Driving the new Mercedes-Benz EQS — essentially, the electric version of the automaker’s esteemed S-Class — almost gave me whiplash. Not because of some driving mishap (the EQS handles wonderfully) but because of how radically different Mercedes’ new luxury EV is from the recent crop of battery-powered vehicles.
Mercedes has no interest in minimalist electric car design. The stark, button-less interiors of the Tesla Model 3 are fine for those who want to be reminded of a “completely cleared, black-washed Bauhaus living room,” as a German writer once appropriately described Elon Musk’s mass-market EV. With the EQS, Mercedes is saying auf wiedersehen to the idea of sparsely appointed EV interiors. It has the largest screen, the highest range (so far), the most features, a truly shocking number of physical touchpoints, the softest headrests… I could go on. This is an all-electric S-Class in the truest sense.
I got a chance to test out the EQS for a few hours about a week before its official launch, and while it was delightful to drive and I truly appreciated getting to cosplay as a wealthy luxury car guy, I had to wonder what the point was of all this extra stuff. Why do I need a gazillion different colored options for ambient lighting? Why does the front passenger need their own dedicated screen embedded in the dashboard? Why was there a fingerprint scanner and a facial recognition scanner? How much is too much massage for a driver’s seat?
The obvious answer is that S-Class customers expect the best. But more is not necessarily better. All of this stuff is not inherently bad, but there was a lingering sense that a lot of it was superfluous. To paraphrase the good doctor Ian Malcolm, Mercedes’ engineers were so preoccupied with whether they could add a shimmering water effect to the bodies of water in the EQS’s 3D map that they didn’t stop to think if they should.
Let’s get some specs out of the way first:
- The EQS will sprint 0 to 60 mph in a little over 4 seconds and will be top speed-limited to 130 mph.
- It will come in two battery sizes: 90kWh and 107.8kWh. By way of comparison, the most powerful Tesla, the long-range Model S, has a 100kWh battery.
- The 107.8kWh battery has an estimated range of up to 770 km (478.5 miles) based on the generous WLTP standard. (The EPA rated range will definitely be lower.)
- The 400-volt architecture is liquid-cooled through special cavities cast into the aluminum battery housing that automatically preheats or cools as needed to speed charging. This could be very useful in priming the battery before it charges, especially in winter temperatures.
- When plugged into a 200kWh fast charger, the EQS’s battery will add about 300 kilometers (186 miles) in 15 minutes. That’s faster than most of Mercedes’ competitors.
- It will be eligible for the Plug and Charge system, a technological concept initially introduced by ISO 15118, the international standard for charging EVs. That means the EQS will be compatible with about 90 percent of the public charging stations in the US without the need to download an app or sign up for an individual charging service.
- In electric vehicles, better aerodynamics equal improved range — so the bodywork is ultra-low drag. Mercedes claims the 0.20 drag coefficient as the best in the world.
- It will come in rear-wheel and all-wheel drive configurations.
- The single-motor configuration will get 329 horsepower with rear-wheel drive, while the dual-motor/all-wheel drive trim level will get 516 horsepower.
Now let’s talk about the giant pillar-to-pillar 55-inch touchscreen, which Mercedes calls the Hyperscreen. First teased earlier this year, the Hyperscreen is the locus of the automaker’s second-generation MBUX infotainment system that eschews physical buttons in favor of a completely digital (and voice-controlled) user experience. And if you thought it looked big in pictures, I can promise you it’s even bigger in real life. This thing absolutely gobbles up the interior of the EQS.
But it isn’t one seamless display; it’s actually three separate screens embedded in one solid piece of curved glass. I expected some kind of graphical interplay, much like how you can share windows between a laptop and an external monitor, but the screens remained rigidly segregated from each other. It felt like a missed opportunity for Mercedes to show off its design chops.
That said, it’s very easy to get lost in the pixelated wilderness of the EQS’s Hyperscreen. Mercedes insists the Hyperscreen has been designed to avoid distraction. The operating system uses artificial intelligence to learn which features you use the most, then surfaces those features as individual widgets on the main screen. Ideally, you don’t have to rummage through too many sub-menus to find what you want. The company claims drivers can find “90 percent” of what they’re looking for on the first layer of the screen without having to scroll through menus or use the voice assistant.
The voice assistant was fine, but like most in-car systems, there’s a noticeable lag — at least three to five seconds — between asking the question and getting the acknowledgment from the car. It’s not a huge deal, but it did lead to some awkward cross-talk between me and the MBUX system.
The EQS’s map was ludicrously detailed, with the 3D option especially beautiful. But I rarely needed to look at the map for navigation, thanks to the impressive heads-up display (HUD). The HUD uses augmented reality (AR) to project 3D arrows in the driver’s field of vision for turn-by-turn navigation. The arrows stretch out in front of the car and even curve around corners to guide the driver in the right direction. Toggling through the HUD display settings, I came across an option that projects an AR green orb that would glow orange and then red as I accelerated. It was very trippy, but I’m not sure what purpose it served.
Like any good luxury EV, the EQS allows you to factor battery capacity into your route planning. If you want to show up at your destination with, say, 45 percent charge left in your battery, the EQS will suggest a charging station along your route, as well as the amount of time you would need to be plugged in in order to achieve that result. With the EV charging network still rather shambolic, a feature like this can help shave off some of that range anxiety that can accompany EV ownership.
In terms of processing power, Mercedes says the Hyperscreen is powered by 8 CPU cores, 24GB of RAM, and 46.4GB-per-second RAM memory bandwidth. I didn’t really experience any lag while swiping through menus, pinching and zooming on the map, or typing in locations into the search bar. The type function had a satisfying “clack-clack” sound effect that reminded me a little bit of a Qwerty keyboard on a BlackBerry.
