The EQS is the pure-electric Mercedes we’ve been waiting for. The other EQ models are merely warm-up acts. Just as the ICE S-Class periodically moves the parameters for big luxury cars – and pioneers new tech we all end up benefitting from – the EQS promises to be fully third and fourth decade 21st century. The headline facts here are a claimed range of up to 477 miles on a single charge, power outputs of 329 or 516bhp, and a new modular battery concept with a useable battery capacity of 90 or 107.8 kWh. It’s also the most aerodynamic production car ever made, with a drag co-efficient of just 0.20. That’s a level of slipperiness once thought impossible on a road car, but critical to the energy efficiency of a new-age EV. (It’s achieved on a car wearing 19in wheels in Sport driving mode.)
Yep, Mercedes has thrown the world’s sexiest kitchen sink at the EQS. I can sense that just sitting in the car, despite the fact that it’s actually in Stuttgart and I’m in north Essex. Welcome to the virtual passenger ride, another pandemic-enabled component of the new normal (do we still call it that more than a year in?) Behind the wheel is Timo Hartstock, project leader on the electric vehicle architecture, a man who has spent the past seven years developing an all-new platform, new hard- and software, and figuring out exactly what a pure-electric top-flight Mercedes should look, feel and sound like. Now he’s got me on a little screen in the corner of the cabin to contend with.
“Hello,” says Timo warmly. “How are you?”
I’m on a screen. Timo is on mine. There are screens everywhere. We live in a Black Mirror world. The EQS is all about screens, too, in particular the (optional) Hyperscreen, a piece of tech whose hyperbolic nomenclature underplays its achievements if anything. It’s a 1.4m-long glass OLED, curved three-dimensionally during the moulding process at temperatures of 650°C so that the display never distorts. It’s made of scratch-resistant aluminium silicate. There are two coatings on the cover plate to reduce reflections that also make it easier to clean, while ambient lighting beneath means that the whole thing appears to float. The Hyperscreen features eight CPU cores, 24-gigabyte RAM and 46.4 GB per second RAM memory, making it, says Mercedes, ‘the brain and nervous system of the car’.
So the firepower is there, but learning from its earlier, um, misadventures in UX, Mercedes insists it’s all highly intuitive. The guiding philosophy is called ‘zero layer’, the system learning the driver’s behaviour so that it can proactively display the right functions at the right time. The fancy name for this is ‘context-sensitive awareness’, and old-fashioned customer research has shown that in 80 per cent of usage cases it’s navigation, phone or infotainment that predominates. So that’s what floats to the top of this AI-assisted piece of tech wizardry. Timo also points to the main instrument display as he accelerates, a beautifully rendered pulsing blue graphic. Outside the window I can see the automotive flotsam and jetsam of a European city, tired relics of a suddenly bygone age.
“We had long and intensive discussions with the board members,” Timo continues. “We decided that the e-drive powertrain wouldn’t be the main differentiator, that we needed to have something else. That was the trigger for the Hyperscreen – we need to have something really extraordinary. It’s about the things that create emotion: light, sound, and feel. We agreed that we wanted to create a ‘wow effect’. The comfort doors are another example. If the driver has the key in his or her pocket, the doors open automatically, then you push the brake pedal and the doors shut behind you.”
Timo is now somewhere in the Stuttgart environs. Initially, he says, the EQS will be available in all-wheel drive, dual-motor 385 kW 580 form, or in a rear-drive, single motor 245 kW 450+ iteration. But naturally the line-up will expand, including an even more powerful AMG version, as well as an EQS SUV and a smaller EQE saloon and off-road sibling. By next year, Mercedes will be making eight fully electric cars on three continents, in an effort to match individual customer demand and market mood. Mercedes says it is investing €10bn in electric over the next few years, with a further €1bn being pumped into worldwide battery production.
“The new architecture is scaleable in every aspect, and the wheelbase, track and all the other system components, especially the batteries, are variable because of the modular design,” Timo says. Called – with searing logic –– Modular Electrical Architecture, the platform is aluminium intensive and has a flat floor, while the car’s raked A-pillars and fast windscreen give a cab-forward attitude. That remarkable aero profile is aided by a low, enclosed front end, which features cooling ducts and shutters that open and close according to the car’s cooling needs. Forget about opening the bonnet unless you work in a Mercedes service centre. The windscreen washer receptacle is housed in a little flap behind the front left wheel-arch. Not even Mercedes, it seems, has figured out a better solution for cleaning a windscreen. (I wonder if Elon is on the case.)
Almost three of the car’s five-metre length is in its wheelbase and the result, says Timo, is an interior whose spaciousness matches its luxuriously technological ambition. He gestures around the cabin for emphasis, while pointing to a deep storage well between the lavish front seats. A portal to another dimension? Possibly.
