The Mercedes-Benz EQC is finally here. After some feeble efforts too few and far between to count, Daimler has finally brought its very first proper production electric vehicle to market - that is the advent of its new EQ range of cars. The car is a midsize SUV and tries to go to the heart of the market by cashing in on a segment that really counts. Hardly surprising, given that it was preceded by the Audi e-tron, Jaguar I-Pace and Tesla Model X - pretty much in that reverse order. And that is the immediate rival set it must take on - even though all those cars are of varying sizes, not quite the same as the EQC. But they are all EVs and therefore form the consideration set for any potential buyer. The EQC is also an SUV after all - and yes - is all wheel drive. In terms of shape, size and silhouette and most important - even platform, the Mercedes-Benz EQC is very similar to the GLC. That is because its pretty much based on that car!
Is this an electric GLC?
Now you could argue that Mercedes Benz could have gone back to the drawing board and started from scratch, developing an all-new platform for this car like some it's rivals have. But there are advantages, which really speak to why this decision was taken; and why an existing platform was adapted to produce the first EQ model.
The bigger thing here is this car hits that sweet spot - it had to be an SUV with a lot of flexibility in terms of space, cargo carrying capacity and also where to put the battery. The 80 kWh battery is placed in the floor, is slim, and not extended all the way to the car's side edges. Mercedes says that is a safety precaution, even though it meant compromising on the battery's size somewhat. The car puts safety ahead of all other development, and there are many thoughtful design elements that become obvious as a result, since the aim was to make the car as crash safe as the GLC. As a result you still get a generous 500-litre boot too.
What does it look like?
It is that face that is going to get your attention straight away because it is different to the rest of the Mercedes-Benz line-up, and yet at first glance you straight away know it's a Mercedes. It is what we've seen with the concept car and it's pretty much the same styling that has been carried into the production version. Lots of LED lighting, a new signature for the DRLs, and lots of use of blue elements as well (though a lot of that depends on what trim you choose to go with).
The car with me also has some blue in the alloy wheel pattern, and that's kind of nice because that's a little bit like the concept car too. And then of course the EQC badging, also done in blue. I don't love that front grille, especially the big thick chrome surround, but the EQC will get you to look twice for sure. The rear is beautifully proportioned, and that LED taillight across the whole rear door - well that's in keeping with the new styling trend across several brands really.
How is it on the inside?
The EQC's cabin is familiar Mercedes territory though the use of colours and materials - again with a blue bias - is specific to this car. It's also the use of great materials and an offering of great fit and material quality that you will notice right away. That's to be expected from Mercedes-Benz. There are lots of bits that will remind you of all the other Mercedes Benz cars (especially the newer ones). That of course means the twin-screen dash display, and we also get the new MBUX interface and not Comand.
To set it apart from the combustion engine versions in the family, there are also some bits that are distinct. The use of a bronze element through the AC vent and also around the dash is likely an EQ family motif. I didn't like it at first, but as I spent time with the car, its distinctiveness and quality grew on me. Besides that, you get pampered by the Burmester sound system, the new full colour head-up display with its wide and very detailed view (as seen on the new generation GLE), and of course, the voice-command guided personal in-car assistant.
So just say "Hey Mercedes...start the massage function" and the car will respond with "I am switching on the massage!" It will recognise whether the driver or passenger says things and respond accordingly for that side of the car - be it seat or climate settings. You can also ask it to guide you to a certain destination, or find a point of interest. There are also voice commands specifically for all things electric. So you can set charging settings, or ask the car to find charging stations nearby, and only charge up to 80 per cent of the battery for instance.
How is it on space and safety?
Now most of the under body and suspension is a carryover from the GLC, but more important to note here is that there are flat few things here maybe could have been done differently, had this been a completely fresh development. There I'm talking mostly about cabin space or the lack thereof. If you compare this to an immediate rival, especially a car like the I-Pace which has a smaller footprint, you don't get as much of a wheelbase as that car. Now I will tell you why that's happened.
