery from 10-100%.
However, rather than simply re-using common dashboard components with other models as Audi has done with the e-tron, Mercedes chose to carve out a completely fresh and distinctive look for the EQC’s cabin.
Thus, the dashboard is layered with more individual elements than you will find in other Mercedes SUVs. For instance, the central vents are housed in a unique moulding that cantilevers out from the area under the MBUX screen.
The air vents contained in this moulding and repeated vertically either side of the dashboard are part of the new EQ design language. Like the ribs on the tops of the front doors these appear to be machined from aluminium but are actually plastic mouldings with a metallic coating.
The seats are typical Mercedes in their design, comfort, and range of adjustability, and the driving position and steering wheel controls are also familiar.
The story in the rear is the same, with plenty of legroom and headroom on the rear bench, and the EQC with its quiet cabin will make a very good VIP chauffeur vehicle.
The boot can hold 500 litres and expands 1,460 litres) when the rear seats are folded flat. In parenthesis the GLC offers 550 litres) and 1,600 litres of space respectively, reflecting the lower loading floor and higher roofline of the conventionally powered car.
Electric cars that have been on sale up till now have largely existed in isolation as self contained EVs. However, when you press the Start button in the Mercedes EQC the “Electric Intelligence” features that make this car part of a mobility eco-system that goes far beyond the vehicle itself become readily apparent.
Using the Mercedes me App route planning responds dynamically to changes in its parameters and can be used on-board or off-board. The driver can pre-plan a route, enter a departure time and set the interior temperature to warm or cool the cabin according to the ambient temperature. And of course if the car is charging at the time this can be done with no drain on the battery.
The intelligent navigation will plan the route taking into account stops, charge status of the battery, charging stations, the weather, topography and traffic. As the system will always find the optimum combination with as few charging stops as possible it will also seek out quick-charging stations.
Those familiar with the AI voice recognition function of MBUX can use phrases like “Hey Mercedes, show me the nearest charging station,” or “Charge the vehicle to 85%.” And the system will respond accordingly.
As you would expect the EQC cabin is a haven of quietness and calm. Standard double glazing, front bulkhead insulation originally designed to keep out diesel engine noise and special layers of insulation around the rear electric motor and wheel arches markedly reduce e-motor whine and road noise.
The EQC comes with 19-inch wheels as standard with 20 and 21-inch options. The 21-inch tyres feature a layer of foam insulation to help reduce rolling noise.
Our test car had 20-inch wheels shod with 295/50ZR20 Pirelli Scorpion tires and proved very quiet on most road surfaces. This means you can have conversations at comfortably normal levels and don’t have to crank up the volume on the excellent optional Burmester audio system to hear all the fine details. It also makes for stress-free journeys, since excessive road noise is a recognised source of fatigue.
Secondary ride at low speeds is good on the 20-inch footwear, with fine poise when you step up the pace. The base 19-inch wheels would no doubt improve this further while trading some grip at speed.
The relatively low centre of gravity conferred by the combination of the battery pack under the floor and the self-levelling ability of the rear axle air suspension keeps the roll angle in check. The electric power steering is nicely weighted and its turn-in rate perfectly aligned to the chassis, which helps to deliver a high level of driver confidence.
Having an electric motor on each axle results in a different 4WD experience compared to an internal combustion engine that drives both axles through a gearbox, propshaft, and differentials.
Electric drive means no pumping losses and the ability of the electronics to seamlessly alter the torque distribution to optimise traction and efficiency in near real time.
On the efficiency score the engineers configured the two motors differently to address the polar opposites of high performance and battery range. Thus, the front motor is configured for maximum efficiency in the low to medium speed ranges while the rear motor is set up to deliver the maximum dynamic experience.
Mercedes set up a pedestrian avoidance test for us to determine how the car handles in extremis, and the way the motors are configured does indeed make it feel more agile than its massive kerb weight would suggest.
In place of the PRND modes of a normal automatic transmission the EQC offers Comfort, ECO, Max Range, Sport and Individual programs. In a conventional car, the right and left steering wheel paddles trigger up and downshifts respectively. In the EQC the right paddle reduces the level of brake recuperation while the left paddle increases it.
Pulling the paddles sequentially cycles you through the following modes: D Auto (recuperation via ECO Assist to suit the situation), D + (coasting), D (low recuperation), D - (medium recuperation) and D - - (high recuperation). Since recuperative deceleration is often enough that the brakes are not required in this makes one-pedal driving possible in many situations.
The EQC 400 4Matic is good to drive and easy to live with, but in the brave new world of EVs that is simply not enough. As customers grapple with the concept of moving from internal combustion engine cars to electric power they will be glad to know that Mercedes has plotted a very well conceived course to help them.
So when you buy a Mercedes EQC you are plugging into a well thought out eco-system of intelligently linked charging stations that appear on your satellite-navigation data to make all your journeys easier and more efficient.
Some of the big worries for owners of hybrid and electric cars are reliability, warranty and residual values, and here Mercedes has pushed the boat out. Their standard EQC “Maintenance Service” package covers all maintenance work up to six years or 150,000 km in Europe, with particular attention paid to electrical and safety related components.
In addition to this is the six years or six times “Pick-up & Delivery” service. With each service scheduled at your convenience the car will picked up and dropped back at your home, office, or anywhere within a defined radius of the dealership.
Beyond this are the customer paid packages like the “Vehicle Warranty Extension” that takes battery cover to eight years or 160,000 km. There is even a “Wearing Parts Package” that includes replacement of consumables such as brake linings, brake discs and wiper blades so you know what your costs will be up to the six-year point. This will help to maintain the EQC’s residual value with the next owner better able to gauge running costs.
In terms of its design, dynamics and supporting driver aids the Mercedes EQC 400 4Matic is a very well conceived and resolved car whose debut will no doubt have many people signing up to an electric future. Most of all we are pleased that Mercedes has put so much into the EQ support structure, which bodes well for the people who take the plunge.
WHERE AND WHEN
EQCs destined for Europe, the US and ROW countries will roll off the assembly lines at the Mercedes plant in Bremen where the car is integrated into the C-Class sedan and Estate and the GLC and GLC Coupe production line.
Bremen is the centre of competence for all other plants producing the EQC. The next plant to go online will be the Beijing Benz Automotive Co. Ltd. (BBAC) joint venture in China, which starts production later this year for an on sale date near the year’s end.
However, as the EQC does not readily integrate into the China-specific GLC LWB and C-Class LWB production the EQC will be hand-built on a separate line with most components apart from the battery coming from Germany.
The Mercedes EQC goes on sale in Europe now with first deliveries expected in September, with a price of 71,281 euro in Germany. There is also a special launch EQC Edition 1886 with extensive additional features and services costing 84,930 euros.
US market sales will commence sometime in the first quarter of 2020, with cars coming from Bremen. Apart from the fact that the EQ plant currently under construction in Tuscaloosa will not be ready till late 2020, there are no common MRA platform cars produced there and so no economies of scale advantages.