2022 Mercedes-Benz EQS 580 4MATIC V297
Mountains. Low temperatures. Rain. Really quite strict speed limits. This adventure in Merc’s all-electric limo could go either way The hills are alive with the sound of silence. Words Georg Kacher. Photography Steffen Jahn.
300-mile test Mercedes-Benz EQS in Switzerland
It’s quite a first impression. Approach the EQS, key in hand, and the show kicks off with a jingle, lights cascading from multiple sources, door handles popping out as if by magic. Take one step closer, and the driver’s door will swing open automatically. Get in, buckle up and put your foot on the brake, and the door will pull itself shut again. Fire up the engine – pardon me, start the motor – and the digital key activates, if accordingly programmed, the low-noise road music, switches on your favourite ambient lighting from 99 different shades, gives the instrumentation a subdued, traditional or sporty touch, and sets off one of four cabin ambience programmes.
As for actually driving it: can it possibly be worthy of the fanfare? The revolution here is not in the idea – Mate Rimac and Elon Musk won’t be troubled by the spec sheet – but in the execution. Once you are inside this lavishly equipped starship, performance is not the first thought that comes to mind. Until, that is, you hoof the throttle and 2585 kilos of high-voltage car lunges into life. The EQS 580 takes over two seconds longer than the ultimate Tesla to reach 62mph, but the claimed 4.3sec is enough to make the equally ambitious driver of a petrol-fed S580 wonder why he or she is losing ground to this space-age Moby Slick.
Pedal-to-the-firewall antics are not the done thing in Switzerland, where 50mph is tops on all bar autobahns (where you can venture up to 75mph!), emphasising that the stats being touted by some EVs are of purely academic interest to many. It’s not just speed limits that can make travel in Switzerland slow. As the crow flies, the distances from town to town are small. But because so many of the roads are zig-zagging up and down mountains, and in some cases they’re congested too, journeys take much longer. These elevations also highlight a car’s thirst. The EQS’s official consumption figure is 2.9-3.6 miles per kWh (depending on tyre size), but we got a rather more serious 2.4 miles per kWh.
Twisty they may be, but even the most remote byways are properly sealed and where necessary bordered by meticulously kept armcos, the tunnels are more brightly lit than anywhere else in the EU, bumps and potholes are forbidden by law, and there are traffic cameras everywhere. If you don’t want to spend the night in a correction facility, it’s essential to keep your eyes peeled and hit the cruise control button.
In this regulated environment, there is no more stressless means of personal transport than an EV. The rear-wheel-drive 333bhp EQS 450+ – the only EQS currently planned for the UK – would have done nicely, in fact, but one takes what one gets, and in torrential rain all-wheel drive is of course a bonus. Demotivated by speed limits and encouraged by the need to protect their revenue-creating picture-postcard countryside, the Swiss are devoted early EV adopters – this despite steep challenges like Gotthard, Grimsel, Susten, Klausen, Jufenen and Umbrail. Leaving Andermatt in fog and rain, our route peaks at the Schneehühnerstock summit before descending by means of the B19, which would in a different life qualify as a world-class rally stage. The EQS could not be less like a rally car. It boasts 350 sensors, dozens of lenses and radar modules, four regeneration and drive modes and 10 different massage programmes, including a borderline-hot stone treatment.
The EQS is claimed to be the first Mercedes designed from the inside out. With three displays, one touch bar in the centre console, voice control and a busy multi-function steering wheel, you’re never short of options. Thankfully, those who want to be left alone can hit a black-panel button for minimum interference and maximum peace of mind.
The most useful MMI-related innovation is called Zero Layer. It prioritises the three most often used functions, which can be accessed with a single touch, so no scanning of sub-menus. There are 20 magic modules to pick from, but the undisputed top three are sat-nav, radio/media and phone. From start to finish of our drive, the seats are excellent, as is the foam-backed sound deadening and the huge boot. Initial qualms? The driver’s knees both rest on parts made of hard plastic, and headroom and visibility in the rear are not great. There are also some reservations about the driving experience.
The EQS can relay the full one-pedal feel all the way from top speed to standstill. This is an acquired taste in rush-hour traffic but quite frustrating beyond the city limits, especially when the trip is governed by the overly cautious Electric Intelligence assistant linked to the sat-nav. D+ mode mimics the lift-off behaviour of a combustion engine with aplomb. Better still, one pull at the ‘plus’ paddle deactivates the energy regeneration altogether and lets you toy freely with the considerable weight, mass and momentum. Do it right, and the consumption may have halved by the time you arrive at the foot of the hill.