I would need another week with the EQS to truly understand everything that’s going on in the instrument cluster. There is a lot! There are four different displays you can toggle through, and I found the “Understated” display most to my liking. Graphically, it’s gorgeous; the “Sport” display features glowing blue and red parentheses framing what appears to be a misty landscape overlooking a rippled jeweled star? Honestly, what were these Mercedes engineers smoking?
Like the graphical displays, there’s a lot of customization inherent in the ride quality of the EQS.
There’s regenerative braking, which Mercedes calls “intelligent recuperation” and is similar to one-pedal driving in most electric vehicles. That means you press the acceleration pedal to accelerate or cruise and release the pedal to brake. When the pedal is released, the regenerative braking kicks in, supplying some power back into the battery. The level of regenerative braking, as well as the weight and feel of the one-pedal system, can be adjusted using the plus or minus paddles behind the steering wheel.
There are also four driving modes: Eco, Comfort, Sport, and Individual. To toggle between them, you press a button located in the center console next to the start/stop button. This panel felt janky, even slightly loose, like I could pull the whole thing out of the center console if I applied enough force. The same went for the air vents embedded at either end of the Hyperscreen. They felt cheaper than they should in an electrified S-Class. The EQS I drove was a pre-production version, so there’s still a chance to tighten up some of these accessories before final production.
I found Comfort to be the, well, most comfortable driving mode, while Sport certainly offered its fair share of torque-induced thrills. There was nothing jerky about the acceleration, just smooth refinement. The EQS really grips the road while you’re driving, thanks to a low center of gravity provided by the battery pack placed in the floor of the vehicle. The turning radius of the EQS is better than that of the conventional S-Class sedan due to a rear-wheel turning feature that was really amazing.
The regenerative braking was fine but took some getting used to. What’s really impressive was the amount of power it sends back into the battery. Mercedes claims the EQS is the champ here, too, able to regeneratively brake at up to 290kW with all-wheel drive version. That’s better than the 265kW record held by the Porsche Taycan Turbo S.
The front and rear section of the EQS was still camouflaged when I drove it. You can probably extrapolate some of the design features of the EQS based on the Vision EQS concept car that was released last year. I’m intrigued to learn whether Mercedes keeps the completely digital front grille or goes with something more analog.
The body of the vehicle was unlike any sedan I’ve ever seen before. Mercedes is really throwing down the gauntlet on aerodynamic design, with a sleek, flowing silhouette that almost erases any hint of a traditional sedan form. That will definitely help improve the vehicle’s range and also create a more quiet cabin environment.
The door handles can extend and retract, depending on whether you’re getting in or locking up. And all four doors can be opened or closed automatically using either the key fob or the touchscreen. This was probably my favorite feature. Even a small push of the door handle will trigger the automatic closing function. Robot doors! What’s not to love?
That said, if it gets too quiet, you can always turn the fake ambient motor noise to trick your brain into thinking there’s more going on underneath the hood. The EQS’s fake motor noise, which Mercedes describes as “soundscapes,” wasn’t as noticeable as the kazoo-esque sound made by the Volkswagen ID 4; it was more of a background hum that wasn’t totally annoying. Future soundscapes can be downloaded via an over-the-air software update.
Speaking of the hood, Mercedes did not include a front trunk, or frunk, in the EQS. Moreover, the area under the hood will be completely inaccessible to EQS owners. There was a weird side compartment right above the front-left wheel where you can refill the windshield wiper fluid, but other than that, the hood is off limits. It’s a very odd choice that I can see rubbing a lot of owners the wrong way.
Ultimately, I wasn’t completely seduced by the EQS. It’s a beautiful electric car with so much going on above and below the surface that I feel like I’ll need at least a month in order to sort it all out. The Hyperscreen lives up to its name, for better or worse. And while it will certainly be popular among a certain segment of monied car buyers, the EQS will not revolutionize the electric car market.
That’s because it’s already happened. It’s been nearly a decade since the Tesla Model S was first introduced, nabbing all those early adopters with its sleek blend of technological efficiency and addictively fun driving style. Elon Musk’s company is planning on rolling out a refreshed version of the Model S this year, maybe around the same time that the EQS hits dealerships. But it’s unclear to me what the EQS offers over the Model S other than a more cluttered interior and a higher sticker price.
No question the three-pointed star logo will be all it takes from some interested buyers, but it’s clear that Mercedes is still struggling with the S-Class’ reputation as an “old man car.” A rich old man, to be sure, but definitely geriatric.
The EQS is about to dive into a luxury EV segment that is already very crowded with the likes of the Audi E-Tron, Jaguar I-Pace, Polestar 2, and Porsche Taycan. Other vehicles will soon follow, including the Cadillac Lyriq, BMW i4, Lexus LF-Z, and Lucid Air. Do we really need more luxury electric cars?
Obviously, no luxury electric segment would be complete without a battery-powered S-Class. Mercedes is widely seen as lagging behind other major automakers in the release of new electric vehicles. The company’s $68,000 EQC SUV was supposed to start shipping in the US at the start of 2020, but that was pushed to 2021.
Now, it looks like the EQS will actually be Mercedes’ first EV to come to North America. That means there will be a lot riding on it when it does come out. And if the company is going to make good on its promise to release 10 new EVs by 2022, it really needs to smash that acceleration pedal — or at the very least, turn off the one-pedal driving.
Photography by Andrew J. Hawkins / The Verge