Getting up close to Mercedes' first serious EV
02 October 2018
Author: Guy Bird
Mercedes-Benz's first full-series electric production car, the EQC, received its global unveil in Sweden. Guy Bird tagged along to investigate the substance behind the stardust.
Mercedes-Benz does fanfare very well. More than 600 guests were flown into Sweden and then shipped to a modern art museum at a picturesque water's edge within Stockholm's archipelago, to see its electric EQC unveil. Yes, there have been tiny explorations into the world of EVs from the wider Daimler parent company before - from a chunky 1972 Mercedes van to a smattering of full-electric B-Classes and city cars from sister brand Smart more recently - but with this electric mid-size SUV, Mercedes has finally declared more solid intentions. The EQC is no tokenistic model, but rather the launch of a proper production full-electric vehicle and also heralds a range of EVs under the EQ sub-brand of different shapes to follow - the next one likely GLA-sized and within 18 months. Indeed, Daimler's chairman, Dr Zetsche, called it no less than "the dawn of a new era for our company".
The zero-emission-at-source, 300kW EQC features a compact electric drivetrain at each axle for all-wheel drive characteristics with a range of 280 miles (NEDC). The design follows the form of the EQ concept shown at the 2016 Paris Motor Show, but in the metal the EQC projects a more conventional face than the concept's futuristic one-piece wrap-around fascia with lamps and grille tucked in underneath. By contrast, the EQC has a more regular car grille, which is actually closed off behind its horizontal bars (as EVs don't need as much air sucked into the car from the front), but it doesn't look that way at first glance. Alongside a very conventional SUV silhouette - the platform is shared by the hot-selling GLC SUV - the visual message, loud and clear, is: 'Have no fear, this a regular-looking car, just electric'.
As head of exterior design Robert Lesnik told BusinessCar on the sidelines of the global unveil: "The EQC is definitely not polarising. In this moment, the whole world really likes mid-size SUVs. The wheelbase and wheel sizes are the same as the GLC but the car is longer in the back and lower in the roof, exactly between a GLC and GLC Coupé. 85% of the car is different and, on the exterior, everything except the door handles and wing mirrors is different."
Arguably the EQC is most distinctive on the inside. While the back seats are pretty much stock GLC, in the front the changes are greater and more impressive. The dashboard has been cut away to make room for the wide infotainment screen from the new A-Class, and some EQ-specific features have been added. These include the ability to schedule an EV's weekly charging in advance by day and time, and the system also features an uprated voice control system that recognises the direction of voice and more basic chat too, rather than rigid and specific sentences. From an aesthetic perspective, there are some lovely EQ-specific touches too, especially the metallic slats on the interior door panels and dash that were inspired by the cooling ribs of electronic equipment. Sitting in the driver's seat, such details create an upmarket and slightly futuristic EV ambience, which should help differentiate the circa £65,000 EQC EV from the £36,000-plus petrol and diesel GLC range. Final EQC prices will be confirmed nearer to the car's mid-2019 on-sale date.
As its first proper toe dipped into the EV pool, Mercedes was not forthcoming about EQC sales expectations, let alone how many business buyers it might attract in the UK, but as the model is made on the same manufacturing line as the GLC (in Bremen, Germany) and Mercedes has the capability to produce its own batteries in Europe too, the brand did emphasise its ability to be flexible on numbers; for example, if demand goes up, it should be able to increase supply.
Overall, the EQC is not a game-changing EV in the same way the Jaguar I-Pace is set to be. Unlike the latter, it's neither the first big conventional manufacturer's product to launch in its segment, nor radical in its cabin architecture, due to the EQC sharing a platform that can also accommodate conventional engines as well. But the fact that a brand as significant as Mercedes is now taking EVs seriously, with both this SUV and more cars (and vans) to follow - plus imminent launches from Audi, BMW and VW - adds weight to the notion that EVs are about to come of age.