Wheels (Australia) - - Contents - WORDS ALEX INWOOD

Tesla stand aside ... the Three-phase Star is plugged in and ready to charge

T RE­ALLY is a mag­nif­i­cent mous­tache. Bushy and bril­liant in its white­ness, it gleams un­der stage lights as its owner, head of Mercedesbenz cars Dr. Di­eter Zetsche, speaks em­phat­i­cally to a group of pushy jour­nal­ists, each ea­ger to quiz the boss of the world’s oldest car com­pany about its fu­ture.

Next to us sits ar­guably the most sig­nif­i­cant new Mercedes in decades, its rump em­bla­zoned with an all-new badge that reads, sim­ply, ‘EQC 400’.

It’s the first main­stream elec­tric car from Mercedes-benz, and Zetsche is in full swing at its global re­veal in Stockholm, Swe­den. “We’re all in!” he pro­claims. “We are … ALL … IN … with elec­tric cars.”

Don’t let its fa­mil­iar shape fool you. Those looks may be closely re­lated to the con­ven­tion­ally pro­pelled GLC mid-size SUV, but the EQC’S im­por­tance stretches be­yond this sin­gle model. Not least be­cause the trickle is be­com­ing a flood.

Six years af­ter Tesla stunned the in­dus­try with the Model S by cre­at­ing an elec­tric car that wasn’t just green, but gen­uinely de­sir­able, techy and cool, the world’s main­stream lux­ury brands are catch­ing up. Jaguar has the bril­liant I-pace, Audi the e-tron SUV. BMW is al­ready teas­ing its in­ext SUV and Porsche isn’t far away with its Tay­can sportscar. And now Mercedes has joined the fray.

This isn’t a one-off. No toe-in-the-wa­ter ex­er­cise. Mercedes has com­mit­ted to


launch­ing 10 all-elec­tric models by the end of 2022 (in­clud­ing three from Smart) prov­ing Zetsche’s com­ments aren’t hot air.

And on face value, the EQC hits all the right marks. Set to be priced be­tween $100-150K when it launches Down Un­der in the sec­ond half of 2019, it’ll ar­rive boast­ing a Tesla-beat­ing range and class-lead­ing power and torque.

Ca­pa­ble of trav­el­ling “more than” 450km on a sin­gle charge, the EQC is po­si­tioned as a di­rect ri­val to the Tesla Model X 75D and I-pace S, though it has more grunt than both cour­tesy of an 80kwh bat­tery and 300kw/765nm out­puts.

That’s enough to pro­pel the EQC from 0-100km/h in 5.1sec, de­spite a chunky 2425kg kerb weight. The bat­tery pack con­trib­utes 650kg to that fig­ure, its bulk made up of 384 lithium-ion cells po­si­tioned low in the SUV’S floor to power an elec­tric mo­tor on each axle. In­ter­est­ingly, sub­tract the bat­tery’s mass from the EQC and it’d weigh roughly the same as a GLC250.

Mercedes makes its bat­ter­ies in-house through the wholly Daim­ler-owned sub­sidiary Deutsche Ac­cu­mo­tive at a fac­tory in Ka­menz, near Dres­den, Ger­many. They come with an eight-year, 160,000km war­ranty, match­ing the cov­er­age of­fered by Tesla and Jaguar.

“We are very sure we can do this,” says di­rec­tor of e-drive in­te­gra­tion Jur­gen Schenk. “If you only drive at the Nur­bur­gring and only recharge with [fast charg­ers] then we might have some is­sues, but we don’t ex­pect cus­tomers to claim their war­ranty.”

The two elec­tric mo­tors are tuned dif­fer­ently. The front axle is op­ti­mised for ef­fi­ciency and does most of its work un­der light to medium loads, while the rear mo­tor is bi­ased to­wards power de­liv­ery and dy­namic driv­ing, which sounds en­cour­ag­ing.

Once the bat­ter­ies are de­pleted, Mercedes says own­ers will be able to achieve an 80 per­cent charge via a 110kw DC fast charg­ing point in around 40 min­utes, which is on par with the seg­ment norm. Plug­ging your EQC into a Mercedes wall box at home will take be­tween 10-11 hours to achieve a full charge.

Pro­por­tion­ally the EQC is very sim­i­lar to the cur­rent GLC, de­spite the elec­tric car de­but­ing an all-new mod­u­lar plat­form dubbed EVA (elec­tric ve­hi­cle ar­chi­tec­ture). The pair share the same 2873mm wheel­base (much shorter than the 2990mm I-pace and 2964mm Model X), though the EQC is 105mm longer than the GLC, 15mm lower and 6mm nar­rower.

