Mercedes Benz EQC Review: Luxury is now electric
Mercedes-Benz is leading the charge in the luxury EV space in India, with the EQC all set to launch in the next few months. It is the start of Mercedes’ ‘sustainable luxury’ push to have CO2 neutral car production by 2022; electrify 50 per cent of its portfolio by 2030; to have a CO2 neutral fleet by 2039. They are calling it Ambition 2039, a mission that — on the face of it — goes in the opposite direction to what we enthusiasts want. Yet… the first time I step on it, the EQC takes my breath away. And I don’t mean figuratively or anything. It physically, via an application of considerable g-forces, takes the breath out of me.
This is incredibly fast!
There obviously is no noise and no drama, but that just heightens the absurdity of the EQC’s turn of pace. Here’s a car whose goal is to keep the grass greener, air cleaner, water clearer and children happier. Yet it goes like a fire-spitting AMG. It has some form of launch control logic that, when your left foot is on the brake and right on the accelerator, primes up the two motors and, when you get off the brakes, catapults you into the horizon. 0-100kmph is in a claimed 5.1 seconds, but it feels faster, at least that’s what my kidneys are telling me. And it is relentless. IC engines have a power band, the torque rises and falls as you rush through the revs, even the fastest twin-clutch gearboxes have a micro-second of pause before the next wave is unleashed — all of this gives combustion engines their inherent joy and character. EVs though… it is relentless. There is no ebb and flow. No shifting of gears. The EQC’s full 760Nm of torque is deployed at launch and stays flat, consistent and vehement — punching a hole through the air — till it hits a wall at 185kmph. There’s so much torque the nose visibly lifts from the outside and you can feel the tyres scrabbling for grip — that’s despite the torque-vectored four-wheel-drive. But because everything is electronically controlled, there’s a super-intelligent management of traction. You don’t feel that tell-tale cut in power that you do when either the brakes are applied or power is cut to the wheels to restore traction in conventional combustion-engined cars. With the EQC there’s no opportunity to catch your breath. Honestly, it is great fun.
Of course EVs are a one-trick pony. Once you get used to the mad acceleration there’s nothing else. There’s no activating rear-drive only mode, switching off traction control and smoking rubber. No hooligan antics apart from rocketing to the horizon. But for first impressions, on a day-long drive, it has you laughing like an idiot. And making your passengers dog-sick.
Incidentally, the same team that handles AMG in India will be responsible for the EQC, and they definitely know how to sell fast cars. But performance is only one aspect of the EQC; in fact it is only in this enthusiast-focused magazine that you will find the test devoted to the EQC’s turn of speed.
Let’s now get sensible.
The EQC is adapted from the mid-size GLC’s platform and is 100mm longer with an 85kWh lithium-ion battery pack, made by Mercedes-Benz at their own factory. In India Mercedes will offer an 8-year warranty on the battery pack which sits under the floor between the axles. 80kWh of the capacity is deployed between the two axles, each with its own electric motor and planetary gearbox. The EQC is mostly front-wheel-drive using the less tightly wound stator motor for better efficiency while the rear is more tightly wound for more torque and to deliver on dynamics that we will come to later.
The battery pack weighs 650kg, the biggest contributor to the significant 2495kg kerb weight, and it delivers a claimed range of 450km on the European NEDC cycle. A full charge on the supplied wall box (7.4kWh, AC) takes 10 hours, on a DC fast charger it takes 90 minutes, and on your regular 15Amp 3-pin home socket it will take 21 hours.
