A day spent driving a pre-production 2022 Mercedes Benz EQS provided an up-close look at what the German automaker has been doing with the billions of dollars it has dedicated to electrification.
The EQS is a meticulously designed flagship sedan that brings together the automaker’s MBUX infotainment system, a new electric platform and advancements in performance. It is an unapologetic pursuit to set a new benchmark for a full-size luxury sedan that happens to be electric.
The luxury electric sedan is meant to show American consumers what Mercedes can deliver (and will) in the future with EVs. And the stakes are high. The German automaker is banking on a successful rollout of the EQS in North America.
“It’s the beginning of a complete new era, because so far we had a completely flexible platform in place with hybrids, ICE, and BEVs,” said Christophe Starzynski, head of the EQ brand, who added that Mercedes will add three additional electric vehicles to its U.S. portfolio by 2025, including the EQE and two additional SUVs. “This is the first time that we really designed and developed and put all the technology in a battery electric vehicle.”
The EQS is the 17-foot long flagship derivative of the S-Class, Mercedes-Benz’s top-of-the-line luxury sedan that has a base price of $110,000. (So far, pricing on EQS hasn’t been revealed.) It’s stocked with its best tech to date. While most customers won’t appreciate all the doodads optioned on this car, they might enjoy knowing it’s all stored in that extensive infotainment cloud, or only a software update away.
The first drive
A fully loaded EQS is such a leap forward that it makes the new S Class already feel of another era.
The EQS 580 4Matic model I tested came spec’d out with the 56-inch Hyperscreen, head up display, acoustic glass, rear seat entertainment and an air filtration system, which Starzynski said pre-dates the pandemic, but naturally feels very of the moment.
At writing, the car’s exterior details are under wraps until its reveal April 15. The version I tested was partially cloaked, so I can’t tell you much about the sculpted nuances of its A pillar.
My five-year-old daughter accompanied me on the test drive. We started at the Mercedes Manhattan dealership, where EQS was displayed in the store window. As I approached the car, the driver door automatically swung open with great fanfare. From the vantage point of her booster seat, my daughter played with the rear screen that hovered in front of her. She selected ambient lighting in pink and purple hues for the cabin. Her top takeaway: “It’s a sparkly rainbow ride.”
The backseat experience actually matters quite a bit, because EQS is chauffeur friendly, a prereq for luxury cars in China, the hub for EV sales for the next decade.
Meanwhile, up front, for a tall person like myself, the spacious driver seat — accented by the pillow that cradled the base of my neck — was one the most comfortable rides I’ve had. Once belted in, the car is all mood. Cue the lighting and sound design bells and whistles.
As much as I could appreciate the sensation of sonic silver waves to compensate for that faint EV whir, we soon opted to blast the five year old’s current favorite Barbie soundtrack from the billowing set of 15 Burmester speakers. (There are unfortunate compromises involved in bringing a five year old along for the ride.)
Everything in the EQS emanates from the 56-inch Hyperscreen OLED, which is divided into three separate displays spanning door-to-door. In person, it’s not as intrusive as it appears in photos. Its elliptical contour has a gamer-like cockpit sensibility.
The MBUX functions are housed on the main 17.7-inch OLED screen, to the right of the steering wheel. The passenger can opt to personalize their own touchscreen, too. Inside the powerful computation system is 24-gigabytes of RAM and 46.4 GB per second RAM memory, and eight CPU cores.
The user experience
Simplicity is a hallmark of good design, embodied in the best of Apple products. In contrast, Mercedes has always been big on delivering a dizzying set of user experience options and providing multiple approaches to access information. That inclination carries over in the EQS, using controls on the steering wheel, arm rest, and main screen. On test drives, I find multiple options for controls distracting. I am never sure if it’s because I haven’t had the time to fully adapt, in the same way that a new feature on a smartphone takes a couple weeks to get used to, or if it’s plain overkill. I noted the heads up display, but it was one place too many to look during the time I spent in the car.
What intrigued me is that the MBUX system studies driver behavior over time. By the end of my ride, the screen module reminded me that perhaps I would like to tee up my active seat massage once more. In short, I could bypass the other controls and focus on what I wanted to use most. Voice commands were decent, though my high pitch tenor managed to stump the system. I have yet to meet an automotive voice system that understands me all the time.
There’s no room for analog in the EQS experience. The graphics are crisp, multidimensional-dimensional, and clear. One downside was that my fingerprints smudged on the touchscreens. Pro tip: bring along a good screen spritzer and cloth before shooting photos. Another small grip was that the steering wheel seemed to be designed for a person with much larger hands than mine, and it was a little awkward to access all the functions stored on the wheel, which forced me to glance down to find the right spots. I ended up relying on the MBUX center screen to adjust settings.
My favorite part of the EQS user experience is how it handled messaging about range. At all times, the various screens on the dash displayed how many miles I had left, if my calculations for my destination were realistic, and mapped where I could go to charge.
About that battery. The model I drove had a 107.8 kWh battery pack powering two electric motors used in the all-wheel-drive system. The range according to European testing is 470 miles, but could drop down according to U.S. EPA testing standards. I drove about 125 miles roundtrip from Manhattan to a little town called Beacon and back without even worrying about recharging.
I pulled up the screen to plot out ChargePoint options presented one click away. It also distinguishes which stations have 200 kW DC fast-chargers available, which Mercedes says take about 15 minutes to recharge. To assuage consumers on battery life, Mercedes has added a warranty that covers loss of capacity of the battery, valid for a decade after purchase, or up 150,000 miles.
The drive itself delivered powerful performance, as one would expect with 517 hp and 406 lb-ft of torque at work. The EQS beats out competitors drag coefficient at .20, which is a fun car enthusiast fact, but not essential knowledge for regular drivers.
It always takes a moment to get comfortable driving a long saloon, but like the S Class, the EQS handles its proportions with grace, and it turns with ease due to standard rear-wheel steering. It mirrors the S-Class safety features and ADAS systems. The drive settings include classic and sport, achievable through steering wheel controls or through the armrest. I am generally a sporty driver, and I liked the peppy feedback that this mode delivered.
“Of course we will be developing it further,” Starzysnki said, adding that the ADAS features will improve via software updates. Customizable updates such as light settings are also available for download.
The biggest differentiator of the EQS drive is its battery recuperation system. Intelligent recuperation mode optimizes the battery and controls driver actions. Normal recuperation dialed down the interference. I played around with one-pedal driving on the highway. Drivers can also choose no support at all.
Mainstream EV adoption in the United States feels like its right around the corner — and it could come even faster than expected if President Biden’s infrastructure plan passes. But automakers will need to do much more than edge out Tesla if they hope to capture the attention and dollars of U.S. consumers. EVs accounted for just 1.8% of U.S. car sales in 2020, according to Experian and reported in Automotive News.
Sweeping change takes time, money and a long-term commitment. The next level Mercedes-Benz EQS edges the playing field one step closer to the tipping point when the EV part of the architecture is no longer newsworthy, but the expectation for a luxury vehicle.
(Disclosure: In 2018, I was a Mercedes-Benz EQ fellow for the Summit Series program, which was sponsored by the automaker, and I was featured on the EQ homepage.)