At the 2016 edition of the Paris Motor Show, Mercedes-Benz launched its all-electric EQ brand with the debut of a concept SUV, and now two years later the German company has returned to the French capital with the final road-going version of that car, the EQC. A lot rests on the success or otherwise of the EQC, but two things stood out to me when I saw it for myself in Paris this week: it’s prettier than the pictures, and it has no fewer than three USB-C charging ports inside, so I’m already a little enamored with it.
Car exhibitions can sometimes feel like inflated promise factories, as all we ever seem to hear about are concept this and distant future that. Even with the EQC, we’re still months away from being able to buy one anywhere, and the US won’t be getting it until 2020, according to Mercedes’ stated plans. And then I come across something as basic and everyday as being able to charge my USB-C gadgets without the need for any special cables, and it makes me do a little fist pump. I mean, this Mercedes-Benz has three more USB-C ports than Microsoft’s latest Surface Pro and Laptop, how can I not celebrate that?
The other aspect of the EQC that I liked more once I saw it in person has to do with its exterior design. I’m still not a fan of the way the headlights seem to melt into a glossy black panel that also houses the grille. It’s kind of a big meaningless shape at the front of the vehicle, and it looks like it’ll be a nightmare to keep clean and spotless. But if you can ignore or be indifferent about that, the proportions of the car feel spot on. It’s neither too large, long, and imposing, nor too small and cramped.
I don’t agree with every design decision, but the proportions of the EQC feel right
Talking to Jochen Hermann, who heads up Mercedes-Benz parent Daimler’s push into electrification, I found out just how much time Mercedes spent on finessing the look of its EQ line of cars. “The biggest change with EQ was the change of drivetrain,” he explained, “but we know that changing the drivetrain isn’t one of the key selling points for our customers.” Mercedes customers weren’t going to buy an electric car just because it is electric, they needed some more emotional triggers and attractions. The balancing act for people like Hermann is to give customers a design that both signals that they’re driving the new thing, but which is still familiar enough to not be alienating. So Mercedes kept the shape of the EQC familiar, but “changed everything such that it’s [recognizably] an EQ car.”
Inside the car, Mercedes has peppered rose gold accents everywhere, which will become the signature color of the EQ line along with occasional blue highlights. You can definitely see a familial affinity with the Mercedes-Benz EQ Silver Arrow show car that also graced the Paris Motor Show this week. I’m not offended by the choice, and the popularity of rose gold — which, incidentally, Mercedes executives pronounce “rose,” but Mercedes marketing writes “rosé” — in phones and other gadgets makes it a pretty safe choice. A single black slab houses a pair of widescreen displays, one serving as the digital instrument and the other primarily used for mapping. An “EQ” splash screen will greet you every time you start up the car, which is part of Mercedes’ effort to constantly remind customers that they’re in an EQ vehicle. A part that’s liable to grow annoying quickly.
How much do you trust Mercedes to get the software right?
The final and probably most important piece of the EQ puzzle for Mercedes, as it is for every other car manufacturer, will be making customers feel comfortable with their choice of an electric vehicle. EV charging infrastructure still leaves a lot to be desired, and that’s where Mercedes has worked to develop its Mercedes Me app and portal along with the MBUX interface, tailoring both to help drivers plan out their journeys and charging effectively. Hermann argues that a trip in an electric car will save you from having to visit gas stations, which are universally unpleasant in his estimation. That puts a lot of pressure on this car company’s software: to be both intuitive for the user and capable enough to help plan charging so the EQC is never left wanting.
With a range of somewhere around 200 miles on a single charge and performance figures that are in line with Tesla and Jaguar’s electric SUV competition, the Mercedes-Benz EQC will arrive into a market that’s rapidly heating up without any obvious advantage. Unless you count those USB-C ports, which, as much as I adore them, aren’t a reason to buy an entire car. So Mercedes will have to stand out by living up to its sterling reputation for high quality all over again.
Photography by Vlad Savov / The Verge