SILENT surge

IT’S THE MOST SIGNIFICANT DAIMLER PRODUCT IN DECADES; AN ALL-NEW EV THAT SPEARHEADS THE MAINSTREAM LUXURY ASSAULT ON TESLA. MEET THE MERCEDES-BENZ EQC

WORDS ALEX INWOOD

IT REALLY is a magnificent moustache. Bushy and brilliant in its whiteness, it gleams under stage lights as its owner, head of Mercedes-Benz cars Dr. Dieter Zetsche, speaks emphatically to a group of pushy journalists, each eager to quiz the boss of the world’s oldest car company about its future.

Next to us sits arguably the most significant new Mercedes in decades, its rump emblazoned with an all-new badge that reads, simply, ‘EQC 400’.

It’s the first mainstream electric car from Mercedes-Benz, and Zetsche is in full swing at its global reveal in Stockholm, Sweden. “We’re all in!” he proclaims. “We are … ALL … IN … with electric cars.”

Don’t let its familiar shape fool you. Those looks may be closely related to the conventionally propelled GLC mid-size SUV, but the EQC’s importance stretches beyond this single model. Not least because the trickle is becoming a flood.

Six years after Tesla stunned the industry with the Model S by creating an electric car that wasn’t just green, but genuinely desirable, techy and cool, the world’s mainstream luxury brands are catching up. Jaguar has the brilliant I-Pace, Audi the e-tron SUV. BMW is already teasing its iNext SUV and Porsche isn’t far away with its Taycan sportscar. And now Mercedes has joined the fray.

This isn’t a one-off. No toe-in-the-water exercise. Mercedes has committed to launching 10 all-electric models by the end of 2022 (including three from Smart) proving Zetsche’s comments aren’t hot air.

And on face value, the EQC hits all the right marks. Set to be priced between $100-150K when it launches Down Under in the second half of 2019, it’ll arrive boasting a Tesla-beating range and class-leading power and torque.

Capable of travelling “more than” 450km on a single charge, the EQC is positioned as a direct rival to the Tesla Model X 75D and I-Pace S, though it has more grunt than both courtesy of an 80kWh battery and 300kW/765Nm outputs.

That’s enough to propel the EQC from 0-100km/h in 5.1sec, despite a chunky 2425kg kerb weight. The battery pack contributes 650kg to that figure, its bulk made up of 384 lithium-ion cells positioned low in the SUV’s floor to power an electric motor on each axle. Interestingly, subtract the battery’s mass from the EQC and it’d weigh roughly the same as a GLC250.

Mercedes makes its batteries in-house through the wholly Daimler-owned subsidiary Deutsche Accumotive at a factory in Kamenz, near Dresden, Germany. They come with an eight-year, 160,000km warranty, matching the coverage offered by Tesla and Jaguar.

“We are very sure we can do this,” says director of e-drive integration Jurgen Schenk. “If you only drive at the Nurburgring and only recharge with [fast chargers] then we might have some issues, but we don’t expect customers to claim their warranty.”

The two electric motors are tuned differently. The front axle is optimised for efficiency and does most of its work under light to medium loads, while the rear motor is biased towards power delivery and dynamic driving, which sounds encouraging.

Once the batteries are depleted, Mercedes says owners will be able to achieve an 80 percent charge via a 110kW DC fast charging point in around 40 minutes, which is on par with the segment norm. Plugging your EQC into a Mercedes wall box at home will take between 10-11 hours to achieve a full charge.

EQC IS POSITIONED AS A DIRECT RIVAL TO THE MODEL X AND I-PACE, THOUGH IT HAS MORE GRUNT THAN BOTH

Proportionally the EQC is very similar to the current GLC, despite the electric car debuting an all-new modular platform dubbed EVA (electric vehicle architecture). The pair share the same 2873mm wheelbase (much shorter than the 2990mm I-Pace and 2964mm Model X), though the EQC is 105mm longer than the GLC, 15mm lower and 6mm narrower.

