14 May, 2019 11:00pm Steve Fowler
The new Mercedes EQC arrives to rival the Jaguar I-Pace, Audi e-tron and Tesla Model X
The race is on for manufacturers to get electric cars to market in time for the surge in demand from eager buyers, along with a need for makers to lower their average CO2 figures or risk big EU fines. Mercedes has done well to be fourth across the line into the all-electric premium SUV segment – just behind Jaguar, Audi and, of course, Tesla. BMW, where are you?
The new Mercedes EQC was unveiled last year, and this is our first chance to get behind the wheel – just as the order books open in the UK. The range starts at £65,640 for the EQC 400 4MATIC Sport. That’s only £1,145 more than the cheapest version of our reigning Car of the Year, the Jaguar I-Pace, £5,880 less than the entry-level Audi e-tron and over £10k less than a Tesla Model X.
Let’s explain the EQC’s nomenclature first. C gives you a clue to the size of the car in the same way the C-Class does, while 400 hints at the power output – in this case, 403bhp. The 4MATIC badging reveals that the model has four-wheel drive with an electric motor on each axle. Simple.[gallery:1]
You’d think all the auto makers watch what each other does, because the EQC measures up pretty closely to its rivals in other ways, too. The Europeans all have around 400bhp and a 0-62mph time of approximately five seconds. Meanwhile, in spite of its lower power output, the Tesla manages 0-60mph in 4.6 seconds, just beating the I-Pace.
Jaguar states a WLTP range of nearly 300 miles, compared with the Mercedes and Audi’s offerings of around 250 miles. Tesla lags behind for once, with a 230-mile claim for its Standard Range model. All four models are within 370mm of each other in length; the Jaguar’s the shortest (4,682mm) and the Tesla is the longest (5,052mm).
We’ll wait until we’ve driven all the cars back to back in the UK before we deliver a definitive verdict on which machine you should join the waiting list for – so let’s concentrate on giving you a first verdict on the EQC for the time being.[gallery:2]
This SUV is slightly more crossover than 4×4, but it’s clearly a Mercedes. The bold three-pointed star in the huge grille gives the game away, but so do the more rounded lines and proportions, which are very similar to those of the brand’s GLC. That’s no surprise, because the EQC sits on a modified version of that car’s platform. Bespoke EV architecture will feature later.
So does that compromise the EQC as an electric car? Although the car is longer than the I-Pace, its wheelbase is shorter, which affects rear space. It’s not exactly tight in the back – it’s fine for adults – but neither is it cavernous. The boot isn’t huge, either; with the seats up, its 500 litres are down on the Audi’s 660 and the Jag’s 577.
Slip into the leather seats of our £74,530 AMG Line Premium Plus car (topped only by two special-edition launch models) and you’re greeted with what could only be a Mercedes dash. The twin-screen layout from the A-Class, with the MBUX infotainment interface, offers plenty of features including augmented-reality navigation and many EQ exclusive options that concentrate on range, efficiency and charging. However, the screens look a little small in the EQC, and there are times when the steering wheel obscures the view of the centre display.
As with the GLC, you feel like you’re sitting low in the car with a comparatively high and shallow glass area, although placing the battery pack in the chassis still means a step up into your seat. Visibility out of the rear window is a bit like peering through a letterbox, too.
Quality is typically Mercedes, though – better than in the I-Pace or Tesla, and on par with the Audi. However, in an attempt to inject a bit of EQ originality, the interior design is rather busy, with a collection of lines sitting alongside those twin screens, plus dots on the top of the dash. It’s a bit of a mash-up, to be honest.
The screen graphics can be personalised, but again, they’re a little fussy and contain huge amounts of information to digest; we’d prefer it if they were simpler.
So how does it drive? Prod the starter button and the car tells you it’s ready to go. You then click the right stalk down from Park to Drive, as you do in any other Merc – and the Tesla, too. There are four drive modes to choose from; we’ll come back to Maximum Range in a moment, but Eco, Comfort and Sport are pretty self-explanatory.[gallery:6]
There’s also Individual, where you can mix and match. You’ll barely notice any difference to the steering as you swap settings – it gets slightly heavier – but you will register the sharper throttle response. Paddles behind the wheel will change the amount of regenerative braking you get, too, although you won’t come to a complete standstill without touching the brake pedal.
