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Can this volume-selling EV make an impact while relying on an adapted platform?

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Mercedes’ electric car sub-brand, EQ, has suddenly exploded into a flurry of life. Having given us the Mercedes-Benz EQC mid-sized SUV more than two years ago, it went quiet for a while as the zero-emissions efforts of its rivals gathered momentum, but now it has found another gear with the Mercedes-Benz EQA.

The EQV people carrier is with us, and both the EQB compact SUV and EQS limousine are on the cusp of appearing in right-hand-drive form. And yet none of those cars has quite the potential to put bums on electrified seats and accelerate the adoption of electric cars of this week’s road test subject.

The EQA was the first in the EQ family to have its aerodynamics modelled entirely by computer. The underbody is almost totally sealed, the wheels are all aerodynamically optimised and the grille is this sealed ‘black panel’.

The EQA was first shown in production form in spring 2020 and started trickling onto UK roads throughout this year as the firm's entry-level EV. It has been described by Mercedes-Benz as a car that offers “an excellent compromise between performance, costs and time to market”.

It’s unusual for a premium brand such as Mercedes, which typically deals in products designed and engineered in what it might want us to think of as an uncompromising fashion, to introduce a new car in quite those terms. But these are rare and challenging times for the car industry, when an unconventional approach may well be called for if you want to bring a market-leading compact electric car to the showroom – and do it quickly.

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The car’s particular compromise is granted by the fact that, unlike many of its competitors, it’s based on the adapted model architecture of an existing combustion-engined car. As we’ll explain in more detail shortly, the EQA shares the same underpinnings as the Mercedes A-Class, B-Class, Mercedes-Benz CLA and Mercedes-Benz GLA models and it is built on the same production line as many of those sibling models in Rastatt, Germany.

In stark contrast to an Audi Q4 E-tron or a Hyundai Ioniq 5, then, it’s an EV with a more conventional and familiar layout of drive components, and a driven front axle. But does that make it more or less likely to set new benchmarks in a rapidly changing and critically important class?

Mercedes EQA engine line-up and trim levels

The EQA is available with a choice of front- or four-wheel drive, in any one of three power outputs, and with a four-tier range of trims (although if you can only run to a Sport-spec car, you’ll be denied the more powerful, twin-motor 4Matic versions).

Mid-level AMG Line equipment is likely to be the most popular of all and includes 18in alloy wheels, sports seat and special sporty- looking bumper styling.

 

DESIGN & STYLING

2 Mercedes Benz EQA 2021 road test review hero side

There is some emerging mechanical convention among sub-£50,000 EVs. From the likes of the Kia EV6 to the Volkswagen ID 3, and the Q4 E-tron to the Tesla Model 3 and Ford Mustang Mach-E, more and more cars are using rear-mounted drive motors and reaping packaging rewards as a result. But there are exceptions and the EQA is one such.

Rather than some ground-up new platform, the EQA uses a version of Mercedes’ latest MFA chassis specially adapted for an electric application. It is most closely related not to the Mercedes-Benz A-Class hatchback (as its model name might suggest) but to the Mercedes-Benz GLA compact crossover and the car’s exterior design confirms as much: the outline of its jacked-up silhouette is a near-identical match, even if its exterior features and details are new.

Alloy wheels all have special aerodynamic spoke designs. They start at 18in in diameter with Sport and AMG Line cars, rising to 19in on AMG Line Premium and these 20in rims on Premium Plus cars.

The lithium ion drive battery has 66.5kWh of usable capacity and is carried under almost the full length and width of the cabin floor in a reinforced safety frame. It’s a fairly heavy unit, though (the VW Group can squeeze 77kWh of usable capacity out of a matching combined pack and frame weight of “around 500kg” and Polestar 75kWh); and while it doesn’t leave the EQA at a particular penalty on overall vehicle weight compared with its rivals, it does leave it a little short on range. The WLTP claimed figure is between 250 and 263 miles, which almost all of the car’s direct rivals can beat.

