Kia has dipped its toe into the 48-volt mild hybrid market, with an electrically boosted version of the Sportage introduced in Europe. A compact 0.46kWh battery sits below the floor and adds a modest 10kW boost, improving fuel efficiency by four percent. Kia Australia remains unconvinced by the tech, though, and claims it will have a pair of full battery electric vehicles on its books by 2021, not to mention a suite of plug-in variants.
Europe has abandoned its old 1980s-era fuel use test procedures for a new set that it believes will give potential buyers more realistic fuel use and emissions figures. The Worldwide Harmonised Light Vehicle Test Procedure, which will apply to all new cars registered in Europe from September 2018, aims to help car makers meet a tough new EU-mandated emissions target of 95g/km of carbon dioxide by 2021. The new test includes driving at four different speeds, and is averaged across the vehicle’ lightest and heaviest versions.
THE LANDSCAPE is Spaghetti Western, and so is the scenario. Southeast Spain was a location for famed films like The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. And we’re here for a Sergio Leone-style long-lens glimpse of the distant stranger heading for town...
The Mercedes-Benz EQC is still a long way off. While production of the battery-powered SUV will not begin until sometime around the middle of 2019, right after launching it will drive straight into a shootout with the Tesla Model X and Jaguar I-Pace.
Will the German be able to outgun the Yank and the Brit? Might it achieve Clint Eastwood-grade stardom? Or is it more likely the EQC will be the corpse lying in the dust when the bullets stop flying?
Mercedes-Benz has already revealed some key EQC specifications. It will have two electric motors, one for each axle, a big battery pack beneath its cabin floor, sub 5.0-second 0-100km/h acceleration and a driving range of up to 500km.
EQC drivetrain project leader Martin Hermsen adds some detail to the picture as he pilots the camouflage-clad prototype. The vehicle’s 600kg battery pack is made up of modules containing multiple lithium-ion pouch cells. It can store “more than 70kWh” of electrical energy, delivered at 400 volts.
The EQC will have an on-board AC charger with a maximum 7.5kW capacity. This is enough for overnight or workday recharging from a wallbox. The Mercedes will also have fast DC charging capability at a rate of 100kWplus, for quick top-ups on longer journeys. Both AC and DC charging is via a CCS (Combined Charging System) plug, a standard supported by Europe’s car makers, plus GM, Ford, FCA, Hyundai and others.
EQC is the cornerstone of Mercedes-Benz’s new EV-only EQ sub-brand. It will be followed, in quick succession, by the smaller EQA, and larger EQE and EQS models. The company is also converting its three-model Smart city car brand to 100 percent electric drivetrains by 2020. Daimler boss Dieter Zetsche has promised Mercedes and Smart will have a total of 10 pure electric models by 2022. Four Mercedes EQs plus three Smart EQs is seven, so what will the remaining three be?
Hermsen says the EQC weighs roughly 2300kg, distributed equally between front and rear axles. It has identical 150kW front and rear motors, making it AWD, for a combined max power figure of 300kW The software controlling the drivetrain mostly uses the front motor, only adding rear motor power when maximum performance is demanded or to ensure vehicle stability and traction when needed.
Testing the entire drive system in stressfully hot conditions is the main reason Mercedes-Benz has bought EQC prototypes to Spain.
The performance of the cooling systems for the battery pack, motor control units and motors themselves has to be checked, as well as the cabin air-con.
These prototypes were made using prototype EQC body stamping tools. All their drivetrain hardware is basically productionspec says Hermsen. But there’s still a lot of work left to do on drivetrain calibration and system control software. The engineer estimates the job is around 80 percent complete.
Though we’re not allowed to drive this work in progress, there’s a lot to be learned about the EQC while sitting beside and behind Hermsen as he drives through the Spanish desert.
Endurance racing’ top tier will soon introduce rules allowing prototype racers to be more closely related to road-going cars. From 2020, the World Endurance Championship will mandate sleeker prototypes with more marque cachet’ think hybrid-engined Aston Martin Valkyries, McLaren BP23s and Mercedes-Benz Project Ones all banging doors around famous circuits such as Fuji, Le Mans, the Nurburgring, Monza, Spa and Silverstone. It will also likely be the first time since the McLaren F1 won Le Mans in 1995 that you can buy a showroom version of the race winner.
Beneath the camo-dazzle wrap, the proportions, form and size of the production EQC are very similar to the 2016 Paris motor show Concept EQ. It’s a more conventional SUV wagon shape than Model X or I-Pace.
Hermsen says early development prototypes used the bodywork of the GLC, and the fiveseat interior appears as spacious as Mercedes’ medium SUV. The rear seat has good head and knee room and an eyeball estimate of cargo compartment size is around 600 litres.
Mercedes plans to offer the EQC with a choice of drivetrains, according to a reliable Wheels source. The 300kW drivetrain of the prototype seen here will top the line-up, but apparently there will be the option of a less-powerful, twomotor AWD version, plus a single-motor non-AWD variant. This strategy means the EQC should be able to undercut the prices of its rivals. Expect the single-motor EQC to wear a tag of $100,000 or so, around $20,000 less than the least costly models in the Model X and I-Pace line-ups.
Black cloth covered most interior details, but the EQC will have a widescreen display similar to that in the recent E-, S- and all-new A-Class. Its steering wheel is Mercedes’ new three-spoke design, incorporating cruise control buttons, plus touch pads for navigation through menus on both sides of its big display. A sly peek beneath the cover revealed new face-level air vents, not the turbine-look circular outlets seen in recent Mercedes models. So you can count on the EQC having an interior style all its own.
Hermsen says the EQC lacks the ground clearance for off-roading. This seems to have given Mercedes-Benz’s chassis engineers freedom to focus on its on-road handling.
Even from the passenger seat, it’s clear the EQC has the same ferocious off-the-line surge as other powerful all-wheel-drive EVs. It feels close to Jaguar I-Pace quick. The suspension irons out road irregularities very nicely and the handling seems well balanced.
Our morning spent riding with Hermsen includes a visit to a racetrack, the Circuito de Almeria. He drives a couple of quick laps, often with the prototype’s 20inch Pirelli Scorpion Verde tyres screaming. The EQC feels more agile than something so heavy has any right to be. And there’s no mistaking the chassis’ inherent balance and stability.
Mercedes-Benz Australia expects the first EQCs to roll onto our docks very late in 2019. After this brief encounter we know the EV wearing the three-pointed star has the speed and skills of a Spaghetti Western hero.