(Pocket-lint) - The launch of the Mercedes-Benz EQC is a big deal. Why? Because when the company associated with the inventor of the very first car – Carl Benz, back in 1886 – starts to take electric vehicles (EVs) seriously, the wider industry takes notice (and usually follows).
The mid-size full-electric SUV called EQC isn't Mercedes' first EV, per se, as its parent firm Daimler has explored the technology before, including an early 1970s Mercedes van plus a small amount of full-electric B-Classes and city cars from sister brand Smart, but crucially they were all limited in scope and range – some might even say tokenistic.
The EQC, on the other hand, will offer long range performance and be made alongside other regular combustion-engined cars like the GLC and C-Class – so it can be made in big numbers, with a good supply of batteries produced nearby – and as the start of a whole new sub-brand of Merc EVs, reflects serious intent.
But with Tesla already a hot name on many people's lips, German rival Audi out the gates earlier with the full production e-tron, and Jaguar some steps ahead with the i-Pace, can the EQC make a big impact for Mercedes?
As the EQC's basic underpinnings are shared by the Mercedes GLC, producing the two cars alongside one another means Mercedes can flexible to customer demand. But it also involves compromises to its package: as the GLC needs to accommodate internal combustion engines up front, the designers were unable to take advantage of the beloved 'blank sheet of paper' approach for the EQC, as per the electric-only Jaguar i-Pace, whose designers were able to push the cabin much further forward to offer much greater interior and luggage space, all within a shorter overall length.
Still, the EQC's exterior is conventionally smart, with smooth and uncluttered surfaces. It looks particularly good with Mercedes' satin-matte grey paint finish in AMG Line trim, where the sculpted front bumper-level vents actually let air flow through, compared to other trims where similarly-positioned vents are demonstrably fake, and drag down the otherwise premium feel.
The EQC's main front grille is also closed off behind its horizontal bars, as EVs don't need as much air sucked into the car from the front, but at least it doesn't look that way at first glance.
What's the EQC like inside?
While the exterior appears reminiscent of the GLC – the EQC is actually longer, lower and only shares door handles and wing mirrors with its internal-combustion engined sister product – the interior is better differentiated.
The EQC's dashboard has been cut away to make room for the wide 10.25-inch central infotainment screen and MBUX operating system – the same as you'll find in the new A-Class – while some EV-specific features have been added, including the ability to schedule a whole week's charging in advance by date and time (if you so desire).
The brand was keen to promote the use of its new Mercedes Me app – used to remotely inform an EQC driver about charge levels, to pre-heat the cabin and more – but it hasn't done anything special to offer anything above and beyond existing EV appss, like those for the Nissan Leaf and BMW i3.
From a purely aesthetic standpoint the EQC has some great interior details: the metallic slats on the interior door panels and dash, inspired by the cooling ribs of electronic equipment; and the copper finish to the air vents and an upper dashboard covering that feels like high-tech neoprene sportswear.
Room is fine upfront and in the back, but the EQC is nowhere near as spacious as the i-Pace in the rear, nor as capacious of boot (500-1060 litres versus the i-Pace's 656-1453 litres), due to the packaging compromises mentioned earlier.
Mercedes doesn't like to bundle in that much equipment for free either, but the aforementioned touchscreen is standard even on the entry-level Sport model, alongside keyless entry, heated front seats and upmarket ambient lighting.
On the road
Tech-wise the EQC employs two compact electric motors, one on each axle, with a combined output equivalent to 408hp, offering a 5.1 second 0-62mph and 111mph top speed. Its 80kWh battery is good for a 259 mile range (under WLTP measurement).
The beauty and exhilaration of full-electric instant linear acceleration is present and correct in the EQC. Put your foot down and overtaking slower traffic becomes a breeze. That torque is really something.
Steering is firm and confidence-inspiring and suspension geared to smooth and comfortable on-road driving. Where the EQC differs is in its complex array of additional EV-related driving modes. Its steering wheel paddles – which on an automatic internal-combustion engine car would normally help the driver control up and down gear-shifts – are retained, but on the EQC used to adjust levels of energy recuperation via regenerative braking instead (similar to the much cheaper Hyundai Kona EV).
'D Auto' is the EQC's regular mode, where the car decides how much recuperation to apply by itself. This also includes the Eco Assist system which focuses on maximum efficiency by networking navigation data, traffic sign recognition and safety information from radar and cameras, to factor in gradients, number of bends and even junctions and roundabouts en route.