It won’t help on that score that the car has a front-mounted asynchronous AC motor attached to its front axle, and front-wheel drive. (Makers of four-wheel-drive EVs report notable cruising efficiency and range gains as a result of being able to primarily drive the rear axle rather than the front.)

That motor makes 188bhp at peak power in the EQA 250 entry-level model (which is less than key rivals offer), as well as 277lb ft of peak torque (which is more competitive). For those who want more power or four-wheel drive, Mercedes offers twin-motor versions of the EQA with 225bhp and 288bhp. They have the same drive battery as the 250 derivative, though, and only very marginally greater range.

For suspension, the car uses conventional steel coil springs, passive gas dampers and regular anti-roll bars in almost all cases, with a strut-type axle featuring up front and a multi-link axle at the rear. Range-topping AMG Line Premium Plus versions such as our test car get adaptive damping as standard, in addition to a variable-ratio power steering system with speed-sensitive assistance adjustment, and whose gearing quickens off centre. At the time of writing, though, this version of the car has been removed from the UK price list, quite likely as a result of the ongoing semiconductor shortage.

INTERIOR

14 Mercedes Benz EQA 2021 road test review cabin

The Mercedes EQA is a reasonably practical and usable five-seat crossover hatchback. However, those who test drive one after an equivalent Mustang Mach-E or Skoda Enyaq iV won’t be particularly struck by its spaciousness.

Up front, you sit in fairly perched orientation with the controls, with plenty of space for your legs, head and elbows, in a comfortable driver’s seat and at a height that makes the car easy to slide in and out of.

AMG Line Premium and above have this twin-pane sunroof. (Front one slides back to open.) There’s (just) enough head room to spare that it’s worth having.

The car’s controls and its surrounding fascia look and feel familiar, being mostly of Mercedes’ stock compact car type. There’s a matched pair of instrumentation and infotainment screens immediately ahead, with lots of surrounding glossy black plastic and decorative chrome, as well as those ‘designer’ turbine air vents. It’s quite a particular take on a luxury ambience: flashier- and chintzier-looking than some will like (especially owing to the abundance of coloured ambient lighting strips), with a less deep-running sense of underlying material integrity than you might expect. It will probably look and feel sufficiently lavish and ‘premium’ to impress the average driver or passenger, though.

If you find the screen-dominated control interfaces of rivals annoying, you’ll like this car’s physical ventilation controls, its separate tunnel-mounted input device and its infotainment menu shortcut buttons; and although the steering wheel’s spoke-mounted quick-fire controls for the instrument console and infotainment screens seem a bit confusing at first, you soon get used to them – and they often save you from needing to reach an arm out for the central display, or from really taking your eyes off the road. Second-row accommodation is a little meaner than in the front and lags behind key EV rivals. Small adults and teenagers will be comfortable enough, though; child seats can be fixed and removed easily; and Mercedes includes stowage slots in the moulded sides of the rear bench so that the rear seatbelts can be kept out of the way of folded seatbacks or generally be prevented from rattling around.

The boot, although quite wide, has a shorter loading length than most mid-sized SUVs offer and only 340 litres of space behind the seatbacks and under the load-bay cover. With everything folded down and when loading to the roof, the EQA will swallow nearly 400 litres less than an Enyaq iV, so it’s no carrying king. More annoying, though, is that Mercedes has failed to make space for the car’s charging cables anywhere other than in the boot itself.

Infotainment and sat-nav

Mercedes’ twin-screen MBUX infotainment system, with its pair of 10.0in displays, looked cutting edge five years ago; and if it’s been superseded, it may partly be because the marque has moved on to bigger screens and more touchscreen integration. But some of Stuttgart’s latest digital technology isn’t as usable as it should be. This older system is much more intuitive.

There are thumb-pad controls on the steering wheel for the infotainment display, as well as a larger auxiliary input device on the transmission tunnel, with easily accessed, fixed menu buttons. Voice control is also possible, although it doesn’t always recognise your command at the first try.

