First Drive: 2021 Mercedes-Benz EQC Review
At last the battery quartet is complete, and this summer Jaguar's I-Pace, Tesla's Model X and Audi's e-tron will be joined by the Mercedes-Benz EQC in the all-electric premium SUV market. Priced at between £65,000 and £75,000, these cars all have 4x4 drivetrains, mighty lithium-ion batteries and are capable of travelling about 250 miles between recharges. They also offer outlandish performance, but not necessarily at the same time.
- Comfortable and controlled ride
- Great design details in the cabin
- App locates chargers and arranges payment
We don't like
- Styling is very colour sensitive
- Car's weight blunts handling
- Intrusive voice recognition function
Where the EQC’s rivals are based on bespoke chassis, the Merc is based on a pre-existing production car, the GLC, and is built on the same production line in Bremen, Germany, with the battery pack assembled in Dresden. This means its steel body is heavy in the class, which blunts performance, dynamics and range. There's even a false transmission tunnel made of tubular steel, which braces the floor to the bulkhead.
Mercedes’ former chairman, Dieter Zetsche, reckons battery electric cars will occupy between 15 and 20 per cent of the company’s sales by 2025, which is why there are plans to create a separate electric brand out of EQ, with 10 such models by 2022 covering 60 per cent of its market. Those models will be blessed with lightweight chassis.
So EQC is the first of the new brand and it's a handsome pioneer, though the grille and light pack are clumsy and you need to be careful which paint you chose. On balance, the AMG trim lines which start at £67,635 feature some slightly smarter exterior details.
Performance and Handling
The 652kg, 80kWh battery pack sits in the floor between the wheels. Suspension is via steel-sprung double wishbones at the front and a multi-link rear with air suspension. There are two electric motors; one in the front tuned for economy which drives on its own when range is a priority, and the rear, which is used more when power and speed are required. Total power is 408bhp with 564lb ft of torque, which gives a top speed of 113mph, 0-62mph in 5.1 seconds and a maximum range in the WLTP cycle of 259 miles, although temperature extremes, driving fast and hills and high loads will drastically eat into this figure.
Like all battery electric vehicles, the EQC produces its maximum torque from standstill and it fair charges off the line. Combustion engines just don't behave like this, and there's a childish delight in flooring the throttle and watching them disappear in the rear-view mirror, though if you do it too often you'll be left at the side of the road… Most of the experience of battery electric motoring is much more like conventional motoring, but with the added worry of where and when you're going to be able to charge up.
Weight dominates the ride and handling and the nose responds sluggishly to inputs from the steering. Turn into a corner and the front wants to travel straight on and the body rolls gently onto the outside front tyre, but at medium to brisk speeds it’s deftly and progressively controlled. And while that body control isn't as precise as say the Jaguar I-Pace, it still feels well-honed and comfortable, especially over pot holes and sleeping policeman. For the most part the body breathes over bumps and undulations, though it tends to float a little unless you put the selectable chassis system into Sport.
Steering is accurate and well weighted, but without much feel. While this isn’t the most dynamic vehicle in this class, and arguably the Audi and certainly the Jaguar are better to drive, there’s something rather relaxed about the EQC's chassis setup.
The cabin is based on that of the GLC, but with some smashing details designed to remind the occupants that the EQC is something a little different. The aluminium strakes linking facia and doors are reminiscent of the Hi-Fi heat sinks and the detail in the ventilators is inspired by printed circuits.
The instrument binnacle and centre screen are linked to give the effect of the a single oblong of glass in front of the driver. The graphics are first rate; attractive and clear, but there's a lot of information to convey and some of it can be a bit obscure.
Regenerative braking is adjustable via steering wheel paddles and an automatic function can be used, which links with the satellite navigation to maximise the range and/or divert via recharging stations so you can make your destination – warning, this could involve lengthy detours.
The rest of it is standard family SUV fare, with five seats, reasonable amounts of space and tilting rear seat backs to extend the load bed from 500 to 1,060 litres with an almost flat floor.
Technology and Features
The 7.4kW water-cooled, on board charger gives recharging rates on an AC household wall box of about 11 hours, although at a DC quick-charge station you'll get an 80 per cent charge in 40 minutes.
The Mercedes ‘me’ phone app is a bit gimmicky, but one useful function is that it will allow the use of a wide range of different recharging stations (of which Europe has about 200) without having to download apps, arrange finance and so on. Dealing with recharging companies can be a headache for electric car owners so this is a major boon.
I used the Ionity 150kW charger en route from Oslo to the Norwegian fiords; the car's internal screens correctly identified the pump, arranged the finance and I plugged in with the thick, heavy cable. Charging at a steady 89kW, it took about 25 minutes for half a charge. The app also gives you details of the battery charge and allows you to remotely preheat or cool the cabin while the car is still tethered to a charge cable.
It can be a nuisance, though. With US prosecutors looking at the monitoring habits of such voice-controlled systems, the Mercedes me system is clearly listening as it butts into conversations when it thinks it has heard the word Mercedes ('monster, mercantile, mercy') and worryingly over riding the navigation display.
Safety systems are comprehensive, including emergency braking, pedestrian and bicycle recognition, lane keeping and blind-spot monitoring. Some of it is part of the £1,695 Driver Assistance package, however, and only available with more expensive trim packs.
Battery electric cars aren't completely carbon neutral and Mercedes calculates that the CO2 released in making batteries big enough to give this sort of range means a fuel cell equivalent, with its smaller battery, is a considerably more environmental proposition over a life of 125,000 miles. Using the latest UK annual average grid CO2 figures, we calculate that the EQC's well-to-wheels emissions are about 70.4g/km. In other words, if you drive about half the distance in your conventional diesel SUV next year, you'd achieve roughly the same effect on global warming, though not on inner-city particulate emissions.
In this four-horse race of big battery beasts the EQC turns out to be much nicer than its figures might suggest; good to drive, refined and relaxed with a lovely cabin. It might not save the planet, but it's really quite a desirable motor car in its own right.
|Engine||384-cell, 80kWh lithium-ion battery mounted in floor; two AC asynchronous electric motors, one in each axle|
|Torque||760Nm (564lb ft)|
|Four-wheel-drive with step down gearing from motors|
|Kerb weight||2495 kg|
|Charging time||80 per cent charge in 40 minutes using DC quick-charge|
Reviewed by Andrew English