The sim­i­lar­i­ties are de­lib­er­ate. Scale is clearly a Mercedes strength (un­like the ‘pro­duc­tion hell’ plagued Tesla) and to fu­ture-proof its EV pro­duc­tion and save valu­able de­vel­op­ment dol­lars while the tech­nol­ogy is still in its in­fancy, the EQC is built at the same fac­tory, and on the same line, as the GLC and C-class in Bremen. This gives Mercedes the flex­i­bil­ity to in­crease or de­crease EQC out­put de­pend­ing on de­mand. Com­mon­al­ity be­tween them in­cludes the afore­men­tioned wheel­base, and the sus­pen­sion hard points.

As sub­jec­tive as de­sign and styling are, one can’t help but feel that Benz has been overly con­ser­va­tive. Next to the out­landish and swoopy I-pace it bor­ders on the or­di­nary, the over­all im­pres­sion be­ing that it looks like a cleaner, more el­e­gant GLC. Again, this has been de­lib­er­ate. Benz wants to ease cus­tomers into the EV tran­si­tion.

“When­ever some­thing is new, you never know,” says the EQC’S ex­te­rior de­signer, Robert Les­nik. “It might work well, it might not, so we’re start­ing with known pro­por­tions. New things can be po­lar­is­ing. This is just the be­gin­ning of a much big­ger story,” he said of the EQC. “By 2022 we’ll have many dif­fer­ent sizes and shapes [of EVS] ... and they’ll be­come grad­u­ally more ad­ven­tur­ous as they go.”

The EQC’S roofline is slightly lower and sportier than the GLC wagon’s, though the key vis­ual ad­di­tions are an all-new grille de­sign and dis­tinc­tive light sig­na­tures front and rear that span the body’s width.

Things are a lit­tle more ad­ven­tur­ous in­side. Twin 10.25-inch screens are car­ried over but the dash de­sign is new and, un­like ev­ery other Mercedes, fea­tures rec­tan­gu­lar air vents rather than round. In­spired by cir­cuit boards, the out­lets are trimmed with rose gold em­bel­lish­ments.

As you’d ex­pect, Mercedes’ bril­liant and in­tu­itive MBUX in­fo­tain­ment sys­tem fea­tures promi­nently, this time with EV spe­cific func­tion­al­ity like an EQ menu that pro­vides in­for­ma­tion on charg­ing op­tions and en­ergy con­sump­tion.

In typ­i­cal Mercedes style, ex­pect the first Aussie EQCS to ar­rive fully loaded. Our mar­ket is tipped to take the op­tional AMG Line styling pack­ages as stan­dard, which add larger 20- or 21-inch wheels, chunkier aprons front and rear, a sportier flat-bot­tom steer­ing wheel, brushed alu­minium ped­als and dif­fer­ent seat ma­te­ri­als.

De­pend­ing on how you look at it, the way Mercedes has ap­proached the con­cep­tion and pro­duc­tion of the EQC is ei­ther ex­cep­tion­ally clever, or a bet that’s been heav­ily hedged. It could well be both. Mercedes is in­vest­ing 10 bil­lion eu­ros in a bat­tery-fu­elled fu­ture and it’s con­vinced its gam­ble will pay off, chiefly be­cause it’s tak­ing a holis­tic ap­proach.

“There is a mind­set shift hap­pen­ing here,” says Mercedes’ head of R&D Ola Kal­le­nius. “If you want to build great cars, it’s a bit like the de­cathlon. You can’t just be good in one dis­ci­pline, you have to be strong across the board. And that’s what the EQC does.” We’ll find out if he’s right when we drive it in early 2019, but un­til then, one thing is painfully clear. Tesla’s life is about to get a whole lot more dif­fi­cult.

Model Mercedes-benz EQC 400 Mo­tor 2 x asyn­chro­nous Bat­tery 80kwh lithium-ion Max power 300kw Max torque 765Nm @ 0rpm Trans­mis­sion Sin­gle-speed, fixed ra­tio Kerb weight 2425kg L/W/H/WB 4761/1884/1624/2873mm 0-100km/h 5.1sec (claimed) Econ­omy 0L/100km Price $125,000 (es­ti­mated) On sale Q3 2019

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