This isn’t just a new car, it also represents a paradigm shift for Mercedes and the automotive industry in general
Needless to say, the EQS is a hugely complex car. More luxury-oriented and less overtly sporting than rivals like the Audi e-tron GT and Porsche Taycan (as well as Lucid’s upcoming 1080bhp Air Dream Edition and Tesla’s yoke-wheeled Model S Plaid), it still has everything you’d expect from this first big move from Mercedes. We’re talking sophisticated torque vectoring, a clever three-step energy recuperation system that uses shift paddles on the steering wheel, and an Eco Assistant to predict what’s happening ahead to optimise the potential. There’s considerable thermal cleverness in the battery pack itself – it can be pre-heated or cooled while driving, so it’s more receptive to fast charging. Hooked up to a 200 kW charger, you’ll get 186 miles of range back into the batteries in just 15 minutes. Mercedes also says it uses fewer so-called ‘rare earth’ materials. The navigation system can plan the optimum route ahead, calculating variables such as topography, ambient temperature, speed, and heating and cooling demand, as well as charging station availability and payment functions. Algorithms aplenty here to quell the last vestiges of range anxiety.
The charging process itself is also simplified if the end user signs up for Mercedes me Charging. You can choose the most sustainable charging scenario, and set things up so charging and billing take place automatically. Biodirectional charging is also available in Japan: electricity can be fed from the car back into the grid. The EQS will be manufactured in Factory 56 in Sindelfingen, whose photovoltaic set-up and sustainable configuration ensures carbon-neutral production from the start. (Merc’s battery production plant at Hedelfingen will be carbon neutral from 2022.)
Timo also points to the lengths the team has gone to in order to give the EQS the sort of sublime NVH profile you’d expect in an all-electric S-Class. This includes the magnets’ positioning inside the rotors and stator tilt to reduce low-speed vibrations, placing a foam mat around the powertrain, fitting the inverter inside a specially layered metal and plastic ‘sandwich’, isolating the front and rear axle, and using acoustic foam in the body-in-white construction.
So there’s silence if you want it. But human beings are funny about things like that, so Merc’s acoustic engineers have provided various audible options. Specify the Burmester audio set-up and you can treat your ears to the sensuous clarity of ‘Silver Waves’ or the more crystalline effects of ‘Vivid Flux’. There’s a third option called ‘Roaring Pulse’ available as an over-the-air update. Select the Sport mode and everything gets a bit more audibly lively. Mercedes has stopped short of a ‘Norwegian Death Metal’ setting but anything is possible.
The EQS’s dedication to passenger well-being and mental health is unprecedented, and runs to its air filtration system (this car doesn’t want to go viral) and the suite of ‘energizing’ comfort settings. Forest Glade, Sounds of the Sea and Summer Rain are just three examples, co-developed with nature acoustician Gordon Hempton. I forget to ask Timo if he has any of these switched on, or is sticking with Stuttgart Car Park.
To say that the EQS is the complete package is a colossal understatement. In fact, this isn’t just a new car, it also represents a paradigm shift for Mercedes and the automotive industry in general. I recently spoke to Daimler CEO Ola Källenius and asked him if this was all part of legacy-automotive’s overdue revenge on Silicon Valley. “Revenge? We’re not duelling with sabres here. We’ve always had the goal of putting innovative technology into our vehicles, and with the MBUX we’ve doubled down on digital. We’ve built a new whole world of connected car, and the accompanying software stack. When we made the decision on the Hyperscreen a few years ago, we said let’s go for it, let’s see what we can do with the curved OLED screen. It’s not just technology, it’s about aesthetics.”
He’s also aware of the need to keep this stuff as simple as possible. “My joke is that it needs to be sufficiently intuitive that a five-year old kid or a board member of Daimler can use it. Give me 10 minutes and I could teach you how to operate this fully. Yes, you have to make a leap to begin with, but anyone who has an iPhone or iPad has already made it at some point. Plus, the next-gen voice activation is so good you can literally just talk to the car. So if you can’t find what you’re looking for just ask the car and it’ll find it for you.”
But there’s a bigger picture here, too. As well as the now obligatory over-the-air updates, the constantly evolving digital marketplace will see Mercedes and others charging for desirable new apps and services.
“We made a choice several years ago to massively increase our investment in the digital space,” Källenius concludes. “We’ve been recruiting and building up digital hubs around the world. In Silicon Valley, in Stuttgart, in Beijing and Berlin, and our cloud computing team is in Seattle. So this isn’t something that’s entirely new for us, but it’s a must if you want to be a leading luxury brand. There is a wealth of functionality from the word go, but we’re not going to stop there. There will be a continuous stream of new ideas and features. The average spend per unit for digital content has also doubled if not tripled in the compact segment. People want this tech, and what comes with it. So we’re not just doing it to satisfy our engineering dreams, this is hardcore business.
“We’ve been looking at recurring revenues: there are some things that can be turned into subscriptions or individual buys, at point of sale and afterwards. The more features we add, the more opportunities we have. There are some things you expect a Mercedes to have, and some we can charge for.”