The oldest car company in the world finally goes electric. We head to Norway to drive the Mercedes EQC.
It’s the oldest car company in the world, and it has been at the cutting edge of automotive innovation for the most part of its 130-year history. In the electric car race, however, Mercedes has been uncharacteristically slow and has only just launched its first mass-produced, all-electric car – the EQC. Technically, that may not be entirely true, if you count the limited, 500-unit run of the E-cell – an all-electric A-class launched nearly a decade ago. And the company’s microcar brand Smart also has EVs on the road.
Meanwhile, Mercedes’ direct rivals like Audi, BMW, Jaguar and, of course, Tesla – the poster boy of the electric car world – have all nosed ahead, a fact most obvious on the streets of Oslo, where every other car is electric. I’ve seen more Teslas in one day here than I have in my entire life, and in fact, in March, the Tesla Model 3 was by far Norway’s bestselling car.
This Scandinavian country is the capital of the electric car world and an eye-opener for EV sceptics (myself included). Norway has shown us that when public and private sectors work as a team – under a government totally committed to a future in electric mobility – it’s possible to create an environment where people just want to buy environment-friendly cars.
Norway’s EV success is down to three fundamental reasons: Electric cars are cheap to buy (they are heavily subsidised), easy to use (almost everything like parking, tolls, even charging is free) and easy to charge (charging stations are everywhere). It’s a simple enough formula, but not many countries have the gumption to see it through. India, are you listening?
It was quite fitting then, that Mercedes chose Norway to launch the EQC, where it would feel right at home. The EQC looks quite similar to the Mercedes GLC; and that’s not a coincidence because it’s based on the same mid-sized SUV. Mercedes has confirmed that it will be introducing its EQ sub-brand to India with the launch of EQC in April 2020. The lack of charging infrastructure and a price of around Rs 1.5 crore (after all the taxes and duties) may make it unreachable for most buyers, but it's a good starting point for Mercedes' electric ambitions in India.
The EQC isn’t a ground-breaking design – something you wouldn’t expect from a car that represents the future of motoring. In fact, it looks rather plain from certain angles, especially the side. The only bits that spice-up its looks are the stunning alloy wheels and the distinctive nose which has techy-looking headlights and a fibre-optic light strip running across the bonnet.
From the inside, the EQC is again very Mercedes, with lots of common bits like the switchgear and, of course, the fantastic double-screen display for the infotainment system and all the car’s functions. You get the usual drive modes. Adding a bit of ‘EV-ness’ to the cabin is a blue (for electric) lighting strip and some avant-garde design bits like the fluted aircon vents and grated speaker grilles. Space-wise, the EQC is not very large and is similar to the GLC that is sold in India. You sit pretty high-up at the front, like in a typical SUV, but, at the back, the raised floor (the battery is packaged underneath) and roof line that tapers towards the rear, impinges on all-round room. Unlike a lot of Mercs, back-seat comfort is not an EQC strength. Luggage space isn’t generous either, and with the engine gone, you’d expect to have some sort of a front boot – but that space is used by the motor that drives the front axle.
Fluted AC vents add some uniqueness to familiar interiors.
I pick up the EQC from Oslo airport but find there’s only 30km of charge left in the 80kwH battery. So my first stop is the nearest charging station. That’s quite easy to find because all the charging stations in the country are stored in the navigation system. Charging the EQC was a breeze. It’s fast (around 40min to get to 80 percent) and there are plenty of quickchargers around. On a full charge, the EQC will give 472km on the new European WLTP cycle, which puts it ahead of a few other EVs.
In Norway, charging infrastructure is everywhere and that makes for easy EV adoption.
With charging out of the way, it’s time to get down to the driving.
The EQC is powered by two electric motors which drive the front and rear axles, in effect making it a four-wheel-drive car. Both motors are designed differently; the front motor is set up for efficiency and the rear is set up for a more dynamic feel. Combined, they put out 408hp. It is no slouch and shoots to 100kph from rest in just 5.1sec. That is seriously fast for a 2.4-tonne SUV. Floor the pedal and the EQC lunges forward with a strong, seamless surge of acceleration. The way it gathers speed silently and without drama can land you in trouble in a country known for its punitively high-speeding fines.
No boot here. Engine space is taken up by the front-axle motor.
You almost always have to keep an eye on the speedo to know how fast you are going. None of the usual indicators like engine revs, wind or tyre noise are there. The only indicators are the tall pine trees lining Norway’s roads that whoosh by in a blur.
Masking the EQC’s speed is its astonishing level of refinement. Yes, electric cars are quiet but this one is eerily so. The whine of the electric motors and the roar of the tyres have been painstakingly filtered out, creating a cabin so hushed, you can hear yourself breathe.
The EQC has five driving modes (Comfort, Sport, Eco, Maximum Range and Individual) and five levels of battery regeneration, which you can select via the paddleshifters behind the wheel. That’s a lot of modes to play with and you can spend the whole day experimenting which combination works best for you.
5.1sec for 0-100kph is just electric. Steering feels a bit lifeless though.
The multiple regen modes in the EQC are quite unique and absolutely brilliant to use. Tugging the left paddle feels just like shifting a gear down because it increases the level of regeneration or the natural feeling of ‘engine braking’.
The Maximum Range mode, which you can activate by pulling the right paddle until ‘D Auto’ is selected, is a clever piece of engineering as well. In this mode, the electronics take almost full control of the car’s powertrain to eke out the last kilometre from the battery. It’s a bit intrusive though, because the car doesn’t respond exactly to your inputs and listens more to what the battery wants.
For the most part, the EQC is a front-wheel drive; but prod a bit deeper with your right foot and the rear motor kicks in, making it feel more like a rear-wheel-drive when driven hard. Torque vectoring balances the motors on each axle and is partly responsible for the EQC’s drama-free handling.
The numb steering and sheer weight of the car won’t goad you to attack corners, but it has a reassuring poise (for an SUV) that’s rooted in the low centre of gravity that most EVs with an underfloor-mounted battery pack have.
In true Mercedes fashion, the suspension is tuned for absolute comfort.
The ride on 20-inch rims is incredibly smooth but on these well-paved Norwegian roads, even a bullock-cart will feel comfortable. Crossing tram tracks and a few sharp edges didn’t disturb the EQC, which clearly has been tuned for comfort in true Merc fashion.
On Norway’s well-manicured roads, sparsely trafficked but strictly speed-regulated highways, driving something so refined as the EQC was quite a non-event. A bit boring and sterile? Maybe. But the future of motoring is going to be just that. Better get used to it.
|Mercedes-Benz EQC 400: Technical specification|
|Engine||Two asynchronous motors|
|Charge time||11 hours (regular)/40min (80% via quick charge)|
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