An electrifying Mercedes trip in Iceland
Roula Khalaf, Editor of the FT, selects her favourite stories in this weekly newsletter.
Labelled the EQE, the latest EV from Mercedes-Benz sees the maker take a significant step up in the family saloon segment. Following in the footsteps of its similar older sibling, the EQS, the EQE has sleek, aerodynamic styling and a radical, tech-focused interior.
“We call it ‘one bow’ design,” says Bastian Baudy, team leader of exterior design for Mercedes-Benz. “Combustion cars usually have that three-box silhouette, but here with that one line you describe the overall silhouette of the car,” he says, glancing over the car on a remote hillside, overlooking Iceland’s dramatic, lunar landscape.
With its craggy mountains, glaciers and scorched lava fields, Iceland serves as more than just a beautiful backdrop to the EQE’s global launch. As the world’s largest green energy producer per capita, nearly all of the country’s electricity is produced through geothermal or hydropower means, underscoring Mercedes’ desire to move away from the combustion engines that have powered it through the past century.
The EQE (from £73,450) is a sizeable step up in price on the combustion-engined E-Class, which starts from £45,575. Aside from the noticeably smoother exterior, it’s on the inside where Mercedes’ penchant for technology is front and centre of the EQE experience. Dominating the dashboard is a central touchscreen interface, twinned with a near 13in driver info screen that replaces the normal instrument display. For traditionalists, it might be a step too far, especially with Mercedes’ enormous 56in Hyperscreen equipped – only available on the AMG EQE 53 version – which spans the whole dashboard and turns the cockpit into a digital overload. It’s a novel experience backed by slick, intuitive software and impressively sharp graphics. But with most UK EQE models sporting the standard layout, it’s more than enough to satisfy even the most enthusiastic tech fans, while allowing some space for textured wood or gloss finishes up front.
Out on the road, the EQE is a comfortable place to pass the time. As with all electrically powered cars, the ride is smooth owing to the lack of engine rumble and reverberation. Once I’m clear of city and out into Iceland’s deserted moonscape, the opportunities to test the EQE’s acceleration and handling are endless. In the 500 spec, the car’s 90kWh battery has a range of just under 400 miles and delivers 408bhp sharply through a twin-motor, four-wheel-drive system. While the 300 spec has 288bhp and a 0-60mph time of 7.3 seconds, it’s still more than enough to spice up the daily commute, although it’s no match for the 500’s acceleration party piece, which covers the 0-60mph dash in just five seconds. Through the twists and troughs of Iceland’s backroads, the EQE is supple and corners confidently, although the outright power and speed of the 500 isn’t perfectly aligned to the EQE’s saloon-style handling. In keeping with the car’s focus on technology, drivers will discover that the two paddles flanking the steering wheel – usually associated with flicking through the gears – are actually used to switch between battery regeneration modes. In its strongest guise, the automatic regen braking is significant, ploughing energy back into the battery to increase range when lifting off the accelerator. It’s an unusual sensation to get used to, particularly for those accustomed to combustion-engined cars.
Mercedes has always been a firm favourite with families and the electrification of its “E” mid-range model is one of the most significant moments in the company’s 96 years of service. While the carmaker has marked this milestone by positioning the car further upmarket, despite the EQE’s high starting price, the entry-level model is still more affordable than even the cheapest Tesla Model S – a design that’s a decade old this year. While the Austin-based firm has done well to sell its luxury electric saloon so far, now Mercedes has given would-be Tesla buyers a very good reason to hold off and go German.