Mercedes has delivered huge range with its new flagship EV – but it is deserving of the S-Class mantle?
By John Howell / Thursday, March 24, 2022 / Loading comments
I know I’m an idiot, but I do know how to drive a car. And I don’t mean that in an arrogant I’m-the-best-driver-in-the-world-don’t-question-my-manliness kind of a way. I mean I’ve been operating machines with a steering wheel and pedals since the age of 11 or so, having grown up driving tractors and cars on a farm. So when Mercedes said I need to set aside an hour to learn to drive its new Mercedes EQS – which is essentially the new, all-electric S-Class – alarm bells rang.
Then a very nice man called David turned up – who mentioned in passing that he’s a PHer with a Mk2 Escort, so I liked him a lot. He explained that it’s really very simple to use all the MBUX software; it’s up to me how complicated I want it to be. The problem is that 99.99 per cent of cars arrive on my doorstep with no David to explain how to use them. Therefore, the fact that David has a job – which he did very diligently, it has to be said – suggests the process is not as simple as I’d want it to be. And it turns out it isn’t.
First, we set up my profile. This is like gaining access to the United States of America because it involved taking my fingerprints and asking the car to learn what my face looks like – presumably, so it knows I’m not a terrorist and doesn’t drive me automatically to Guantanamo. It didn’t do that, but clearly it didn’t like the look of me because it decided to not recognise my face at all.
Consequently, after gaining entry with the key, pressing the start button, selecting drive – all the normal things you have to do in a car – the EQS requires an extra layer of interaction: placing a paw print on the scanner, or punching in a four-digit code, before being allowed to use the infotainment system in the manner in which I’d left it. And I’m not convinced that my choice of temperature settings or radio station needs that level of encryption to be honest. Moreover, if I opened the door – to check how far from the kerb I was or to nip out and plug it in – I had to do this again. The again if I stopped and opened the door to speak to a friend. And again if I got out because I needed something from the boot. So basically all the time.
A lot of car companies these days like to tell us they’re not car companies at all, but rather technology companies that happen to make cars. Well, to my mind, if you make cars, you’re a car company first and foremost, and there isn’t a car company – with the exception of Tesla, perhaps – that’s as good at making tech as actual tech companies, like Apple. This applies to Mercedes (although not only to them). That’s because Apple Inc. recognises that software needs to be super-slick to interact with, whereas car companies seem to believe it has to look pretty and be animated. So they add graphics depicting the car you’ve bought – just in case you’ve forgotten what it looks like – spinning around, accelerating forward, or flashing its headlights as you work through the menus.
The problem is, this all needs processing power and code to be written, and – again, I am not singling out Mercedes here – it’s effort that could’ve been better spent on getting the most important bit right: the user experience. And I’m not talking about bugs, which appear in virtually every software environment, but rather the complex layers of menus and submenus that the manufacturer has shrouded every function in. Wading through them is far from intuitive. This would be forgivable if you were sitting on your sofa, playing with a cut-price tablet, but this is a car, so the chances are you should really be thinking about driving it. And before you say “voice activation,” we (meaning David and I) tried talking to it – while it was stationary, I might add, with no background noise. “Navigate home” was the simple instruction. The response, after some thinking time, was “I am afraid I cannot help you with that.” This meant a) it’s like Marvin from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and couldn’t be bothered, or b) like every voice recognition system I’ve ever tried, it hasn’t got a brain the size of a planet – or even a pebble.
So the software is gimmicky. It’s trying to wow you – but a lot of the time it’s just getting in the way and distracting you. Tesla has loads of gimmicks, too: driving games, whoopee cushions, log fires etc. I am not a massive fan of these in a car, either, because I am not 12, but at least they are well executed and have the power to fascinate a 12-year old. The EQS has Tetris, which, I believe, originated in the USSR in 1984. This feels like a bit of a marketing faux pas when it’s trying to sell its car as bleeding edge in 2022.
