First drive of the electric Mercedes-Benz SUV coming soon
THERE'S a small silver sticker on the back of the machine that's filling the Mercedes-Benz EQC. "Electric Vehicle Ultra-Fast Charger," it reads. "Designed & made in Australia by Tritium."
But the Circle K servo where we're stopped is a long, long way from the company's base in Murarrie, Queensland. It's in Norway, on a highway leading to Oslo, and there are rows of EV chargers of various types, plus the usual fossil fuel pumps.
Norway is the obvious place for Mercedes-Benz to pick for the international intro of the first-ever car from its electric EQ sub-brand. This country makes using an EV easier than any other place on the planet, thanks to equipment like Made-in-Australia DC fast chargers being widespread, numerous and easy to use.
Plug-in vehicles, most of them pure battery-powered EVs, make up more than 50 per cent of new car sales in Norway so far this year. This compares with 0.2 per cent in Australia.
This stark statistic won't stop Mercedes-Benz launching the EQC in Australia in October. It will cost "under $150,000," according to Mercedes-Benz Australia spokesman Jerry Stamoulis. The good-looking five-door is likely to end up wearing a pricetag of about $140,000, similar money to obvious EV competitors such as the Jaguar I-Pace and Tesla Model X.
Testing the new EQC for a day and a half on the roads of Norway demonstrated the newcomer delivers the same kind of instant push-in-the-back acceleration as its opposition. The EQC gets off the line like a startled cat.
The EQC has two 150kW electric motors. One drives the front axle, the other the rear. They're powered by a big and heavy 80kWh lithium-ion battery pack beneath the floor. In normal driving the EV consumed electricity at a rate of around 22kWh/100km, indicating a real world driving range of about 350km.
Those motors make little noise when accelerating flat-out, or at any other time, for that matter. There's not even a hint of tyre squeal when you floor the accelerator pedal. Nor is there ever a pause for shifting in the surge of shove. Each motor turns its pair of wheels via a single, fixed gear ratio.
It's not easy to make an EV's motors and gears so smooth and quiet, says an NVH (Noise, Vibration and Harshness) engineer who worked for years to ensure the EQC's levels were Mercedes-Benz low.
The EV also has the gliding comfort of a good limo. Though the EQC uses a lot of the same body and suspension parts as the GLC, the brand's medium-size SUV, the ride quality feels more like the company's big S-Class sedan. It is always plush at city speeds or when driving faster, but sedately, on decent roads.
The calm composure can disappear when pushing along on second-rate surfaces, but the feel-free steering in any case doesn't encourage an ambitious cornering style. This doesn't mean the EQC isn't good to drive. It is. But it's not the kind of fun that's a turn-on for keen drivers.
Despite the under-the-skin relationship to the GLC, the EQC stands apart for looks. Its smooth and attractive exterior is the result of attentive aerodynamic work, and the Mercedes-Benz expends less effort slipping through the air than other SUV-like crossover wagons.
Inside, the new EQ sub-brand's design identity is clear. The instrument panel has a different shape and style from any current Mercedes model with an internal combustion engine. It has rectangular air-vents not round, too. And the air-guides inside them are a copper colour that references the conductive material widely used in an EV.
The cabin is also comfortably spacious, with enough rear-seat headroom for tall occupants and a broad and long cargo compartment.
Mercedes-Benz has tried to make the EQC user-friendly and easy to like, rather than setting out to make some kind of shouty design statement.
Especially impressive is its EV-specific software. During the Norway test drive, the predictions of remaining battery charge at the end of a journey and maximum driving range available with current charge were spot on. The EQC could even provide advance info on the cost of a recharge.
The Tritium charger belongs to a recharging network called Ionity. It's a joint venture by Daimler, the owner of Mercedes-Benz, and several other car makers. For a charging session - unlimited duration and kWh - Ionity's price is presently 80 Norwegian krone … just $13 or so.
Mercedes-Benz EQC 400 vitals
Price: $140,000 (est)
Safety: Not yet rated
Engine: Dual asynchronous electric motors; 300kW, 760Nm
Transmission: 1-speed auto; AWD
Thirst: 19.7 to 20.8kWh/100km
0-100km/h: 5.1 secs