Our upper-end test car had an excellent head-up display, which relayed speed limit info and navigation tulips very usefully. The augmented reality navigation display still seems a distracting influence, to us at least, when displayed away from your natural line of sight on the infotainment display.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

26 Mercedes Benz EQA 2021 road test review motor

The EQA 250 certainly isn’t the kind of EV to make the family giggle when you rush away from the traffic lights. In typical daily driving, it performs more than adequately, though, with sufficient poke to take motorways and faster country roads well enough in its stride, and good drivability and adaptability around town.

Mercedes is to be congratulated for its ambition to give drivers as much direct control over the regenerative braking of the electric motor, and the car’s ability to coast and preserve momentum, as possible. Because of that, it isn’t hard to find an operating style for the car that suits your taste and environment, and that can also reassure you about getting as much usable range as you can at times (an easy quality to overlook in an EV).

There are few more liberating feelings than driving an EV with the battery regen dialled to zero, coasting down gradients and towards braking areas, and seeing your efficiency rating soar. It’s not exactly fun, but I do enjoy it.

This is accomplished in part by the car’s driving mode controller (which switches from Sport through Comfort to Eco mode) but also by the steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters, which allow you to blend battery regeneration up and down easily and instinctively. By allowing the car to ‘coast’ on the open road, and then blending up its motor regen as the road ahead obliges, it’s perfectly possible to adopt a ‘one-pedal’ driving style and steadily build your efficiency.

On a slippery test day, the car struggled notably to generate an assured traction level for standing starts, relying very heavily (although fairly unobtrusively) on its electronics to keep wheelspin in check. However, using just the right amount of ‘throttle’, we still managed to beat Mercedes’ 0-62mph acceleration claim (8.9sec), clocking 8.4sec to 60mph. That was three- tenths adrift of what a Q4 E-tron 40 managed in similar conditions, though. Without needing to generate traction for a ‘launch’ from rest, the EQA’s roll-on performance from higher speeds is stronger.

When you do need the brakes, the car can pitch hard and suddenly feel heavy; and, in slippery conditions, it suffered from the same limited longitudinal grip when stopping as we found during standing starts.

Pedal feel and progression are reasonable for an EV – acceptable enough, with some moments of squidge and snatch as you bring the car to a dead stop.

RIDE & HANDLING

28 Mercedes Benz EQA 2021 road test review on road front

Our EQA test car’s 20in wheels and Pirelli P Zero Elect tyres worked better to create lateral grip than they did traction or outright stopping power.

The car feels softer sprung, heavier, higher rising and more mobile on its springs than most compact electric vehicles. It doesn’t seek to engage as a Tesla or Polestar might and it is a slightly reluctant participant when you seek to hustle it along a winding road with any prevailing briskness, but it copes. Subtle and effective traction and stability controls keep it true to its course, while eventually contained lateral body control ensures it stays stable under cornering load, and secure in outright terms.

Its body movements contribute to the feeling that this is a heavier, softer and less engaging car than many rivals when you press on, but it remains competent and stable.

The adaptive dampers of our test car seemed to make little difference to that cornering behaviour, which was altered very little as you cycled through the car’s driving modes. Vertical body control is slightly better reined in in the sportier settings, but it is never at all sophisticated. The EQA tends to shuffle its weight across its axles a lot when the surface under its wheels is uneven. It heaves and pitches without much provocation over rising and falling topography, and although it doesn’t quite threaten to run out of suspension travel by doing so as some EVs have, it doesn’t inspire much confidence, either.

Ride comfort and isolation

Mercedes claims to have paid particular attention to noise insulation and cabin sealing during the development of this car, in order to boost its refinement. It certainly seems a fairly quiet-riding car at motorway speeds, although it proved only broadly as quiet as a Q4 E-tron 40 and recorded cabin noise measurements within one decibel of the Audi’s across the speed range.

