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Mercedes’ mini-me EQS makes sci-fi electric luxury that bit more accessible

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It may be renowned as the world’s original car maker, but Mercedes-Benz has always sought to innovate, and in a way in which other celebrated old car makers might be wary of. Its latest mission is the reinvention of the business saloon for the electric age – and its instrument is the focus of this week’s road test: the Mercedes EQE.

This mid-sized electric luxury saloon comes on the coat-tails of the related Mercedes EQS, uses the same model platform, deploys the same super-sleek design language and goes by the same EQ sub-brand that the firm launched in 2016 for all of its zero-emission cars.

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.

While other car companies prefer to integrate their new EVs under the same banner as their combustion-engined offerings, Mercedes has instead created a parallel marque for electric cars about which its designers, engineers and product planners can think with greater freedom. We’ve watched as these EQ-branded cars have emerged over the past five years, some with a fairly close resemblance to their combustion-engined siblings.

But, for better or worse, you couldn’t level that barb against the boldly futuristic EQS limousine – and you can’t against the EQE. We are now seeing exactly what the Mercedes EQ vision is all about: and this week, the Autocar road test takes another considered view.

Range at a glance

The regular EQE comes in four trim levels and the range-topping Mercedes EQE 53 has a further two equipment lines. Equipment is almost entirely defined by those trim levels, except that the Hyperscreen infotainment system can only be had as a £6995 option on the already-six-figure AMG 53.

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Drive battery and on-board charger spec are the same on all non-AMG versions, but only by stepping up to AMG Line Premium Plus or Exclusive Luxury do you get four-wheel steering, air suspension, Digital Light projector headlights or 360deg parking cameras.

VersionPower
Mercedes-Benz EQE 300241bhp
Mercedes-Benz EQE 350288bhp
Mercedes-Benz EQE 350+*288bhp
Mercedes-AMG 53 4Matic+617bhp

*Version tested

DESIGN & STYLING

02 Mercedes Benz EQE RT 2023 front corner

Reactions tend to be mixed to the design of this science-fiction-themed, aesthetically progressive Mercedes four-door. Some seem drawn to the EQE because it’s bold and different-looking. But a slightly greater proportion of voices wonder what is so wrong with the design identity that the firm has spent so long refining that it needed such stark redefinition.

Mercedes calls the EQE’s look a “purpose design”. That’s because the car’s arcing “one bow” profile, cabin-forward body proportions, and sleek surfaces all feed into a unified mission: to improve the car’s aerodynamic efficiency and its aero-acoustic refinement.

Mercedes is after a sense of seamless purity with the car’s design and the front end has as few grilles and panel gaps as possible to reduce drag and boost refinement. But without that badge, would you still know who had made it?

Has form been allowed to follow function too slavishly here? You can make up your own mind, but most of Autocar’s test jury thought so. The EQE plainly looks like it was designed in a wind tunnel, and not by accident: Mercedes has been using its own aero-acoustic wind tunnel for design development since 2013. The 0.22 drag coefficient is close to the one announced for the EQS (Cd 0.20), if a little poorer on account of the EQE’s 90mm-shorter wheelbase, shorter overhangs and lack of height-adjustable air suspension as standard.

Mercedes’ EVA2 platform confers an aluminium-intensive chassis on the EQE, around which is attached a recycled steel body. Like the bigger EQS, the car has a single, rear-mounted permanent magnet synchronous drive motor as a regular series model (which develops 241bhp in the entry-level EQE 300 and 288bhp in the EQE 350), while the top-of-the-line AMG derivative (the EQE 53) adds a second, front-mounted drive motor.

The lithium ion drive battery is carried under the cabin floor and has 89kWh of usable capacity – enough, currently, to shade what you can get in any Porsche Taycan or BMW i4, as well as the Genesis Electrified G80, although not to beat the revised Tesla Model S (95kWh usable), whose arrival on UK roads remains to be confirmed. The EQE 53, however, gets a marginally larger drive battery (90.6kWh of usable capacity).