Another part of the user experience is the optional £7,995 Hyperscreen Package that came fitted to this car. This gets you three high-definition TFT screens spread across the dashboard: a dedicated display for the passenger, digital instruments for the driver, and a 17.7-inch screen in the centre of the dash. It looks very impressive and it’s huge. So huge that, even with my gangly orangutang arms, I couldn’t reach the icons on far corner without having to lean forward out of my seat.
There are few regular buttons to speak of. Nearly every function is on the MBUX screen and what’s not is a touch-button. So you have to look down at those to see what you’re pressing instead of looking at the road. There are touch-buttons on the steering wheel, too. These are easy to hit accidentally, so you’ll also be looking down again trying to work out why the instrument display has just changed. The head-up display is very good, though. It’s big and clear and shows lots of useful information, including the excellent Augmented Reality navigation instructions.
Now, I have read many people describe the EQS’s impressive build quality as impressive. To me, build quality is how robust something is, and parts of the EQS really aren’t. If you press lightly on the outer air vent surrounds, they move. The same is true of the top of the dashboard by the centre vent. And the top of the door cards. And the seat control panel. Even the doors open and close with a hollow sound that’s uninspiring for a car with a starting price of £105,000. Now, most of the EQS’s infotainment issues can also be levelled at the current S-Class as well, but at least the S-Class has taken a step forward in terms of quality. Credit where credit is due, the EQS does look swish. People will no doubt be in awe of the design and there are lots of nice details, like the turbine air vents and near-pyrotechnic levels of ambient lighting. There are plush materials as well, including supple leather, metal and unvarnished wood veneers. And the driver’s seat is comfortable, with a lovely, velvety-soft pillow that swallows your head, and more massage routines than a Premiership physio.
Again, though, there are some issues. For a car that you’d expect to be the last word in attention to detail, why, if you are tall like me, is the driver’s door armrest too short to use when the seat is slid back? And why, if you are tall like me, is it hard see out? The dashboard is so high, especially with the kick-up over the instrument binnacle, that I couldn’t see over it properly unless I jacked up the seat and my head was almost touching the roof lining. That’s on top of the other visibility issues; the size and shape of all A, B and C-pillars makes them really awkward to see past – to the point where I felt the need to be super attentive looking out for motorcyclists at every junction.
On the plus side, you will see is a huge range figure when the 107.8kWh battery – the biggest currently available on a production car – is fully charged. The combined WLTP range is up to 453 miles, and even though that drops to 407 miles on this top-spec Exclusive Luxury trim with its massive 22-inch wheels, that’s still impressive. Okay, you’re unlikely to achieve that in the real world, but the EQS seems pretty accurate at estimating what’s in the ‘tank’ – you get a maximum figure and also a predicted one, based on your current energy usage. The maximum 200kW charging rate is a bit weedy, which means you need to wait 31 minutes for a 10-80 percent charge. A Porsche Taycan charges at up to 270kW, and even that’s beaten these days by cheaper cars like the Kia EV6 that takes 350kW.
To help maximise its range, this entry-level 450+ is rear-wheel drive. You can buy a dual-motor version – the AMG EQS?53 with 658hp that’ll hit 62mph in 3.8 seconds – but the 450+ has ‘just’ 333hp and 419lb ft of shove. It does 0-62mph in a relatively sedate 6.2 seconds. But you know what, who cares? The EQS is a luxury limousine, and it feels more than fast enough to do that job well. It’s also supremely driveable. The relationship between the accelerator and the rate of torque deployment is on one control surface that is genuinely intuitive, so you can swoosh smoothly away and build speed effortlessly. It’s frustrating then that the brakes aren’t set up with the same finesse. There’s a lot of pedal ‘sink’ and very little retardation before you hit a more solid point and better bite about halfway down. I found it much better to crank up the regen with the paddles behind the wheel, and use the brake pedal as little as possible.