Since it's the existing GLC platform, the car also replicates the actual GLC in many ways. Mercedes was very obsessive about keeping safety and crash standards at the same level as the GLC, and so I'm talking about the EQC getting replica of that car's engine up front, a replica of the transmission and gearbox - all made with hollow metal tubes to fill the space out. So that is why you have the transmission tunnel, and no flat floor like most EVs. But it certainly gives you the same crash capability as the GLC - which had scored a 5 star crash rating from Euro NCAP.
How is it on the road?
The electric drivetrain comprises two asynchronous motors - one on each axle. This gives you all wheel drive or 4matic capability of course. There is dynamic torque distribution between the two axles. But to maximise efficiency the two motors have been configured differently. The motor at the front axle works on medium to low loads and is tuned to derive most efficient performance. The one at the rear is all about dynamics and power. That is why on the highway at higher speeds, there is a rear bias. Combined output stands at 400 bhp, with 760 Nm of peak torque available instantly.
There are some more advantages and disadvantages of using the GLC platform. I think the big negative for me is that this is a two and a half tonne car, and it feels like that straight away as soon as you get it on the road. The EQC gives you the sense of being really heavy (especially if you compare it to the immediate rivals, be it a smaller car like the Jaguar I-Pace, or even the bigger Audi e-tron or the Tesla Model X that is larger still. The weight is kind of obvious, both when you are turning in on a sharp turn at a higher speed and also when you are pottering about in city traffic.
What's the good bit? An extreme sense of refinement. I mean what you expect from Mercedes-Benz in terms of quality, a nice quiet cabin, comfort - is what you get. Sound damping is great, you don't get any sense of the road or wind noise, despite there being no engine to drown some of it out. Even the annoying whining of the electric motors, doesn't come through, so its a very nice and luxurious feeling.
Monitoring the remaining battery and therefore driving range is easy enough too, with clear and precise readouts on the instrument console. And so I decided it was time to top up the battery and so found the nearest fast charging station. Getting it all done in the rain was not very appealing, but hey at least I can now put those doubts to rest - where people think an electric car and water don't mix!
What is the charging experience like?
I got to the fast charging station - which in Norway is not a rare find! So the fuel station also had a separate area for electric car chargers in two sections - fast and not as fast ones! When we had picked out our cars earlier in the morning, we had three options. To go with the car that was full up, a car that had 60 per cent charge (so you can drive it for a while and then maybe later in the day experience the charging thing), or a car that was only 30 per cent charged - which meant getting straight to the charging station.
Now of course the part that you are interested in knowing, how long before a car gets to a full charge, well typically you work on an 80 per cent assumption and that takes about 40 minutes on the fast charger. I wanted to go to a full tank as it were - meaning 100 per cent - and so yeah it showed me an approximate charge time of 44 minutes, since I was not driving in with a fully drained out battery anyway. The slightly slower chargers would take about 80 minutes for an 80 per cent charge, and the regular home socket would mean an overnight charge (about 8-10 hours). So it really depends what you want to do, and of course, the EQC's app also tells you all the power charging options along your route. So even if you want to hang around for 40 minutes at a gas station (oh I am sorry - power station!) like this one you don't necessarily have to get a full charge - just get enough to get you to your destination - assuming you can charge there as well.
So I got myself a cup of coffee and settled in to wait. Yes that is still the downside of an electric car - you gotta wait! The good news though, is that I could track everything that's happening with the car on the phone app. The app is actually very easy to use and gives you all the relevant info you would need. It sends you notifications as well. And right from state of charge, vehicle status, to of course finding the nearest charging stations with reference to your current location - it does a fair bit. You can also set the climate control to cool or warm the cabin while the car is plugged in - so that way you use the station's electricity and not the battery's to get the car ready for your drive. It will also tell you by when the car will be charged to the point you have set, and would be ready to go. Since I had the time, I did charge all the way to 100 per cent like I said, though most users would probably go to 80.
