Mercedes-Benz announced its new EQ models at the Paris Motor Show last year; we get a ride in the sensational show car.
The way we're driving is changing. Alongside the rush to autonomy there's a shift in drivetrain technology, with hybridisation already commonplace as a stepping stone to an electrified future. That shift won't happen overnight, but Mercedes-Benz announced a huge new product offensive, under the EQ brand umbrella, which will see it offer a battery powered model in 2019, with 10 more following it by 2025. They'll be joined by plug-in hybrid models too, dubbed 'EQ Power' by insiders, easing the shift from reliance on the traditional fossil fuels of petrol and diesel (and in some countries, natural gas) over to battery power.
For such a radical change in drivetrain philosophy the Mercedes EQ's shape is remarkably familiar. Deliberately so, as the marketplace likes SUVs, so it makes sense even for this paradigm-shifting vehicle to adopt a shape that people want. Look beyond the concept car cues and there's a lot of the production car here. It'll have things like conventional wing mirrors, windscreen wipers and suchlike, but the back-lit representation of a grille with its bold Mercedes-Benz star should make it through to the showroom.
The platform it's based on will be specific to the EQ models and scalable to allow those 10 models by that ambitious 2025 deadline. This initial EQ car is dubbed the EQ C, a GLC-sized model suggesting that those following it will slot into Mercedes-Benz's A-, B-, C-, E- and S-Class naming structure. The batteries that power it, lithium ion cells built by a Daimler subsidiary that's had over €1 billion investment poured into it, will be delivered to Merc's Bremen production facility where EQ C will be built. Those batteries will power a pair of electric motors, the exact specification of which Mercedes-Benz is remaining tight-lipped about for now, but we know it'll have four-wheel drive and offer around 400hp.
That output promises a 0-100km/h time of around five seconds, but of more significance is the potential range, and the EQ is expected to offer 500 kilometres in perfect conditions. If that's achieved it'll help overcome the range hurdle that currently blights the usefulness of most electric cars. Mercedes-Benz, along with a consortium of manufacturers, is looking into solutions, so the EQ is anticipated to come with induction charging in time, though until then it'll rely on what Mercedes insiders describe as the EQ ecosystem as a means of easing the difficult transition while a proper charging network is instigated. That ‘ecosystem' will use your smart devices, as well as in-car technology, to work out range and charging availability, and would allow things like car sharing, valet charging and other novel solutions to make EQ life as simple as possible.
What's evident inside is that the EQ feels very much like you're embracing the future. Vera Schmidt, of Advanced Digital Graphic Design, says that the “EQ creates an opportunity to try different things.” That's obvious, despite the familiar large screen ahead of you, which echoes those from the E-Class and S-Class models. What it displays is purer and simpler and Schmidt confirms that, for the EQ, her team is looking at reducing the ‘information density' that the driver has to deal with. It has achieved this by incorporating light to convey messages. For example, the band of light around the interior changes colour to give warnings for vehicle proximity and blind spots, echoed by the pin lights in the door cards. The idea is that information is subconsciously digested rather than distracting.
The ventilation and heating also gets the light treatment, as the air vents glow darker shades of red as you up the temperature, or blue as you chill, and these are controlled by a simple screen between the front seats that responds to touch. Alongside it is a touch-screen interpretation of Mercedes-Benz's familiar Comand controller, helping the EQ, for all its future-leaning tech and looks, be intuitive and familiar in its operation. That's important, as for all the talk of early adopters with electric drivetrains, it has to have mass appeal, and not alienate existing motorists.
Sitting in the passenger seat, the cabin is beautifully finished and airy, though the motor powering this concept is nothing like that which will power the actual showroom model. It is electric, however, which gives some idea of the serenity the EQ will deliver. The suspension will be a development of the air suspension from the E-Class, promising a fine ride, while it'll also adopt all the latest autonomous features from the new S-Class. That will allow you to drive virtually autonomously through town traffic and beyond, the systems both reading the road ahead and using navigation data (and eventually car-to-car information) to ease your journey. It's an exciting glimpse into a tech-rich future, which, if Mercedes-Benz has its way, will be upon us sooner rather than later.