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Mercedes creates an electric equivalent of the E-Class in its quest to outdo Tesla

Mercedes-Benz means business with the new little brother of the Mercedes EQS luxury saloon: a super-slippery travel soap of an executive EV, rather than a full-size bar. 

Specifically, the EQE means global fleet business. Unlike the bigger EQS, this new all-electric saloon will be built in Beijing as well as in Bremen. And eventually coming down to an equivalent sub-£70,000 entry price, it should hit significantly greater sales volumes than its longer and pricier relation.

This is every inch the downsized EQS, for better and worse, from its teardrop-shape outline to its almost seamlessly smooth surfaces and its ever so gently arcing ‘one bow’ silhouette.

Being a bit shorter in the hind quarters might better balance its looks, I suppose, but honestly, Mercedes can put down my name in the ‘unconvinced’ column on the design-feedback spreadsheet.

I just hate to see one of the originators of luxury car design abandon so many of its proven conventions for the sake of the clean break from the old motoring world that it's now so desperate to represent. A long bonnet, balanced proportions and a planted stance are what define a desirable car (visually, at least), but Mercedes' EQ sub-brand seems to be going down a much more bland and anonymous route, however first-rate the associated aerodynamics may be.

The EQE uses a shortened version of the EVA2 car architecture that the EQS blooded, with a wheelbase some 90mm shorter. It carries two drive battery modules, rather than three, under the cabin floor for 90kWh of usable capacity, rather than 108kWh.

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In the UK, we will get EQE 300, EQE 350+ and twin-motor, four-wheel-drive AMG EQE 53 versions of it (the uppermost and lowermost coming along slightly later than the mid-ranger), while other markets will get four-wheel drive EQE 500 and AMG EQE 43 versions as well.

Suspension on the bottom-end derivatives is via steel coils as standard, with upper-level trims getting Airmatic air suspension instead.

Interestingly, only the EQE 53 will be available with either the four-wheel steering or the optional MBUX Hyperscreen infotainment system seen in the bigger EQS, at least as far as Mercedes UK is concerned. Evidently Milton Keynes wants to save some key gadgets for the range-topping model.

The other top-level difference between the EQE and EQS is that the latter has a liftback cargo bay and the former a separate boot. The EQE’s luggage-carrying capacity is still pretty sizable, though.

However, no doubt as a result of that plunging roofline, the rear cabin is disappointingly short of head room. Mercedes UK will fit a panoramic glass roof on all EQE trims levels, which is partly to blame.

If you’re taller than 6ft 2in, you will be more comfortable travelling in the front, where the driving position is just a little bit higher than that of the average saloon and gives you good visibility to all quarters save where the car’s raked A-pillars intercede.

We tested the EQE 350+ in both Avantgarde and AMG Line trim. Mercedes UK won’t offer the former, which is sad, because we preferred its seat comfort, lighter-coloured cabin ambience and more natural-looking materials.

You certainly don’t miss that sprawling Hyperscreen when there’s a nicely marqueted piece of open-pore wood on the dashboard and more than enough digital real estate between the giant-sized central touchscreen, the digital instrument screen and the large head-up display anyway.

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The EQE does luxury very well indeed on the move. On those air springs, it’s remarkably quiet-riding and well isolated, both in town and out of it, and cocooning from wind noise.

Cushioned and supple, it dealt with inner-city Frankfurt’s tram rails and expansion joints really effortlessly in Comfort driving mode.

Filtered but still intuitive-feeling steering makes it surprisingly wieldy and easy to place in traffic, too, and body control and handling agility are both tidy enough at greater speed.

The 288bhp rear-mounted drive motor makes for plenty of assertive, instantly accessible performance; and in a modern EV of the sort that so many of us drive with an eye on the remaining range, you really wouldn’t miss the excessive power of the AMG model. 

While we’re on that topic, our testing suggested the claimed range of up to 394 miles should turn into a real-world one of somewhere between 250 and 300 miles.

The EQE is made supremely easy to drive if you leave the powertrain in Intelligent regeneration mode, and particularly so when you’re out of town with the cruise control is engaged, when it almost feels like an imposition to actually have to operate a pedal now and again (the car can accelerate and decelerate with surrounding traffic and keeps tabs on the speed limit automatically, but it still can’t read a red traffic light).

If you prefer to take full control and engage yourself fully at the wheel, you can choose your own regen settings using the steering-wheel-mounted paddles and enjoy the process a fair amount. Only a slightly spongy brake pedal would be likely to occasionally annoy.

If E-Class drivers find the budget to make the big switch to electric via the EQE, they will find it a car with impressive luxury, refinement, driveability, onboard technology and ease of use; acceptable range and recharging capability; and only a handful of weaknesses elsewhere. It's a worthy new EV player, for certain. 

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Will they see a Mercedes when they first look at an EQE, though, and will they want one? If not for all of the above reasons, I’m still unconvinced - and I do know that good car design, even when it’s daring, doesn’t generally leave such things so open to question.