Okay, so how does it drive?
When I had that full charge, I got back on the road. Having the security of extra power meant I could play around with the car's settings and modes. The focus on straight-line acceleration is obvious, and the EQC won't disappoint. Even if you are not in sport mode, and are in Eco, the car will still move quickly if you want it to. Like all Mercedes-Benz cars, you have different drive modes. And so you can switch between Individual, Sport, Comfort and Eco. But there is also something called Maximum Range, and yes that is new and specific to the EQ family. What it does is optimises vehicle performance to maintain maximum efficiency above all else.
So its like a Eco+ if you will, but one that leaves a little bit less control with you. It is really interesting since it is less about monitoring your driving style and more about trying to be really optimal in terms of battery usage. So it also ties in with the navigation system to look ahead at what's coming up. So if there is very sharp bend on the road, or an intersection, or roundabout that's coming up - you don't know it, but the car will. And so it adjusts throttle response and performance accordingly. So you won't be able to accelerate hard either. Once you depress the pedal in this mode, the feedback from the accelerator gives you a feeling an optimal point. You know it when you find it - press down harder and the car will grudgingly accelerate of course, but its kind of telling you where to stat to get optimal performance. To me that is the truly unique and intelligent USP of the EQC. Yes it is annoying and yes it feels kind of slow or sluggish.
But when you get used to it, you realise the time taken to get to that next intersection or wherever would be the same anyway, without the hard acceleration and sudden braking. So it basically gives you the best possible performance to save maximum battery power. I didn't love it while using it, and yet its left me impressed. Word to the wise - if you want engaging driving and a quick response, then stay out of Maximum Range mode. Frankly, staying in Eco is not too bad - best of both worlds. Kinda.
Is there regenerative braking?
Like all EVs off late, this car also has regenerative braking. There are different modes, so there is D-- (D minus minus) - which is maximum regenerative power being stored, and allows near-single-pedal usage. Then there is D- (D minus), where it's about 30 per cent of regeneration, and then there is just D, where it's 20 per cent. But there is also a D+ mode, where there is no resistance, so there is no regenerative power being produced or stored, and the car just kind of rolls along, like a regular car kind of would in neutral, but with a better sense of traction. All of this happens by using the paddle shifters and if you long hold it, the car switches to D-Auto. Another new feature unlike other cars - D-Auto monitors your driving style, the kind of performance you are expecting from your drive and also what it needs to do in terms of still feeding some battery power back in, an maintains a balance. That's pretty innovative, pretty intelligent and pretty different, I have to say.
While the different regen modes help with the car's handling too, the impression you get is the bias on the chassis tuning is towards ride quality. The EQC has a very comfortable ride but large potholes or undulations do carry through quite clearly given the vehicle's weight. The GLC's suspension that's been carried over - does quite well overall, but you know straight away that sporty handling is not the EQC's forte. The Mercedes-Benz character comes through for sure - and brand loyalists would love that about the EQC. Is it sporty? No! It's not necessarily the most fun car to drive, but it's certainly not one of those boring EVs.
Having tested all of this, I realised I was sitting on a truckload of torque, and for what its worth the Sport mode is rather more engaging and fun than Eco or Maximum Range. So time for some fun. And yes there was fun to be had! So I enjoyed my drive back towards Oslo - slowing down where speed limits (or those darned fitness focussed cyclists) forced me to, while taking in the Norwegian woods and countryside.
The EQC is not coming to India anytime soon, though isn't ruled out in the long term. As India gets more and more EVs over time, it is the inevitable luxury vehicle offering for the status conscious buyer. Let's see the response to the Jaguar I-Pace next year eh? The EQC is not cheap, and so in many markets, especially like here in Norway - it would rely on government incentives to seem like a viable option for regular buyers. In India, we continue to hope there is some thought to incentivising electrics - now from the newly re-elected government.