When this Mercedes is good, it’s very good. The paper form suggests that the EQS drives, rides, performs and feels like an electric S-Class, but the first encounter on the road tells a different story. Whereas there’s a good case to be made for the back seats being the best way to enjoy the S-Class, the EQS is simply too much fun to share with a chauffeur. Tip-in is explosive, the torque punch duly flattens the earlobes of the entire crew, the stepless instant acceleration plays havoc with one’s wits, and in this beautiful surveillance state you must blackflag the turbine-like urge way before its climax.
The steering is quite light, yet it still talks the driver through the tricky sections loud and clear – no ambiguity, no shortage of information. As far as the springs and dampers are concerned, more comfort would not hurt. While the suspension is not harsh, the merely hinted-at low-speed cushiness, the knobbly ride over neglected ground and the high-speed firmness are no match for the wonderfully compliant S-Class. A similar verdict applies to the disappointing brakes. Sure, the car does stop within the expected parameters. But the mute initial feedback rings the alarm bell, the wooden pedal requires too much effort, and the action is passively linear rather than reassuringly progressive.
Juggling the settings to Sport adds a splash of fizz without disturbing the measured composure. Eco is hopelessly destructive with the sat-nav on duty while Comfort is, by Mercedes’ standards, a relative term. Individual allows you to blend fun with what the doctor ordered in terms of laid-back smoothness. There is no ESP Sport setting, but stability control can actually be switched off. On slippery tarmac and with the rear tyres still cold, the mighty whisper-liner may briefly wriggle its tail as it exits what in yesterday’s world was a second-gear corner. With extra encouragement, repeat action is possible, but the fronts quickly pick up enough temperature to lose interest while the warmed-up rears duly refocus on ensuring optimum traction and grip. While the S-Class can be coaxed into mild drifts, the EQS is a neutral carver, period.
Up to a point. The more you get used to it, the more you realise the EQS has dynamic limits – to its performance, its braking, its handling – that are baked into anything this big and electric. The EQS is too heavy to compete with the real pass masters, as it was engineered for different priorities, being a pro-digital and anti-analogue automobile that favours instant grunt over even all-round performance.
Over 2000 metres above sea level, mid-summer temperatures can drop close to freezing point overnight, and while the wet blacktop may be ironing board-smooth, it is in places as slippery as an ice rink. Despite the car’s weight and the low centre of gravity, the EQS is not immune to deep puddles and standing water, but it tracks as unerringly as the rack railway that runs parallel for a while, and thanks to the comprehensive splash protection the brakes don’t need a wake-up call to perform. Even though the 580’s electric take on 4Matic all-wheel drive does not connect the axles, it behaves very much like the mechanical system, tactfully pushing and pulling, straightening the line and supporting the turn-in impulse, taking full advantage of the rear-wheel steering and all the other chassis-related trickeries. Flaws? Not really. A little more feedback from all parties involved would not hurt.
And you keep getting the sense that given half a chance, it would love to take full control and release the driver to the temptations of the internet or the splendid in-cab isolation. If the EQS had a mind of its own, we could ask it what its main ambition in life might be, and in all likelihood the answer would be to drive you, sir, autonomously wherever you go. Pre-equipped for this task, the high-tech Mercedes must wait until EU legislation has cleared the way to driverless driving. In the meantime, the on-board wizards tempt us with a bunch of highly advanced assistance systems. There is, for instance, a 75mph restriction pack for juvenile beginners (and their worried parents), a 50mph limit plus full data protection for valet services and an ESP deactivation blocker for those who cannot be trusted.
More usefully, the MBUX interface is quite good at reading the user’s body language, the black box can mastermind steering, braking and accelerating duties up to 35mph, and lane guidance is active between 35 and 155mph. Eerie stuff. But there is more to come, like the ability to automatically form an emergency lane, stop on the hard shoulder with hazards flashing in case of a medical incident registered by the eye-tracker, or project warning symbols via Digital Light to the road ahead. And when entering or leaving the UK, the EQS adjusts the headlamps all by itself.