That, at least, describes the EQE derivative range as it currently stands. However, our test car was one of Mercedes’ EQE 350+ models: a short-lived derivative, available at the start of the model’s production run, in which the larger drive battery now unique to the AMG 53 was fitted in the regular single-motor model. Mercedes suggests this ‘+’ version is likely to return to the showroom range later in 2023.

The EQE gets multi-link axles and steel coil suspension front and rear as standard. Adaptively damped, variable-ride-height air suspension and four-wheel steering are fitted on upper-mid-trim AMG Line Premium Plus models and above – and our test car had both.

INTERIOR

10 Mercedes Benz EQE RT 2023 dash

The EQE’s hidden, motorised door handles usually present themselves automatically as you approach – usually, but not quite always. When they don’t, the necessary fiddling around with the handle’s keyless unlocking sensor, or with the key in the bottom of your pocket, can be a frustration. The action of the release mechanism can be likewise. It typically releases the door via a touch-sensitive microswitch but doesn’t always seem to anticipate when it will be needed, and needs a stubborn yank when it hasn’t.

Thus the tone is set for an interior packed so fulsomely – gratuitously, even – with digital technology as to show the world that Mercedes isn’t content in any way to play second fiddle to the new car-making powers of Silicon Valley, California, whether that technology is adding value or just there for its own sake.

EQE has quite a high driving position and it offers good forwards visibility but is slightly poorer to the rear. Cabin is big on ambient lighting decoration. Rear quarters have broadly class-typical leg room but head room is compromised by the curving roofline. Maybe family buyers will be directed to the related EQE SUV.

The EQE gets the same 12.8in portrait-oriented MBUX touchscreen infotainment system as the current Mercedes S-Class and EQS, as well as a 12.3in digital instrument screen and, in our test car’s case, a large head-up display. Range-topping EQE 53s can also be equipped with the firm’s full-width Hyperscreen touchscreen console.

Around and about all this are multi-coloured ambient lighting strips, which can pulse like the warp nacelles of the Starship Enterprise as you accelerate and brake – assuming you configure them just so. If your idea of avant-garde motoring is bathing in the neon glow of about as much digital tech as a driver could physically be surrounded with, you may love how indulgent and naive it all is.

Or perhaps you might not. All this tech certainly seems to have come at the expense of at least some of the material quality that Mercedes has used to traditionally distinguish its cars. The EQE’s fixtures and fittings feel a little plasticky and cheap in places, even if in others its standard on material fit and finish is higher.

The car’s many digital consoles and ambient lighting features do lend a bright sheen of sophistication, but compared with the deep-lying material quality of big Benzes of old, it’s a notably superficial effect.

Mercedes claims that the EQE is more spacious than an E-Class for overall shoulder room and for cabin length. It certainly isn’t for second-row head room, our tape measure showing just 880mm compared with 900mm for the current E-Class.

So this car isn’t ideal for transporting taller adult passengers and, although leg room in both rows is generous enough, nor does it feel quite like the oasis of comfort you may hope for. Mercedes has opted for a high centre console, and quite a large-volume dashboard that seems to eat into front-row space.

Cabin storage space is available widely: in good-sized door cubbies, within that high-rise transmission tunnel, and underneath it. But the open and accessible feel of the interiors of some purpose-built EVs is notable by its absence.

Infotainment

14 Mercedes benz eqe rt 2023 infotainment 0

Mercedes’ top-level Hyperscreen is a £6995 option on range-topping versions of the EQE but wasn’t on our test car. A 12.8in infotainment screen is standard, as well as digital instruments, with a head-up display coming on Premium Plus cars.

The system responds well to most voice commands. That it’s also navigable via the touch-sensitive pads of the left-hand steering wheel spoke helps to keep your eyes on the road.

Some of the display’s real estate is given over permanently to ventilation controls that might as well be physical, which seems odd. Integrated at quite a steeply raked angle, the screen is also given to reflecting low-level sunlight more than it should and it shows grubby marks easily. Overall, though, touchscreen usability is good.