The EQS’s powertrain is one of the quietest in existence. There is no perceptible motor whine and, at motorway speeds, very little wind or tyre noise. So it’s a great cruiser, made even better for slumbering bigwigs by its high-speed ride. The air-sprung suspension is soft and forgiving along motorways, with only some gentle lateral sway to rock you like a baby. At the other end of the spectrum, it melts away speed bumps around town with ease. It’s not perfect, mind. The ride breaks down very quickly if you hit anything sharp – particularly a ridge that exercises both wheels on the same axle at once.
The other issue is structural. Now, I’d loved to be proved wrong on this, but, despite this being all new and Mercedes’ first bespoke EV platform, I don’t think it’s very stiff. You can feel the steering column shaking and tell-tale shimmies through the shell that imply it’s not braced as well as it should be. This and the B road ride issues rather put the kybosh on any notion that the EQS is an electric S-Class; in terms of comfort, it just isn’t. And even though a Taycan is a sportier car by design, it manages to be more cosseting.
Less surprisingly, the EQS doesn’t handle like a Taycan, either. In fact, given very modest expectations, you might be impressed with how good it is. Not fun or truly engaging, of course, but, rather like the straight-line performance, it does everything you need it to and even a little bit more. It steers accurately, there’s plenty of grip, and while it leans quite a bit and tends towards understeer when pushed, you can neutralise that with a stab of throttle. Which precisely no one ever will – but still, it’s worth mentioning. And then there’s the turning circle. It’s amazingly compact and that’s very useful in a 5.2-metre car. This is because the EQS has rear-wheel steering – up to 10-degrees on anything above AMG Line trim, 4.5-degrees below that – so it U-turns like a Black Cab yet manages to not seem darty in corners.
Lastly, for all you captains of industry, there’s the back seats. It’s worth noting the rear backrest is fixed rather than electrically adjustable, and set at an unusually upright angle, so that’s not ideal. Along with lack of space for your feet under the front seats and a deficiency of under-thigh support – because the high floor raises your thighs off the seat squab – it’s okay, but you won’t be raving about it like you would the S-Class. It’s not as roomy as the S-Class, either, although that doesn’t mean you’ll be running out of head or leg room – the EQS is still a big car. And it beats the S-Class for boot space. The cargo hold is a massive 610 litres, and because it has a tailgate instead of a saloon-car slot, you can get big suitcases in it easily, too. There’s no frunk, though. In fact, the front is sealed shut and there’s just a flap that opens so you can top up fluids.
The net result, if you’re anything like me, is underwhelming. Especially if you grade the EQS on the S-Class’s curve. That model has ruled the luxury saloon roost for so long, and with such confidence that direct rivals have often been found wanting for their inability to adequately mimic what the big Mercedes does. Now its maker can be said to have fallen at the same hurdle: its latest all-electric, all-singing flagship model just isn’t as desirable as the current S500 – and that’s a problem if people are being encouraged to trade one for the other.
Naturally that doesn’t make it all bad. It is incredibly quiet, the power delivery is beautifully judged and more than adequate, the range is very impressive and, at some point, it’ll be the first car in the world (alongside the S-Class) that you can buy with Level 3 autonomy. For some, ticking those boxes alone might be sufficient. But, as a brand superfan, and with one eye on the £100k+ price tag, ‘good enough’ at this level isn’t actually really good enough. Fact is, the EQS isn’t as persuasive as it could’ve been had its maker disregarded the tech-based wow factor, and instead dedicated itself to building a superlative luxury EV. And that’s a shame.
Specification | Mercedes EQS 450+ Exclusive Luxury
Engine: Single asynchronous electric motor
Transmission: Single-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 333
Torque (lb ft): [email protected],060rpm
Top speed: 130mph
Weight: 2,480kg (running order)
WLTP range: 407 miles
Battery size: 107.8kWh
Max. charge rate: 200kW
Price: £ 113,995 (price as tested £121,990)
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