Also useful is the way Mercedes and Inoity have done what they can to streamline the charge payment process. With the promise of 420 reasonably swift miles between two pitstops, the electric S attempts to minimise major EV concerns like range anxiety and charge anxiety. While it obviously cannot actively expand the charging network, it does a splendid job recalculating routes for a relaxed journey and an early arrival. All this cleverness can be a distraction from how good the EQS is to drive much of the time. The enormous kick in the butt strikes like lightning without downshift or delay. Instead, the sheer power of physics grabs you by the shoulder and pushes the skull back into a soft multi-layer cushion wrapped around the headrest. With the powermeter (it replaces the revcounter) still firmly tacked to the red 100 per cent mark, our lips broaden to a grin as the digital speedo climbs the virtual Matterhorn. In some ways, this EV is as addictive as the thrills triggered by yesterday’s V8-engined heroes. Like Switzerland itself, there’s much to enjoy here, so it’s a pity that the phenomenal fundamentals are wrapped in so much nannying in the name of safety, comfort and convenience.
Swiss rail network almost entirely electrified and extremely popular. It can be done…
Flaws? Not really, but a little more feedback wouldn’t hurt
PLUS — Efficient; strong performance; huge boot; luxurious cabin
MINUS — Firm ride; passive brakes; highly complex interface; compromised rear headroom
Tesla Model S
Roomy rather than luxurious, and geeky where the Merc is dazzling, but still excellent to drive
Lower and more agile, with the performance turned up and the luxury turned down
PRICE From £80,000
POWERTRAIN 107.8kWh battery, twin e-motors, all-wheel drive
MAX POWER 516bhp
MAX TORQUE 631lb ft
MAX SPEED 131mph
EFFICIENCY 2.9-3.6 miles per kWh (official), 2.4 miles per kWh (tested) 479-mile range (official), 0g/km CO2
ON SALE Now (first UK deliveries late 2021; EQS 580 not a UK model)
THE C WORD
The charging stats are solid, not sensational, and could soon lag behind in the fast-moving EV world. The tension is Merc’s 400-volt architecture, not 800-volt as favoured by Porsche. The maximum charge power is 200kW, not 300kW as advertised by some rivals. But it takes only 15 minutes to add 185 miles to the system, and the plug and charge process with Ionity chargers (no card required) is truly idiot-proof.Bi-directional charging (where the parked car can supply energy) is in the offing. The batteries carry a 10-year warranty, and degradation over 155,000 miles is guaranteed not to exceed 30 per cent.The complex cooling system includes self-adjusting air intakes, water lancets inside all rotors, a heat exchanger, adaptive battery cooling as well as pre-charge and pre-start temperature conditioning.One cooling circuit is for the drivetrain, the inverter and the charging componentry. It crosses pipes with the heating system, which taps the waste energy generated by the battery. The high-voltage power packs have their own low-temperature orbit, incorporating a chiller. In the cabin, you’re ignorant to all of this.
On paper it drives, rides and performs like an electric S-Class, but on the road it’s a different story.
Big car, but a big driver’s knees are pressed against hard surfaces Heritage is not forgotten, but this feels like the start of a new chapter. So many screens, but getting simpler to use. Longer than short-wheelbase S-Class but taller than either version. Your mountain options are over or through, via Switzerland’s immaculate tunnels Slow down, speed up, slow down… not ideal for a heavy car’s range. Inside this lavishly equipped starship, performance is not the first thing that comes to mind.
Benz has very high hopes for the EQS, predicting sales not far behind the S-Class. Can it really be that good? I’m about to find out…
Not the snowy slopes of my imaginings – today, Switzerland is mostly cold and wet, with plenty of potential to be very slippery.
The route I have planned out for most of the day looks a lot like this. Not far as the crow flies, but those inclines and tight hairpins could eat up electricity and drain the driver.
Another mountain pass? Great! I hadn’t anticipated that it would be this much fun to drive. Engaging and energising, and not draining at all.
You can see why the Swiss are so keen on keeping the air clean and the traffic green: it’s beautiful here, and brings in plenty of tourist bucks, pandemic permitting.
Breather for lunch. Chocolate, cheese, chocolate. Didn’t need a break from the car – it’s comfortable and relaxing, and there are still plenty of settings to explore.
You what? Turns out that stability control can be completely switched off. Our all-wheel-drive car still seems plenty stable enough without it. 281 miles
For the second time today the lift mode saves the front spoiler from chafing its chin as we dodge urban traffic-calming measures.
Drop-off: 302 miles
Opposites, both attractive. Nimble Italian lightweight would doubtless be more rewarding through the hairpins, but EQS is a very impressive limo.