Maximum Range is an intriguing option. It works with the navigation, cameras and speed-limit monitors to restrict top speeds. It also predicts the regenerative braking effort if you select Auto using the paddles.
The braking takes some getting used to – you have to trust the car to know when you’re approaching a bend, junction or roundabout, and let it increase the regeneration effort to slow you. If there are no hazards ahead it relaxes things, with little retardation as you lift off the throttle. It does the same if it detects cars in front speeding up or slowing down, too. Initially, at least, it has you poised on the brake pedal, waiting to intervene.
Similarly, putting your foot down and finding acceleration limited as much as it is feels a little odd. However, it can be overridden with a heavy prod of the right foot. In other modes, the EQC builds speed swiftly, with the familiar EV shove in the back under full throttle. But what you will notice is the lack of electric motor whine; this is one of the quietest EVs we’ve driven. That applies to road and wind noise, too. Although speed constraints on our Norwegian test routes prevented us from travelling at the UK limit, the EQC was extremely hushed.[gallery:16]
It’s also a fine-riding car, more so than its rivals. Once again, Norway’s smooth roads are very different to ours, but we did manage to find some nasty broken surfaces where the EQC had a steady comfort, putting its low-set batteries and extra weight to good use.
Of course, a comfortable ride and spirited handling are rarely good bedfellows – and that’s the case here. The EQC doesn’t roll too much, yet nor does it have the sharp responses of the I-Pace. The dull steering doesn’t delight, but then this is the Mercedes of electric SUVs after all.
As with all new EVs, you’ll have a bit of a wait for an EQC. Get in quick if you want one, as the first cars will be delivered in July. You’ll have to be even faster if you want one of the two launch specials, called Edition One and Edition 1886; the latter is limited to only 100 models. They’re premium priced, too, at £74,385 and £79,205 respectively.
You do get oodles of kit for that cash, though, with a list of tech that could leave customers confused. The entry-level Sport model is nicely equipped, with a reversing camera, keyless go, LED headlights, heated front seats and 19-inch alloys.[gallery:18]
AMG Line is worth stretching to, if only because it ditches the cheap-looking chrome strip around the grille for posher black trim. You also get leather seats and sportier details inside and out, plus 20-inch wheels. AMG Line Premium is where the tech really kicks in, with that augmented-reality nav that overlays instructions on a live image, full smartphone integration with wireless charging, Burmester surround-sound audio and Mercedes’ Energizing package aimed at improving the wellbeing of everyone inside through the climate control and lighting.
Finally, there’s Premium Plus, which adds a head-up display, memory seats, self-parking and the MBUX Interior Assistant that allows the driver and front passenger to activate functions via gesture control.
It’s unfortunate that the excellent safety-orientated Driving Assistance Package costs an extra £1,695 in all bar the 1886 model. It provides driver aids that will stop the car or help you avoid emergency situations, plus offers a self-driving capability by steering, accelerating and braking on main roads.
Mercedes’ voice-activated assistant is also standard. Simply utter the words “Hey Mercedes”, and it springs to life asking how it can help you. It’ll control pretty much all of the major functions, most of the time. When it works, it does so brilliantly. However, we weren’t impressed when we asked it to turn up the air-con, and it played some rap music.
4 In a suddenly crowded market, the Mercedes EQC is certainly a contender. We love its relaxed ride and almost silent running. It’s also packed with more tech than a sci-fi fan could possibly hope for. We’d like that tech to be easier to use, though, while the view out could be better and the design – inside and out – isn’t as ground-breaking or exciting as other EVs. But if this is the sign of other EQ models coming soon from Mercedes-Benz, it’s a great start.
- Model: Mercedes-Benz EQC 4MATIC AMG Line Premium Plus
- Price: £74,530
- Engine: 80kWh battery, 403bhp electric motor
- Transmission: Single speed automatic
- 0-60mph: 5.1 seconds
- Top speed: 11mph
- Range: 259 miles (WLTP)
- On sale: Now