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First drive: EQC ushers in new era for Mercedes-Benz

Mercedes EQC electric SUV launches as global consumer demand for EVs builds momentum

Mercedes-Benz logo15 May 2019

By ROBBIE WALLIS in OSLO

MERCEDES-BENZ’S global head of research and development Ola Kaellenius has described the German marque’s first series-production full-electric vehicle – the EQC – as a “ground-breaking” model that arrives as worldwide demand for EVs is finally building momentum based on clear consumer preference rather than government incentives or regulations.

 

In an interview with Australian journalists, including GoAuto, at the international launch of the zero-emissions mid-size SUV in Norway this week, Mr Kaellenius – who will this year take over from Dieter Zetsche as Daimler AG’s CEO – said the prestige car-maker was well positioned to capitalise on this change as one of the pioneers in electric mobility.

 

The first model in a family of EVs to be built under the EQ sub-brand, the EQC represents the opening stanza in Mercedes’ recently revealed sustainability plan that will see it switch to a completely carbon-neutral product portfolio by 2039, with 50 per cent of its global sales to be made up of EVs and plug-in hybrids by 2030.

 

“We now see that (EQC) is for us in a way ground-breaking because it ushers in a new era of electric mobility which will also be demand-driven, so from that point of view (it is) a very important vehicle,” Mr Kaellenius said.

 

He said the time was now right for Mercedes-Benz to release a series-production EV, given the momentum and appetite for pure EVs was building to the point where incentives to buy an EV will soon not be required.

 

“Clearly, it’s the first family member of a bigger family so it is significant, and we were the first in the market in 2007 with a production-volume electric vehicle in Europe with the first-generation Smart, so we are pioneers in electric mobility,” Mr Kaellenius said.

 

“But the market was not quite there yet. But you can feel now that it’s building momentum.

 

“On the one hand you have regulatory-driven momentum where you have through taxation and incentives you can steer demand, but beyond that we feel we are beyond the cusp of natural demand.”

 

Mercedes-Benz Australia/Pacific head of media relations and product communications Jerry Stamoulis said the introduction of the EQC has been timed well to coincide with Australia’s slowly growing appetite for EVs.

 

“The timing of EQC is quite good from the Australian market, where the ramp-up of our EQ plans are very similar to the appetite for electric cars in Australia – the take-up rate is very similar,” he said.

 

“So the timing and the new conversations that we’re having with customers – all of those things make it very important.”

 

Just the one EQC variant will be available at the Australian launch in October, dubbed EQC400, which teams a pair of asynchronous electric motors on each axle to an 80kWh battery set-up for a combined output of 300kW/760Nm.

 

Mr Kaellenius said there would be room to introduce further variants underneath the EQC400, however the range will not be expanded beyond the single launch variant for some time.

 

There are currently no plans to introduce a more potent version to sit above the 400.

 

Driving range for the EQC400 is pegged at between 445-471km on the NEDC testing cycle with energy consumption of 20.8-19.7kWh/100km, while the battery packs are stored under the floor and between the axles for optimum weight distribution.

 

With a maximum voltage of 405V and a 230Ah capacity, the EQC’s modular battery arrangement can be charged with a maximum output of 110kW, allowing charge from 10 to 80 per cent in 40 minutes.

 

Plugged into a wallbox or AC charger, complete charging takes approximately 11 hours.

 

Like other full EVs, the EQC features regenerative braking which can be dialled up or down in five different settings using the steering-wheel-mounted paddle-shifters.

 

In normal situations, recuperation is set to the D Auto setting, while four levels of manual braking are available, ranging from D+ (coasting) to D (mild recuperation), D- (medium recuperation) and D--, the latter being strong enough to essentially enable one-pedal driving.

 

With D Auto, the EQC employs Mercedes’ EQ Assist feature, which helps maximise efficiency by utilising navigation data, traffic-sign recognition and the car’s radar and cameras to suggest to the driver how to increase efficiency such as when to ease off the accelerator.

 

The navigation system is also capable of offering the most efficient routes possible, taking into account factors such as the car’s current charge level, weather, topography, traffic flow and available charging stations along the route, with a preference given to fast-charging stations.