Speaking of design…
I was quite taken aback by your not-so-flattering remarks when I posted pictures on my Instagram. A surprising number of you are not fans of the way the EQC looks! Personally I think it looks quite distinctive with that imposing face that’s becoming the norm. Anyway, styling is personal. The interiors are far better resolved and both look and feel expensive. There’s a Jaguar-like sweeping arc (which itself is inspired by yachts) across the width of the dash that runs into the door pads, a lovely mix of materials and an obvious lack of wood to highlight the modernity. This 1886 edition we tested gets beautiful copper-coloured air-con vents and a fantastic Burmester sound setup. And like all new Mercs, all the information is presented on a massive slab of digital real estate, now combining both the central infotainment and the digital cockpit into one big (floating) screen. It is not only bloody cool but works very well. The digital cockpit is among the best, particularly since it continues to have regular dials that sweep clockwise and not an anti-clockwise tacho. MBUX, in my opinion, is now the best operating system for the infotainment in the luxury segment and also gets voice activation. Every time you say Mercedes it wakes up so you’ll have to banish the word from your vocabulary when driving any new Mercedes! There’s also a new EQ menu that shows range, which motors are being used, how you are using the energy, location of the nearest charger and more. Space too is good for four (three abreast at the rear is a pinch) — a little better than a GLC. The only downside is that Mercedes no longer considers it fit to install normal USB slots; everything is USB
On the go
You start off like you would in any regular car. Press the start-stop button, a big message pops up saying you’re ready to get going, depress the regular Mercedes column shifter into Drive and drive off. Nothing complicated. And of course no noise. Obviously no electric car makes any noise apart from the artificial noises at low speeds to warn pedestrians. But the EQC has fantastic sound insulation and excellent aerodynamics so you don’t have any wind and barely any tyre noise. This is deathly quiet! And that means the 80/120kmph speed buzzer drives you absolutely mad.
The ride quality is good, slightly better than the newly updated GLC, but its ground clearance is a problem. I exited the Mercedes factory, drove 10 metres and shocked myself (and caused my passengers to wince!) by slamming its underbelly on the first speed breaker. It goes like an AMG but it also has the ride height of an AMG!
Once you get on to the highway the EQC is lovely to drive. There are five driving modes ranging from Sport to Maximum Range but, like always, Comfort is the best. The paddles behind the steering wheel are to adjust between the 5 levels of regeneration, of which the mid-way setting is the best. There are semi-autonomous modes and the EQC can alter its battery regeneration using data from the navigation and cruise control but none of that will work in India.
Stick it in Sport and the throttle responses become more urgent, the acceleration is even more brisk and the motor on the rear axle comes to play. What this does is makes the EQC feel rear-wheel-driven. Accelerate hard out of corners and it squats on the rear and the torque vectoring accelerates the outside rear wheel to get the EQC turning on the rear axle making it feel more dynamic. It’s a million Iines of computer code deciding what sensations to deliver to your palms and backside, but these coders are smart! We got plenty of wet winding roads on our drive and the EQC was not only damn quick but also delivered the chassis polish and responses to make it great fun to throw around. Plus those heavy batteries are sighted low down in the chassis making for a lower-than-normal C-of-G. In fact the EQC is so quick, the acceleration so neck-snapping, my own stomach got a bit queasy from my application of a heavy right foot post-lunch.
Stick the EQC in Comfort and you will definitely enjoy what is a clam, relaxed, serene and very easy-going driving experience. I did mention the sound insulation but it is worth repeating because it trumps even that of the S-Class. Which is important because while the EQC is of the GLC’s size, it will ask for S-Class monies when it is launched in October, in time for Mercedes to get enough cars to quench strong demand, particularly from S-Class owners. After all, the innumerable EV headlines have built up an appetite, but up till now the Kona was the most premium EV in India.
The first of its kind
Last year Jaguar had announced they’d be bringing in the i-Pace, then Audi showcased the e-Tron but, unless somebody springs a surprise between now and Diwali, Mercedes-Benz will be the first to launch a luxury electric car in India, cementing their number one position not just in terms of volumes but also innovation and technology. All while not compromising on driving thrills! The Mercedes-Benz EQC will not be cheap. I expect it to be priced around Rs 1 crore, which is steep for a car of this size but it is a completely new technology and that technology costs money. It is worth mentioning that the performance is up there with other SUVs in that price range, and being the first of its kind, it is going to be niche.