The navigation system offers augmented reality guidance but, being displayed so low on the fascia, it’s more of a distraction than a help. VW’s head-up display alternative works better, for instance. When plotting longer routes, the navigation system gives preference to charging stations you’ve added to the database yourself, which is smart.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

19 Mercedes Benz EQE RT 2023 performance

Except perhaps in AMG 53 form, the EQE is unlikely to be sought by thrill seekers. Most of its rivals offer more power and speed for less outlay. But it should seem fine, to more mature buyers at least, for Mercedes to define this car’s motive appeal in other ways that lie nearer the heart of the traditional luxury saloon’s dynamic mission.

The EQE isn’t fast in outright terms, but it has all the speed, response and drivability it needs and it is particularly refined.

The EQE has all the speed, response and drivability it needs and it is particularly refined

In damp conditions, it breezed to 60mph from rest in 6.0sec – marginally quicker than Mercedes’ 6.4sec-to-62mph claim led us to believe it might – and covered a standing quarter mile in 14.7sec. The car’s permanent magnet drive motor clearly isn’t given to producing high-rpm power as freely as low-end torque, so while a single-motor Porsche Taycan Performance Plus needs only 3.0sec to get from 70-90mph, the EQE 350+ takes fully 5.0sec (Mercedes E220d, 6.5sec). It stops short of the commanding outside-lane-of-the-motorway potency of some luxury EVs, then.

But in terms of drivability, and controllability of regenerative braking, it gives its driver plenty of options. Wheel-mounted paddles allow you full manual control of the EQE’s tendency either to coast on a trailing throttle or to harvest kinetic energy – and that engages you in the act of managing the car’s momentum on the road, which in turn gives you less need of the typically soft and ill-defined-feeling brake pedal.

On a slightly damp test day, the EQE’s near 2.4-tonne kerb weight was evidenced in the stopping distances, which were poor enough also to suggest that the car’s Pirelli P Zero tyres must have been developed with low rolling resistance (and concurrently low longitudinal grip) in mind. In colder, wetter conditions, the aforementioned (and lighter) Porsche managed to haul up from 70mph four metres sooner.

RIDE & HANDLING

19 Mercedes Benz EQE RT 2023 front corner

On air suspension, the EQE is a soft-riding, light-touch, comfort-first sort of operator – and you couldn’t really mistake it for anything else.

Even on 21in wheels, it feels quiet, filtered and absorbent at town speeds, only very occasionally tripping up in its secondary ride over raised ironwork. It demands little by way of physical input, having light steering, at least until you select the sportiest drive modes, when it weights up only very slightly.

The EQE’s dynamic make-up prioritises comfort and ease of driving but those minded to push hard in corners will appreciate its decent lateral body control and good stability.

But this is not a wallowy or untidy-handling car at speed. It retains decent lateral body control on account of its low body profile and low centre of gravity, and it allows its mass to show itself much more in its gentle and permissive vertical body control on country roads than in body roll.

Its motorway stability is generally good, although here, just as on country roads, the ride can turn a little restless if disturbed. In essence, if the EQE has a dynamic problem, it is a particularly relaxed attitude towards rebound damping – and ‘float’ is something that has characterised luxury saloons for almost as long as they have existed.

Drive the car to extremes, as EQE drivers are probably unlikely to do, and you’ll find it resists roll well right up to the limit of grip, rather than in any way falling over itself or suddenly running out of balance.

Its traction and stability controls work well. They can be partly deactivated, at which point the car will roll into at least the beginnings of trailing-throttle oversteer if you drive it just so but is much more likely to spin away torque via a lightly loaded inside wheel than be engaged in power oversteer. In both cases, however, the car’s on-limit handling balance is surprisingly good, and it is stable and secure as the dynamic default.

Comfort and isolation

20 Mercedes benz eqe rt 2023 rear corner 0

Mercedes’ wind-tunnel work on the EQE wasn’t just about efficiency, remember, but also boosting this car’s running refinement. And the lengths it went to in minimising and sealing panel gaps at the front of the car, filling cavities with deadening foam and wrapping the drive motor and power inverter with sandwich foam have paid off.

