Daimler's Tesla-fighter breaks cover
The Tesla-fighters just keep coming. We’ve driven the Jaguar I-Pace. We’ve had the download on the Audi e-tron, ridden in the Porsche Mission E concept. And now we’ve been up close and personal with a near-production prototype of the Mercedes-Benz EQC, the first Mercedes designed from the wheels up as an electric vehicle. More sleepless nights are ahead for Elon Musk.
The EQC is an all-wheel-drive crossover, roughly the size of the GLC SUV, with e-motors mounted front and rear and an underfloor battery pack that will be rated between 70 and 75 kW-hr once final durability testing is complete. Engineers are keeping exact details under wraps until the EQC makes its public debut in September, but total system output will be about 400 hp, with 516 lb-ft of torque. Range will be between 200 and 240 miles (322 and 386 km).
The EQC is built around the MRA components set used for Mercedes’ regular E-Class, C-Class, and GLC models. That means a steel body and some packaging compromises. Unlike the innovative I-Pace, whose short overhangs and elongated cabin take full advantage of its bespoke, aluminum-intensive skateboard platform and compact e-motors, the EQC’s proportions are similar to those of a regular internal-combustion-engine Mercedes.
This means the ECQ can be built on the same production line as the regular C-Class and GLC, requiring only one additional assembly process beyond those used to build the others—the installation of the battery pack. Daimler therefore has the ability to flex EQC production up or down by as much as 25 percent without requiring extra investment or leaving expensive machinery standing idle. Jaguar Land Rover has gone all-in with the I-Pace, whose unique platform will also underpin the rumored Road Rover and next-generation XJ. Daimler is hedging its bets. “We just don’t know what the initial demand for electric vehicles will be,” admits a Stuttgart insider.
We hitched a ride with test chief Bastian Schult while the EQC was undergoing hot-weather testing just outside of Almería in Southern Spain, a region that looks and feels eerily like inland Southern California. Daimler currently has 90 EQC prototypes under test, and the car Schult is driving is one of 30 built using production tooling. Apart from the camouflage, some ungrained plastic parts, and final software tweaks, it’s basically production ready.
Underneath the blackout cloth draped over much of the interior is familiar Mercedes hardware, including the steering wheel and switchgear. The EQC gets the large single-screen instrument panel and infotainment display first seen in the current S-Class, but with MBUX, the new touchscreen user interface that debuted recently in the redesigned A-Class.
Schult presses the start button, engages drive, and the EQC glides away. After a few miles, two things are clear: The EQC is extremely quiet, and it rides beautifully. There’s no hint of electric motor whine—Schult says the development engineers made a conscious decision to banish all noise from the powertrain—and road impacts are felt rather than heard. Combined with measured body motions and a remarkable lack of fore and aft pitch, the EQC feels as regal on the road as an S-Class.
The EQC’s power and torque outputs are virtually identical to those of the Jaguar I-Pace, and when Schult plants his right foot, the Mercedes lunges forward with the same instant urgency. The management of the power and torque flows of the two e-motors is very different, however. In gentle cruising, the EQC uses only the front e-motor, which features a different armature winding from the rear to improve efficiency. As soon as the driver demands more power, the rear e-motor shoulders the load, and the powertrain management system can funnel almost 100 percent of the torque to the rear wheels if needed.
Like most BEVs, the EQC offers both high and low regen modes, the former strong enough to slow the car almost to a halt without the need to touch the brake pedal. But drivers can also choose a mode that allows the EQC to sail, with no regen whatsoever slowing forward motion, and a fourth mode that automatically optimizes regen protocols to make the EQC feel like an internal-combustion vehicle with an automatic transmission. These two modes endow the EQC with a marvelous flowing gait along freeways and open roads that’s unlike that of any other BEV.
A couple of quick laps of the Circuito de Almería racetrack partway through our ride showed the EQC to be quick and composed when driven with intent. And, unlike a Tesla, it had no problem with sustained full-power laps. Default handling mode is mild understeer, but Schult was able to lift mid-corner and get the EQC to rotate, the rear wheels sliding to pivot the nose toward the apex, without obvious intervention from the stability control system. The ability to precisely control an e-motor’s power and torque outputs means the conventional ESP system now only intervenes when it senses a major loss of grip, Schult explains; minor interventions are handled by the powertrain software, which can apply countermeasures four times faster.
With its height-adjustable suspension and 20-inch wading depth, Jaguar’s I-Pace is aimed at both Tesla’s 75D Model S hatchback and Model X SUV. So is the EQC—with one essential difference. Schult says that despite its all-wheel drive and SUV visuals, the low-slung battery pack under the floor means EQC is strictly an on-road vehicle.