Mountain Wheels: All-electric Mercedes EQS brings mileage and sophistication to the EV game

A slightly subsidized $8.75 electric top-up in Avon suggested that range and ample power are part of a more plausible future, rolling along in the ultra-streamlined EQS 450+.
Andy Stonehouse/Courtesy photo

If you lived in a world where you’d never heard of Tesla and its electric vehicles, Mercedes-Benz’s new EQS sedan would be the most revolutionary thing you’d ever seen, or driven. A mass-market attempt to mix a relatively long-range, all-electric powertrain with the luxurious bits of Mercedes’ higher-end catalog, it’s a big, comfortable, very quiet and positively powerful machine.

However, Telsa does exist and has been selling its own electric vehicles for more than a decade, so this grand Mercedes is indeed — like most other carmakers — a bit late to the game. But given that pre-EV technology is now embedded in almost all of Mercedes’ higher-end vehicles, hinting at a future no longer that far away, this gigantic, incredibly slipstreamed automobile is pretty amazing.

My hatchback-styled ride was the $102,310 EQS 450+, with an all-electric system offering 329 horsepower and 419 pound-feet of e-torque, priced at $122,100 with the inclusion of a load of options — the very impressive 56-inch-wide Hyperscreen dash, an augmented reality head-up display and massage seats.

I managed a trip from Lakewood to Avon that used just half of the EQS’s battery reserve, though I’d fully charged it before the trip and it suggested nearly 400 miles of perhaps low-elevation, low-speed travel (which dropped to about 226 miles by the time I reached the entrance to the Eisenhower Tunnel).

You get competent and steady power, no matter what — unbelievably silent, other than some road noise from the gigantic Blizzak snow tires they’d thoughtfully left mounted last week — though I very much thought my downhill drives west would magically recharge the battery. They did not, at all. You can toggle a painfully-draggy high-energy-recovery mode using the paddle shifters, but I think you’d have to coast downhill at 35 mph to make that work very well.

Instead, I visited the newer ChargePoint fast-charger in Avon, whose electrical prices are subsidized by the town, and got a full charge in an hour, for $8.75. I arrived back in Lakewood with a 77% charge remaining.

Since my total expenditure was about the price of two gallons of gas, I guess that says a lot about what Mercedes has managed to do. According to the window sticker, EQS is rated at 97 combined electronic mpg; the readouts in the vehicle said 324 watt hours per mile, which I guess is a fancy metric Teslas also use.

To do so, EQS is not like many other members of the Mercedes family, minus its stunning interior. It is so remarkably air-flow efficient that the hood cannot even be opened by owners (really, we checked the manual — there’s even a pop-out door on the side for window washer fluid), and front fascia and headlamps are all as aerodynamic as a bullet train.

Same story in the rear, plus its massively oversized 21-inch painted starburst wheels. As you may have read, the looks are pretty polarizing, with perhaps unfair comparisons to the 1990s Ford Taurus; I’d prefer to think that it’s an updated and classier tribute to the very, very early Honda Insight, which was also aimed at super-low air flow.

Crusing was, as result, eerily quiet — opening a window produces impossibly loud buffeting, and even popping open the massive sunroof for ventilation makes for a lot of noise. But that’s the side-effect of no engine noise, at all, in a 5,600 pound, 205.4-inch-long executive cruiser.

Despite an air suspension system, potholes and bridge joints seriously rattled the car, and in the city, I often found that a big bump would mess with the EQS’s ABS system and cause a momentary blurt in brake pressure. Some things, such as a ridiculously loud HVAC system — painfully so — are clearly works in progress.

Other stuff is indeed future-fantastic, so much so that the inside of the car looks like an Airbus cockpit, especially at night. The Hyperscreen is a system including two 12.3-inch driver- and passenger-side video screens and a humongous 17.7 central screen (center and passenger screens are haptic touchscreens). That results in maps so large you feel like you’ve unfurled an old paper map in the cabin.

Surprisingly, all that data isn’t particularly overwhelming; the dash is very tall and deep, with massive A-pillars, and if you use the automatic seat-height function (punch in your height, and it does the rest), you get lifted into a slightly awkward, focus-forward, child-car-seat position to sort of de-emphasize all that cabin data.

A broad central arch contains loads of storage and a few push-to-activate, non-haptic volume and ride controls; strings of colored LED lighting illuminate the cabin at night. In the rear, there’s so much legroom you could easily sleep on the floor, though the seats are oddly high and forward-angled.

The EQS 450, available with one Permanently Excited Synchronous electric motor, or in the 516-horsepower, all-wheel-drive EQS 580, Dual Permanently Excited Synchronous motors, is definitely a showstopper. But it’s just part of the very, very vast lineup of Mercedes-Benz automobiles I’ve sampled over the past year-plus. Here are some highlights from some of the other models.