Our test car produced just 60dBA of cabin noise at a 50mph cruise on a slightly blustery day at the test track. The BMW iX was a couple of decibels quieter still (and you’d expect it to be) but an i4 M50 is another 2dBA noisier than the EQE, and a single-motor Porsche Taycan 3dBA noisier. Mercedes’ own S580e plug-in hybrid, running in electric mode, is itself only 1dBA quieter.

This is a remarkably quiet-running car. Despite having frameless doors, it keeps wind and road noise under tight control; admits no powertrain noise at all, unless you choose the digitally synthesised sort; and, assuming a well-planned route with dependable charging access, would be a genuinely relaxing way to travel longer distances.

Mercedes’ sports seats, which come on AMG Line trim cars, do have integrated-style headrests, but they offer vertical headrest adjustment, and wider front seat comfort is excellent.

Assisted driving

99 Mercedes benz eqe rt 2023 assisted driving

There are three de facto specifications for assisted driving tech on the EQE. The entry-level AMG Line car gets basic autonomous emergency braking, lane departure warning, manual cruise control and speed limit recognition systems.

AMG Line Premium adds Distronic adaptive cruise control, active lane keeping and blindspot monitoring. And with Premium Plus trim comes active brake assist with junction monitoring, evasive steering assist, semi-autonomous traffic jam assist cruise control and Merc’s top-level Pre-Safe Plus AEB system with front- and rear-end collision monitoring. So if you want the full smorgasbord, you’re expected to pay plenty.

The AEB system isn’t easily spooked to go off unnecessarily, and its junction monitoring system doesn’t intrude at roundabouts. The lane keeping assist system is best activated on motorways only, even though its sensitivity is adjustable.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

01 Mercedes Benz EQE RT 2023 front driving lead

The EQE is one of the first Autocar road test subjects to undergo a new rapid-charging performance test, devised to give us independent verification of true DC charging potential in new EVs – something we expect will distinguish those with better electronic battery management software quite clearly.

While we lack data for any meaningful comparison at this stage, it negotiated it well. Connected to a 350kW charger, it hit a peak 165kW charging rate very close to its 170kW stated maximum as the battery indicated a 10% state of charge, and only dipped below 150kW just before passing 50%.

Spec advice? Stick with an EQE 350 in AMG Line Premium trim. That buys you upgraded safety systems and smart, smaller-circumference 20in wheels, so it should be a very comfortable ride. A home charger costs from £875, if you need one.

99 Mercedes benz eqe rt 2023 charging test

That the car lacks the really outstanding real-world electric range claimed for it is disappointing, though. A test average, across a variety of roads and including performance benchmarking, of 2.9mpkWh is a little way short of the efficiency we’ve seen from some similar EVs and affected its real-world range a little. So while we might have expected better than 300 miles of accessible autonomy, we actually saw closer to 250.

Mercedes offers a 10-year, 155,000-mile battery warranty, which is a longer term of coverage than most of its rivals. It also offers a year’s complimentary access to Ionity’s public charging network with the purchase of the car.

Clearly, the company is putting plenty behind the EV’s value proposition – but this isn’t cheap. EQE prices start at just under £75,000, which is roughly where Porsche Taycan prices kick off. A Genesis Electrified G80 can be had for £5k less, and a BMW i4 for under £60k – both with better power and performance.

VERDICT

21 Mercedes Benz EQE RT 2023 static

Mercedes has seized the opportunity that electrification presents to reinvent entirely its traditional product positioning with the EQE. The car leads with its uncompromising refinement and isolation; with impressive on-board comfort; and, most clearly of all, with about as much digital technology as you could accommodate in an executive car – seeking to cast that technology as the EQ brand’s new USP, as has worked so well for Tesla throughout the past decade.

Now that the genie is out of the bottle, of course, MBUX can’t have the same impact in 2023 as the Model S’s monolithic cabin tech had a decade ago – and in other ways, the EQE struggles to compensate. It has only average cabin space and mixed perceived quality; it doesn’t over-deliver on performance; and its outright electric range in the real world is some way short of outstanding.

The irony is that you might just wish there was a bit more old-school Benz charm about this slightly sterile, sci-fi, new-age saloon. In seeking to beat Tesla at its own game, it ends up leaving quite a bit to chance.

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 EQE First drives