The 20in alloy wheels and tyres didn’t create a lot of surface noise, but they did clunk and thump a little over broken Tarmac and raised ironwork. Run-flat tyres can be fitted in combination with smaller rims, and might conceivably introduce a little more compromise into the car’s refinement levels, but they didn’t feature on our test car.

Even entry-level EQA Sport models get Mercedes’ ‘Comfort’ seats as standard, with cushions that adjust for both angle and under-thigh support. They’re as comfortable as advertised but come upholstered for upper-trim level cars in a combination of Artico man-made leather and Dynamica suede, which doesn’t look like it would wear quite as robustly as a simpler leather seat (which you can have on a Sport- spec car). Visibility to all quarters is good, and while 360deg parking cameras help during parking, they’re currently available on top-of-the-line models only.

Assisted driving notes

Mercedes offers a very complete rosterofactivedriveraidsonthe EQA, but only as a £1495 option. Without that Driving Assistance Package, the car can recognise prevailing speed limits, help to prevent you from wandering out of your motorway lane, and both avoid and mitigate potential accidents up ahead. But with it, it can adopt recognised speed limits automatically; adjust your cruising speed downwards automatically when a jam ahead is detected; prevent you from opening your door into the path of an overtaking car or cyclist; and keep the car centred in its motorway semi-autonomously.

Many of those safety aids operate very well, but often only in particular contexts. The lane keeping assistance system, for instance, has two tiers: the second one is more hindrance than help away from the motorway, and the first one defaults to on with every ignition cycle and needs turning off on the touchscreen display.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

1 Mercedes Benz EQA 2021 road test review hero front

If, by using an existing model platform and effectively spinning off its smallest EV from the Mercedes-Benz GLA model range, Mercedes was aiming to bring the EQA to market at an appealing price, it must have got its sums wrong somewhere, because it has missed that target – and by no small margin.

An entry-level EQA 250 Sport is some 10% more expensive than an entry-level Q4 E-tron 35. It’s also 5% pricier than its nearest equivalent Polestar 2 and Ioniq 5, both of which offer bigger battery packs.

The EQA is expected to cost owners more in depreciation than rival EVs, but its disadvantage decreases over time.

Mercedes does at least provide a heat pump in the car for no extra cost, which ought to allow it to run considerably more efficiently in cold weather than rivals. (It’s optional on the Volkswagen ID 4, Q4 E-tron and Ioniq 5 and unavailable on the Mustang Mach-E.)

Our test was done in temperatures of 14deg C and above so wouldn’t have shown much benefit from that heat pump. The car returned 3.2mpkWh on a typical 70mph motorway touring run, at which you could expect to get 212 miles from a full charge. Many key rivals would go between 10% and 25% farther, according to our testing. Only a Standard Range or Standard Range Plus Tesla Model 3, or the smallest-battery VW Group rivals, might give you less operating autonomy. Not good for a car of this pricing.

 

VERDICT

32 Mercedes Benz EQA 2021 road test review static

The EQA feels like a rushed response to a problem that a company of Mercedes’ standing really ought to have dealt with better. Or perhaps it was a deliberate decision to invest initially in the luxury end of the emerging electric car market (with the EQS) and only to plough serious money into the more affordable end of it later, when ‘volume’ buying habits there are better established.

Whatever explains it, this adapted EV can’t quite live with its latest clean-sheet rivals.

Spec advice? If you’re spending £50k, go for a four-wheel-drive EQA 300 or 350 AMG Line. If you’re happy with front drive, make it a 250 Sport. Either way, keep your wheel size modest and avoid run-flat tyres

It just about compares to some of them for outright performance, refinement and drivability, but it lacks the electric range, ride and handling sophistication and practicality of many of its serious opponents. On top of that, and despite the basis of its design and configuration, the EQA comes with a price that looks conspicuously high even compared with direct rivals, let alone with conventionally powered crossover hatchbacks.

Those fiercely loyal to the Mercedes brand may find a happy way to take a first step into electric motoring here but, from the world’s inaugural car maker and for the money they’ll be paying, they deserve better.

 

Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

Mercedes-Benz EQA First drives