2021 AMG A35 4Matic: $52,990

I had a lot of different feelings about the smallest member of the high-performance AMG family, especially as it wasn’t really a lot cheaper than the slightly-larger AMG CLA 45, but that super-hot-machine got almost 400 horsepower out of its 2.0-liter engine, and the A35 occasionally felt like it was really struggling to make its still-impressive 302 horsepower. Tires were also inflated to a rock-like 51 psi and, combined with the often imprecise feel of its seven-speed automatic transmission, and it felt like they were trying to squeeze a bit too much zoot out of too small of a suit.

But, get that thing goosed up and it’s 100% you, car and the road — none of the overly complicated and disconnected feel you get in a bigger vehicle. You can very easily run it to the limit of its brakes; the shortness of wheelbase and the rigidity of those low-profile tires added some perhaps unwanted intensity to the whole experience. It’s not as gaudy as the CLA; the proportions are simple and properly scaled, minus its oversized wheels.

2021 GLA 250: $42,645

Pretty much the most basic Mercedes you can buy (with a $36,230 base price, in front-wheel drive), the small GLA SUV delivers on multiple fronts, not the least of which was nearly 34 combined MPG from its just-right 221-horsepower 2.0-liter engine. That meant lots of highway and even passing power, nothing too showy, but certainly enough for regular usage. Size here is also perfectly adequate, with lots of up-front room and large, comfortable leather seating, and an adaptable, three-way split rear seat with just slightly oversized headrests — but still excellent rear visibility.

Steering, braking and ride were all totally acceptable, with a tight, solid feel that wasn’t as anxious as the AMG bunch, not bouncy or truncated. It all felt right, even on gravel, with no drama or body roll. You also get a nicely simplified version of the often too-busy Mercedes interior, with low-drama HVAC controls, piano black highlights and a bit of highlight stitching.

2021 GLB 250 4Matic SUV: $49,725

Aside from a new rear cabin curve that looks suspiciously like a batting helmet, especially in Galaxy Blue Metallic paint, GLB was also able to accomplish 90% of my motoring needs, at half the price of its higher-end SUV siblings. It’s comfortable, capable and features substantial passenger and cargo room, despite its somewhat smaller size, plus pretty reliable 30 mpg from its 221-hp 2.0-liter. Given that a new Ford Escape parked next to me looked large, GLB is surprising for its interior room and feel.

With winter tires, it also handled the passes quite comfortably and adequately, and power never felt short or iffy, even at high altitudes. The whole package of interior gloss and lit-up air vents is there, even at a $40,050 starting price.

2021 AMG E53 Cabriolet: $95,790

I’ve driven three different renditions of the new E-Class — a car-business buddy bought the out-of-control, 600-horsepower E63 Wagon, as well. But the tricked-out convertible and its impressive 429-horsepower, turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-six engine got me to Arapahoe Basin in about half the time it normally takes, so … mission accomplished. It’s sexy in a low-key way, with the Night Package producing matte-black rear diffusers and quad pipes and black 20-inch wheels, plus a fast and functional soft top with a heated glass window. There’s also a cool power-activated rear deflector behind its full-sized rear seats, which allowed very easy top-down cruising at normal highway speeds.

Performance is upper-middle-of-the-pack, given the wide array of AMG engine configurations, but that meant decent overall rigidity, more than you might expect from a convertible, especially. The low-profile 20-inch tires felt absolutely every bump in the road, painfully so. Even without 4Matic AWD, it behaved in a grounded fashion on somewhat slick roads. And those gigantic doors nearly cut off my legs every time I tried to get in. But man, what a ride.

The more normalized E450 4Matic Sedan ($79,170) was my first introduction to the new generation of lane-keeping technology, and its 362 horsepower was more than ample; I also drove a hard-top E53 Coupe ($86,460) which encapsulated the Cabriolet’s splashy luxury and, of course, went like hell.

2021 S580 Sedan 4Matic: $140,130

Second only to the Maybach GLS SUV I wrote about last year, the new, absolutely executive-class S580 was certainly the finest ride around. It also offered a sneak peek at many of the tech innovations now seen in the EQS electric (the augmented reality HUD and a freaky 3D instrument cluster), but did so in a massive, ultra-luxurious package that’s primarily geared for a rear-seat passenger.

Mine had lost the tablet to control the reclining rear seats, so I concentrated instead on the awesome and often overwhelming driving experience of 496 horsepower from a 4.0-liter twin-turbo V-8, plus some of that aforementioned electrical overboost. Coupled with better-tuned air suspension and gigantic, 21-inch AMG sport wheels, it’s a monster of a car that glides with ultra-smooth sophistication. It monopolizes an entire parking spot and certainly feels its just-under-5,000-pound weight on tight corners, but is so quiet and mercifully insulated that it often feels like it is traveling without moving.

The S-Class’s interior and tech certainly set the standard for the company, with a you-and-other-drivers cruise control display that looks like a 1980s video game, and in-cabin lights as added lane-keep reminders. The in-cabin cologne-distribution system also reminded me of an old coworker.

Andy Stonehouse

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