 

Five distinct driving modes are available, including the usual Comfort, Eco, Sport and Individual settings found on most Mercedes vehicles, as well as a Max Range mode developed specifically for EQ models.

 

Max Range assists the driver with keeping to the speed limit via a haptic accelerator pressure point, to ensure the destination or next charging station is reached without running out of juice.

 

The haptic accelerator also plays a role in the other economical driving modes.

 

Mercedes’ new-generation MBUX infotainment system is fitted, with a pair of 10.25-inch screens comprising the instrument cluster and infotainment system, and Mercedes’ Linguatronic voice recognition system.

 

Australian examples will be offered with the AMG Line package inside and out as standard, including 20-inch wheels and leather upholstery, with 21-inch rims optionally available.

 

The first examples to reach Australia will be the limited-run Edition 1, which will feature the AMG Line kit, 21-inch AMG wheels and diamond-stitched leather upholstery.

 

Mercedes-Benz Aust/Pac is targeting a price of around $140,000 plus on-road costs for the EQC400, which would see it compete directly with the top-spec Jaguar I-Pace HSE EV400 ($140,800) and the Tesla Model X Performance ($144,200).

 

Currently, the waiting list for Australian examples of EQC has pushed out to mid-to-late 2020.

 

GoAuto has this week tested the EQC’s performance over a day of driving around Oslo in EV-mad Norway, on a drive loop that took us through the Scandinavian countryside and enabled us to assess Mercedes-Benz’s debut EV in a range of conditions.

 

Hopping into the EQC for the first time, it is clear that Mercedes has not tried to present the EQC as a quirky electric model with unique EV-specific features and styling, but rather as a regular Benz that just happens to have an all-electric powertrain.

 

Its shared underpinnings with the GLC are apparent, with a similarly configured interior dominated by the dual 10.25-inch display screens and a centre console and transmission tunnel reminiscent of an internal combustion vehicle.

 

Hints of its electric status are evident in the dashboard material, made of recycled PET plastic, and the uniquely styled air vents with bronze highlights.

 

Overall, the interior has a refined and classy feel, while the MBUX system gives it a hi-tech feel worthy of a luxury EV in 2019.

 

Driving through Oslo, it was clearly apparent Mercedes has placed a large emphasis on providing a luxurious driving experience, starting with its excellent noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) levels that confirm the EQC’s status as a truly high-class EV.

 

With no droning engine noise to speak of, outside noise is all the more conspicuous, however Mercedes’ engineers have done a fine job of minimising intrusion from tyre and wind roar, as well as ensuring regenerative braking sounds are kept at a respectable level.

 

Performance from the 300kW electric powertrain is both potent and user-friendly, with a gentle throttle response that allows for easy around-town driving in normal situations.

 

Putting the foot to the floor provides instant acceleration the way only an electric powertrain can deliver, and helps make the EQC feel lighter than its considerable 2495kg kerb weight.

 

Over our day of driving we recorded an average energy use of around 29kWh/100km with a predominantly conservative driving style, well up on the official quoted figure.

 

This also resulted in us failing to get near the roughly 450km of reported driving range, which was a slightly disappointing result.

 

Despite its considerable weight, the EQC still handles well around corners without being a dynamic masterpiece, and its heft contributes to a settled and very comfortable ride quality.

 

One of the most impressive features of the EQC is the D Auto regenerative braking system, which constantly adapts the braking level as required – dialling it back on long, straight stretches of road and increasing resistance when, for example, entering a town where the speed limit drops.

 

Another interesting feature is the haptic accelerator control in Max Range mode, which suggests the correct throttle input when accelerating to maximise battery life – a handy feature when faced with the prospect of low battery and no immediate charging solutions.

 

While many car-makers have tried to make their EV stand out from the crowd, Mercedes has gone in the opposite direction – and we think the EQC is better for it.

 

It is approachable and familiar, and will appeal to those looking to make the switch to an EV without feeling like they have to drive something that looks and feels more like a space shuttle than a motor car.

 

While the EQC may not look or feel ground-breaking in the way it drives, what it represents is a new dawn for Mercedes-Benz – and if our first drive is anything to go by, the electric future looks bright.


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