by Ian Kuah
The largely legislation-led reduction in vehicle emissions has led most manufacturers down the path of electric vehicles, at least in the short and medium term, with some also exploring other options like hydrogen fuel cells. Mercedes-Benz has committed to both power sources, and its GLC F-Cell went on sale at the end of last year, beating the EQC 400 4Matic to market by a good six months. For now hydrogen filling stations are still limited, but a network is slowly being rolled out across Germany.
If volume sales are the key to recouping the billions of dollars of development costs then manufacturers have to package their new technologies in the type of vehicle that people want to buy. Right now this is the SUV, a worldwide phenomenon that shows no sign of slowing down, and with the fastest growing segment worldwide being the compact SUV, it is no surprise that the EQC 400 4Matic is pitched right here. It has been a long time coming, but the first volume production all-electric Mercedes has arrived at last and it is a handsome car with lovely cabin details made to the three-pointed star's expected standards of fit and finish.
Single-speed direct drive
With strong family styling ties to other Mercedes SUVs, the EQC looks like a slightly larger, more muscular GLC, but its glasshouse is proportionately lower with a roofline that slopes gently aft, giving this electric SUV a sleek and elegant appearance.
Built on the Mercedes MRA (rear drive) platform shared by the C-Class and GLC models, the EQC shares the 113.1-inch wheelbase of the latter married to the GLC Coupe's rear floor panel to achieve its longer rear overhang. It thus ends up 4.13-inches longer overall than the GLC at 187.4 inches. Width (including door mirrors) and height are 82.5 inches and 63.9 inches respectively.
When we spoke to Mercedes' design chief, Gorden Wagener last year about the styling of the EQ range he explained that it was very important for the new electric Mercedes models to clearly articulate their power source in an authentic way that clearly identifies them as a Mercedes.
Even though the EQC lacks a combustion engine, it has the Mercedes SUV design trait of an opening hood that sits above the front wings. But the big giveaway to its zero emissions credentials is the nose treatment, the area where the designers really went to town to establish a distinctive 'face' for the EQ range.
There has been a big debate about authenticity with one camp saying that if a car does not have an engine it does not need a radiator grille. However, the Mercedes EQC has a large radiator and liquid heat exchangers for the batteries and air-condition behind the 'grille.'
Look through its chrome edged slats and you will see the powered flaps that open or close according to speed and temperature. Thus, the big grille emblazoned with the three-pointed star is authentic.
The EQ look underlines the grille with a glossy black panel that extends upwards to meet the LED light units that taper to a point as they turn the corners. These light units that are effectively 'held' by the inward facing DLRs also feature the distinctive blue light strips that signify a Mercedes electric vehicle.
However, the two side 'intakes' that flank the under-bumper area are styling carry-overs capped by black plastic moldings with no practical function, while judicious use of black paint on the lower nose, side sills and rear valance is a trick to visually reduce the body height.
The full-width rear light strip that is only being applied to Mercedes models in the EQ range helps the EQC stand out at night. The rest of the time, it helps to give the car a wider 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 further reduces drag to around 0.27, matching the Audi e-tron equipped with the optional exterior camera mirrors.
Rather than re-using 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.
The unique dashboard design is layered with more individual elements than you will find in other Mercedes SUVs, with the central air vents housed in a unique molding that cantilevers out from the area under the 'floating' super widescreen MBUX display.
The air vents contained in this molding 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 aluminum but are actually plastic moldings 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.
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.
The trunk holds 17.66 cu ft. of luggage, expanding to 51.6 cu ft. with the rear seats folded flat. In parenthesis the GLC offers 19.4 cu ft. and 56.5 cu ft. respectively, reflecting the lower loading floor and higher rear roofline of the conventionally powered Mercedes SUV.
With two asynchronous electric motors, one for each axle, the EQC has permanent four-wheel-drive. The combined output of its two motors is 300 kW, which equates to 408 hp and 560 lb-ft of torque.
Since an electric motor develops peak power just off idle its maximum output is delivered near instantaneously, and despite its whopping 5,500 lb curb weight that includes the 1,437-lb lithium-ion battery pack, the EQC has the strong and linear thrust appreciated by anyone who has driven an electric car.
The EQC sprints to 62 mph in just 5.1 sec, showing off the EV's superior low-end torque and 4WD traction off the line. Since electric cars deplete their batteries very rapidly indeed when pushed to high speeds, the Vmax is capped at 112 mph. While the EQC has a claimed NEDC range of 276-292 miles 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 a 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%.
Having an electric motor on each axle delivers a quite different 4WD experience compared to an internal combustion engine driving both axles through a gearbox and differentials, and is better able to optimize traction and efficiency. With no pumping losses and intelligent control over wheel-to-wheel power and torque distribution, the response to changing levels of mechanical grip is near instantaneous, delivering seamless dynamic torque distribution between the axles.
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 cabin is a haven of quietness and calm. Standard double glazing, front bulkhead insulation originally designed to keep out diesel engine noise, and substantial 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 tires 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 quiet on most road surfaces. Conversations can take place at normal levels and you don't have to crank up the volume on the excellent optional Burmester audio system to hear all the finer details. This makes for stress-free journeys since excessive road noise is a recognized source of fatigue.
Helped by the standard self-leveling air springs on the rear axle ride comfort is very good, and the base 19-inch wheel/tire combo would no doubt be even better. Nonetheless, the 20-inch wheels provide a comfortable low-speed secondary ride and good high-speed poise.
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, especially when the driver selects Sport mode.
To prove the point Mercedes set up a handling course for us on an airfield runway. Here the rear axle power bias in Sport mode combined with the heavy battery pack at the lowest point under the floor indeed helped the EQC feel more agile than its massive curb weight would suggest.
On the twisting country roads that were part of our test route, this relatively low center of gravity and the self-leveling ability of the air suspension kept the roll angle in check. This is not a sporty SUV but any stretch of the imagination, but this responsiveness and the linear characteristics of the medium weighted electric power steering create a decent level of driver confidence.
The big worries for early adopters of electric cars are range, reliability, warranty and residual values, and here Mercedes has really pushed the boat out. its standard EQC "Maintenance Service" package covers all maintenance work up to six years or 150,000 km (93,205 miles) 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 package. With each service scheduled at your convenience, the car will be 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 100,000 miles (160,000 km). There is also 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.
ECQs destined for European, the US and ROW markets other than China will roll off the assembly lines at the Mercedes plant in Bremen, which is the center of competence for EQC production worldwide. Production in Beijing will begin at the end of this year.
The Mercedes EQC order book in Europe is open now with first deliveries expected in September at a price of 71,281 Euros in Germany. The US on sale date is sometime in the first quarter of 2020, with prices and specs to be announced later this year.
The EQC 400 4Matic is good to drive and easy to live with, but in the brave new world of EVs that is not enough by itself. 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 charted course to help them.
So when you buy a Mercedes EQC it is reassuring that you are also plugging into a well thought out eco-system that includes intelligent power management and satellite-navigation data linked to charging stations to help make all your journeys easier and more efficient.