The future isn’t a scary place.
Despite Orwellian predictions of doom and gloom, portrayed in countless apocalyptic Hollywood blockbusters from Mad Max to Blade Runner, there’s every indication that the view of tomorrow’s landscape will be serenely silent, sumptuously comfortable and freed from pollution.
Well, that appears to be case right now from the passenger seat of the Mercedes-Benz EQC, the German car maker’s first dedicated battery electric car.
Due to launch in Australia later this year, Mercedes-Benz prepared for its arrival by offering interested owners – and a select group of media – a chance to experience the EQC with a shotgun ride in one of the last engineering prototypes, which was flown to Melbourne to make its local public debut in the Mercedes-Benz corporate compound during last weekend’s Australian Formula One Grand Prix at Albert Park.
The EQC 400, as it will officially be known, is the first in a fleet of fully electric cars to be sold under Mercedes’ EQ brand, with plans to sell 10 dedicated battery-powered cars in the near-term future, including the EQA hatch and EQS flagship limousine.
Mercedes-Benz Australia has yet to finalise price and specifications for the EQC, but it is expected to have a six-figure price tag when it arrives in showrooms from around October and be offered in two individual trim lines.
In any case, it will be a five-seater mid-sized SUV powered by two electric motors that produce a combined 300kW of power and 765Nm of torque, fed by an 80kW/h battery pack that offers at least 400km of driving range between recharges and has the ability to sprint from 0-100km/h in 5.1 seconds.
Apart from the price, those are figures that seem pretty normal compared to conventional mid-sized luxury SUVs in its class.
Seeing it in the metal, it also appears fairly normal too. Measuring 4761mm long, 1884mm wide and sitting 1324mm high, it is 105mm longer and 6mm narrower than the GLC that it shares it 2873mm wheelbase (and basic underpinnings) with, but it sits a considerable 315mm lower in overall height, which gives it the stance somewhere between a conventional station wagon and a traditional high-riding SUV.
It’s a smart-looking machine, and different enough from the GLC on which it is largely based, that it neatly walks a fine line between convention and futurist, with details like its plastic chest plate grille which features an illuminated monobrow across the top that links between each headlight and is matched by a sleek back end with a steeper rake to the rear windscreen and a full light strip across its rump while riding on high-tech, multi-spoke 21-inch alloy wheels.
That same design philosophy has been carried over to the cabin where it fuses together modern digital elements – like Mercedes’ digital widescreen cockpit with twin 10.25-inch touch screens and its new MBUX interface – with traditional luxury conveniences.
Look closer and there’s a host of unique touches to the EQC, such as rose-gold highlights in the air conditioning vents (which will be a signature of all EQ models) while the dash top and window sills are covered in a synthetic material that looks as though it’s been inspired by high-quality waterproof sports clothing.
“One very big challenge [with the EQC] was to eliminate all the rattles and noises [in the cabin] because it is very silent,” said Mercedes’ head of EQ testing, Karl Scheible – the only person initially allowed to drive the EQC prototype (officially number 450 of the 455 built) while on its Australian visit.
That was at least the case until five-time F1 world champion, Lewis Hamilton, had a brief stint behind the wheel on his way to a customer event at the Mercedes Me store in Melbourne’s CBD on the eve of the Australian Grand Prix, and was so impressed he requested it as his personal car for the remainder of the weekend.
“Normally, there are all sorts of noises from the combination of materials [moving against each other] that you do not hear with a petrol car,” Schieble continued.
“When you take the [noises produced by the] petrol engine out of the car, there is still a lot of things. We have investigated a lot of solutions with the EQC and this is just one of them; a new material that is special for the EQ.”
The results are obvious the moment we move away from a standstill. There’s a very faint whir from the front electric motor under initial acceleration, but it is otherwise serenely quiet – and surprisingly normal.
From the passenger seat, the EQC feels smooth and effortless just tootling around the tight confines of the Todd Road go-kart track in Port Melbourne, Schieble scything through the corners with minimum wheel work and with the car displaying little in the way of body roll, owing to the low centre of gravity created by having its heavy battery pack mounted within the floor and the combination of an air-spring front and steel-spring rear suspension set-up.
It moves swiftly between the bends too, with a seamless surge of acceleration, that seems as if it would make the EQC an easy car to live with in everyday traffic.
The EQC predominantly uses the front-mounted motor, which, even though it has the same peak outputs, has been tuned for greater efficiency than the rear-mounted motor, which only chimes in under heavy acceleration or in slippery conditions to give it the benefit of all-wheel drive traction.
However, that rear motor is used more when in Sport mode – one of five tailored drive settings, also including Comfort, Eco, Max Range and Individual – which is noticeable when Schieble briefly taps into its performance with a brisk blast down the straight before heaving it through a series of S-bends, where it feels amazingly agile and sits nice and flat.
Schieble then flicks the paddle shifters on the back of the steering wheel to demonstrate how the driver can alter the settings for regenerative braking – where the car varies the electric motor’s retardation to slow down. At its lowest, the car coasts along naturally when releasing pressure on the accelerator. At its highest, it comes to a complete stop with decent force.
It’s only in the latter setting where it feels markedly different from a conventional car, and, in reality, the only driving characteristic that electric car owners will need to change in their behaviour. But, again, only if they want to.
Otherwise, the Mercedes-Benz EQC proves there’s really no compromise in switching to electric cars in the near-term future.
Sure, it won’t suit everyone – and ironically, it is green-tinged inner-urbanites which only have on-street parking and won’t be able to install a home-charging system, that will be restricted the most – but for those that do make the transition, the EQC is, as you’d expect, a proper Mercedes-Benz. It’s supremely comfortable, highly connected and generously spacious. More than anything, though, the sound of silence is greater than ever before.