Mercedes-Benz EQC: Hot-weather testing in Spain
Mercedes-Benz EQC: Hot-weather testing in Spain

First ride in Mercedes-Benz’s Tesla-beater

FOR Mercedes-Benz, EQ equals EV. The German brand previewed the look of the first member of its planned family of Tesla-beaters back in 2016, with a one-off motor show concept car called Concept EQ.

The production version of that SUV-like five-door wagon, to be called EQC, won't begin rolling off the assembly line in Bremen in northern German until some time next year.

But prototypes very close to the finished product have been built. They're being used for final rounds of testing. Eager to prove its EV expertise, Mercedes-Benz invited a small number of journalists to ride along with its engineers during recent hot-weather testing in southeast Spain.

Mercedes-Benz EQC: Set for production next year
Mercedes-Benz EQC: Set for production next year

The cars wore stick-on camouflage on the outside, while key details of the five-seat interior were concealed under black cloth.

There was nothing, however, to hide the electric performance the EQC can be expected to deliver. Or the levels of ride comfort, cornering grip, quietness and smoothness that Mercedes-Benz's engineers are shooting for.

As in the production version, the prototype has two 150kW electric motors, one driving the rear wheels through a single-speed gear with an identical set-up turning the front wheels. That makes the EQC all-wheel drive yet there's no mechanical connection between the axles.

All-wheel drive: EQC has electric motors front and rear
All-wheel drive: EQC has electric motors front and rear

A big lithium-ion battery pack fills the space underneath the floor. It stores more than 70kWh of electricity, says engineer Martin Hermsen, who is in charge of the vehicle's battery-powered propulsion set-up.

There is enough energy to drive about 500km before a recharge is needed. The EQC will have a plug that supports AC charging at up to 7.5kW and fast DC charging at more than 100kW, Hermsen says.

The first is good for recharging overnight or at the workplace and the fast-charge capability is intended to make long-distance drives practicable.

Hefting the 600kg battery pack around doesn't make the EQC slow. When Hermsen flattens the accelerator, the prototype jumps forward as if it's been poked in the behind with a pin. The engineer says the production version will yelp from standstill to 100km/h in under five seconds, putting it in the same super-fast ballpark as EVs like the Tesla Model X and the forthcoming Jaguar I-Pace.

Tesla beware: EQC claims 0-100km/h in under five seconds, 500km-plus range
Tesla beware: EQC claims 0-100km/h in under five seconds, 500km-plus range

The EQC's weight makes it feel as if it's ironing the road flat as it drives along. As the bump-squashing kilos are low-slung, the Mercedes doesn't feel tippy when cornering quickly. "It's like a magnet on the road," is the way Hermsen puts it.

It may seem close to ready for production but in reality there's still a lot left to do.

Hermsen says top speed hasn't been decided but it will be artificially limited, to prevent the battery being emptied too quickly. Mercedes doesn't want to confine its German customers to the slow lane on unrestricted autobahns so he thinks 180km/h is likely.

Whether the EQC should play an artificial noise through its audio speakers is another question to be answered. Hermsen, for one, thinks drivers would appreciate the feedback this provides.

The engineer also says that the EQC will be able to tow, not a typical EV ability. Again, there are decisions to be made. "More than two bikes but maybe not a boat," is Hermsen's cagey response to the towing capacity question.

Clever tech: EQC will be able to read the road and even tow a light trailer
Clever tech: EQC will be able to read the road and even tow a light trailer

Mercedes also aims to use the sensors needed for the EQC's advanced driver-aid tech and its on-board data storage capacity and computing power.

As with all EVs, the EQC will feature regenerative braking, which slows the vehicle by using its motors to generate electricity. This energy recycling can be adjusted to provide strong retardation, none at all or anything in between.

Combining inputs from on-board radar and video cameras on speed limits and surrounding vehicles, plus digital satnav map data that includes gradients and curves ahead, the EQC will be able to "read" the road.

Combining all this information using what's known in the business as "sensor fusion" will assist the tech that controls regenerative braking automatically.

If this all sounds like cutting edge technology, that's because it is.

The EQC is due to arrive in Australia late in 2019, at the earliest. But what we've seen in Spain shows Mercedes-Benz is keen to have it make a very good first-EV impression.



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