The similarities are deliberate. Scale is clearly a Mercedes strength (unlike the ‘production hell’ plagued Tesla) and to future-proof its EV production and save valuable development dollars while the technology is still in its infancy, the EQC is built at the same factory, and on the same line, as the GLC and C-Class in Bremen. This gives Mercedes the flexibility to increase or decrease EQC output depending on demand. Commonality between them includes the aforementioned wheelbase, and the suspension hard points.

As subjective as design and styling are, one can’t help but feel that Benz has been overly conservative. Next to the outlandish and swoopy I-Pace it borders on the ordinary, the overall impression being that it looks like a cleaner, more elegant GLC. Again, this has been deliberate. Benz wants to ease customers into the EV transition.

“Whenever something is new, you never know,” says the EQC’s exterior designer, Robert Lesnik. “It might work well, it might not, so we’re starting with known proportions. New things can be polarising. This is just the beginning of a much bigger story,” he said of the EQC. “By 2022 we’ll have many different sizes and shapes [of EVs] ... and they’ll become gradually more adventurous as they go.”

The EQC’s roofline is slightly lower and sportier than the GLC wagon’s, though the key visual additions are an all-new grille design and distinctive light signatures front and rear that span the body’s width.

Things are a little more adventurous inside. Twin 10.25-inch screens are carried over but the dash design is new and, unlike every other Mercedes, features rectangular air vents rather than round. Inspired by circuit boards, the outlets are trimmed with rose gold embellishments.

As you’d expect, Mercedes’ brilliant and intuitive MBUX infotainment system features prominently, this time with EV specific functionality like an EQ menu that provides information on charging options and energy consumption.

In typical Mercedes style, expect the first Aussie EQCs to arrive fully loaded. Our market is tipped to take the optional AMG Line styling packages as standard, which add larger 20- or 21-inch wheels, chunkier aprons front and rear, a sportier flat-bottom steering wheel, brushed aluminium pedals and different seat materials.

Depending on how you look at it, the way Mercedes has approached the conception and production of the EQC is either exceptionally clever, or a bet that’s been heavily hedged. It could well be both. Mercedes is investing 10 billion euros in a battery-fuelled future and it’s convinced its gamble will pay off, chiefly because it’s taking a holistic approach.

“There is a mindset shift happening here,” says Mercedes’ head of R&D Ola Kallenius. “If you want to build great cars, it’s a bit like the decathlon. You can’t just be good in one discipline, you have to be strong across the board. And that’s what the EQC does.” We’ll find out if he’s right when we drive it in early 2019, but until then, one thing is painfully clear. Tesla’s life is about to get a whole lot more difficult.

MERC’S EV LINEAGE

Model Mercedes-Benz EQC 400

Motor 2 x asynchronous

Battery 80kWh lithium-ion

Max power 300kW

Max torque 765Nm @ 0rpm

Transmission Single-speed, fixed ratio

Kerb weight 2425kg

L/W/H/WB 4761/1884/1624/2873mm

0-100km/h 5.1sec (claimed)

Economy 0L/100km

Price $125,000 (estimated)

On sale Q3 2019

AMG’s plug-in play

AMG is poised to muscle in on Merc’s EV expansion, though not with a wicked-up version of the EQC. Instead it will launch its own electric performance brand, called EQ Power+, that will see the entire range of AMG product adopt plug-in hybrid powertrains.

The plan, which is already well advanced, was confirmed to Wheels at the EQC’s debut by the former head of AMG and current Mercedes-Benz board member for research and development, Ola Kallenius.

“If we talk about EQ as a technology brand, what we have decided to do with AMG is to develop a range of [hipo] plug-in hybrids,” he said. “AMG is in full-scale development of this to hybridise the AMG fleet post 2020.” Kallenius wouldn’t be drawn on what size battery packs AMG will utilise, or what combustion engines they’ll be partnered with.

AMG already embraces electrification with its range of ‘53’ badged variants, which utilise a 48v mild-hybrid system and an electric compressor to support a conventional turbocharger.