A tug of the right-hand 'plus' paddle gets the car into coasting mode, while medium and high recuperation can be enabled by one or two tugs on the left-hand 'minus' paddle. The latter approach provides strong enough braking, once your foot lifts off the accelerator pedal, to all but avoid the use of the brake pedal. As such it's a similar one-pedal driving feeling to the Nissan Leaf's e-pedal or BMW i3 long-range.
The EQC has an extra mode beyond the usual Eco, Comfort, Sport and Individual modes, called Max Range. This is accessed via the toggle switch at the base of the centre console and adds adds a resistance point to the accelerator pedal to gently encourage the driver not to break the speed limit and maximise the battery's range. It can be overridden when required with a hard jab of the right foot, but we found it to be a little unsettling, and preferred to self-determine in the other modes.
How fast does the EQC recharge?
The EQC has a water-cooled onboard charger with a capacity of 7.4kW, so it can AC-charge at home or at public station and is also compatible with fast DC chargers to get the battery back to 80 per cent from dead in just 40 minutes.
The company is offering a wall-box for more regular-speed home use, priced £279 (including installation and OLEV grant). This method will return the battery to full in a more sedate 11 hours.
In terms of network, Mercedes has signed up to the pan-European Ionity joint venture with BMW, Ford and VW, which should boast some 400 fast-charging stations Europe-wide by 2020.
How well the EQC battery keeps its charge under mixed driving was hard to evaluate on our early test as Mercedes was keen to keep topping up the test cars at stops along the way, but the company claims 259 miles on the WLTP testing cycle, which is broadly in line with similar premium EVs. The i-Pace claims 298 miles and the e-tron 241 miles, but all three vehicles' real-world economy, with A/C and other variables employed, will be less.
How much will the EQC cost?
Before UK government OLEV grants, the EQC's range begins at £65,640 for the Sport model, which sits in the middle of current rivals. It's closer to Jaguar's i-Pace (from £64,495 pre-grant) and considerably less than the longer-body Audi e-tron (from £71,520 and right up to £82,270).
The EQC AMG Line comes in at £67,635 – sporting the nattier and more authentic jet-wing front bumpers and vents – and adds AMG sport seats with leather, carbon fibre and 20-inch alloy wheels. The AMG Line Premium (from £72,280) adds an electrically sliding sun roof, augmented nav (with directional arrows superimposed on the front camera view) and wireless smartphone charging. AMG Line Premium Plus (from £74,530) adds a head-up display and 360-degree camera. Two further limited time versions, Edition 1 (from £74,440) and Edition 1886 (in reference to the first Benz car, from £79,260) add a Burmester stereo and more goodies still.
Of the trio of mid-to-large premium electric SUVs to launch within the last year – we're talking Audi e-tron and Jaguar i-Pace, as the Tesla Model X stands apart as an altogether bigger and more expensive beast – the Mercedes EQC is an able contender.
Mercedes offers the battery (80kWh), power (408hp), range (259 miles), boot space (500-1060 litres) and pricing (mid £65-79k) all within the ball parc of its rivals. But it has to be said that the EQC doesn't obviously class-lead in any of those fields. It's also quite conservative from an exterior design standpoint and may struggle to truly standout among its own combusion-engine SUV range, let alone on the road among other brands' SUVs.
Still, the EQC is a very fine and calming vehicle to drive, with lots of high quality technology on board, an excellent interior, and it's available to order right now – first deliveries are expected in July 2019. As the first of a wide range of new Mercedes EVs to come, the EQC represents the start of an exciting new chapter for the marque that started the automotive revolution all those 133 years ago.
It's a bit bulkier and sharper-looking than Mercedes' altogether more GLC-like appearance, but the e-tron represents a well-considered approach to design, range and comfort in a compelling package. On the one hand the e-tron feels like a first try, but it's a good footing for Audi to be steps ahead of its German competition in the EV race.
Jaguar's clean sheet all-electric SUV is arguably the most exciting you can buy – and it's available on the road right now. As we said in our review: "Tesla, BMW, Audi should be very worried indeed, because Jaguar has just pulled off the coup of the year – right now, this is the EV we would choose to buy before any other."
Tesla Model X
Ok, so it's an altogether bigger and more expensive beast, but if you're looking for an all-electric SUV to cater for up to seven passengers then the Tesla is a fine choice. So long as you don't park it in any low-ceiling carparks, it'll cause havoc with those doors.