For decades, the Mercedes-Benz S-Class has been the very definition of a premium luxury car — but lately it has become something of an also-ran in a market it long dominated. The king-of-the-hill has been toppled, not by one of its traditional rivals, like the Audi A8 or BMW 7-Series, but by upstart newcomer Tesla’s all-electric Model S.
Now, the Teutonic brand is ready to fight back. It’s begun rolling out a series of new battery-electric vehicles, a line-up set to be dominated by the battery-powered S-Class alternative, the new Mercedes EQS model, making its debut today.
“This car, in itself, won’t make or break Mercedes-Benz,” said Stephanie Brinley, principal auto analyst with IHS Markit, “But it has to live up to all the expertise buyers expect from a Mercedes.”
Not just a battery-powered S-Class
The sedan isn’t just an S-Class fitted with a pack of batteries and electric motors. Sure, it offers all of the luxury features you’d expect of a Mercedes flagship. But it also picks up on themes the automaker teased in 2019 with the Vision EQS concept car. The new Mercedes flagship adopts a radically different design language, both inside and out. Add great performance and projected range of 770 kilometers, or nearly 480 miles, per charge, and the Mercedes EQS is meant to take the battle back to Tesla.
The challenge was creating a vehicle that was both radically different and yet, in other ways, completely familiar. “We wanted to keep the DNA of the Mercedes brand intact,” Sajjad Khan, a member of the brand’s management board overseeing technology said during a background briefing this week. He is confident the automaker succeeded, calling it “the best car we have ever built from a wattage perspective.”
In the lingo of automotive stylists, a sedan is normally a “three-box” design — with distinct engine and passenger compartments and a trunk. SUVs are called “two-box” designs. The new EQS adopts what might be thought of as a “one-box” model or, as Mercedes’ Global Design Director Gorden Wagener, who talked with TheDetroitBureau for our Q&A, prefers, a “one-bow” design. With only subtle deviation, a single, curved line flows over the top of the vehicle from bumper to bumper.
“It’s all about proportion,” Wagener said. “We managed to keep the balance, go to the edge in design and tech, but … not leave anyone behind.”
Radical design, practical benefits
The payoff is a design that visually stands out from anything now on the road. But there are more practical benefits, as well. The EQS has a drag coefficient of 0.20, the lowest number of any automobile now in production. That translates into better range, improved performance and a notable reduction in wind noise.
Mercedes was slow to embrace electrification. Like most European manufacturers, it long bet on diesels as the answer to both rising fuel costs and reduced carbon emissions. In the wake of the Volkswagen emissions scandal — which ensnared Mercedes, as well — the Stuttgart-based automaker began winnowing out “oil-burners,” shifting to battery power at a quickening pace.
Initially, it did so because of increasingly stringent government mandates — Britain, for one, will phase out everything but hybrids and battery-electric vehicles as of 2030, and will allow the sale of new BEVs alone by 2035.
Like Tesla before it, Mercedes now knows this isn’t entirely a bad situation to be in. True, there are still challenges for battery power, including the higher costs, range limitations and the lack of a public charging infrastructure. But all those issues are being addressed.
Battery costs are expected to halve by mid-decade, quick chargers are popping up around the world and, at around 480 miles, the EQS has enough range to drive from Los Angeles to San Francisco without stopping.
(Range is based on the global WLTP standards and likely will come down somewhat when tested for the U.S. by the EPA.)
EVs offer inherent advantages for luxury buyers
In a number of ways, Mercedes engineers have come to realize an EV like the EQS can better deliver many of the things luxury buyers expect when compared to even the most sophisticated gas or diesel powertrain,
Along with a virtual silent ride, there is sports car-level performance.
Two versions of the new battery car will be available at launch. The “base” EQS 450+ will feature a single, rear-mounted electric motor generating 329 horsepower and 406 pound-feet of torque. The EQS 580 4Matic will add a motor on the front axle and bump that up to 516 hp and 611 lb-ft — enough to launch from 0-60 in 4.1 seconds.
Mercedes revised the 4Matic system for the EQS so it can shift torque smoothly and efficiently from front to rear axle. It also allows torque vectoring, powering up the rear outer wheel to help a driver steer through a corner.
Both models feature the instant-on torque that electric motors provide, yielding quick launches and, with no step gears in the transmission, absolutely smooth acceleration.
An even more powerful version of the EQS is on its way, Mercedes confirmed. Think of it as the electric equivalent of the Mercedes-AMG S65.
No confusing this for any existing Mercedes model
As for charging, the 107.8 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack can go from a 10% state-of-charge to 80% in 31 minutes using one of the newer 400V DC public quick-chargers. Using a 240-volt Level 2 charger, a motorist can go from drained to fully charged in a bit more than 11 hours.
The electrical architecture is a 400-volt system. That will be updated to more advanced 800-volt technology in the future, officials note, which should permit even faster charging, among other advantages.
There’s little chance anyone will mistake the EQS for a traditional S-Class — or for pretty much anything else on the road. And the one-bow design is just part of the reason why. The front end features a new grille with “abstracted, three-dimensional star pattern(s),” according to Mercedes. It’s framed by slit-like headlamps flowing into the front quarter panels.
An entirely new face
“When people ask why we need a grille anymore,” exterior design leader Robert Lesnik said. It is “not an air intake. It’s a face.”
The side panels lack the normal creases found on conventional Mercedes models, though the greenhouse
does pinch in towards the trunk, giving the EQS a sense of muscularity. Around back, the most distinctive feature is a light band connecting what Mercedes calls “curved, 3D helix” taillamps.
From nose to tail, the new EQS measures 5.2 meters, or 204.7 inches. That’s about 3.5 inches shorter than the U.S. version of the latest Mercedes S-Class.
But, as has become the norm in the electric vehicle world, the EQS places its battery pack, motors and other drive components below the load floor. That freed up space up front normally devoted to the engine compartment. That translates into a roomier cabin and additional storage space.
The future is now
The design team aimed to give the interior as much of a makeover as they did with the body of the EQS. “We wanted our interior to be modern,” explained Peter Balko, who oversaw development of the cabin, “as if coming from the future.”
Buyers will have several key options to choose from. The showpiece version makes use of the new hyperscreen technology first shown on the latest S-Class. It features a seamless digital cluster running the entire width of the instrument panel. The organically shaped glass blends three different displays, starting with the digital gauge cluster, the touchscreen infotainment screen and a separate display for the front passenger.
EQS offers a digital gauge cluster and a large, free-floating, Tesla-like infotainment screen for those seeking a more conventional look. The space in front of the passenger can be outfitted with an assortment of different woods and fabrics and even a version of the Star Pattern grille.
A head-up system is also part of the onboard technology, as is an augmented reality system that can, for one thing, project street names and directional arrows to help make it easier to navigate to your destination.
As with the recently redesigned S-Class, the Mercedes EQS will integrate the latest version of the MBUX system, technology that works much like voice assistants such as Amazon’s Alexa. Say, “Hey Mercedes” and it can control v
irtually all vehicle functions with plain language commands, while also checking things like the weather.
The EQS will “touch almost all of your senses,” the company claims. Among other things, the product development team has come up with three distinctive, user-programmable “soundscapes.”
While battery cars aren’t entirely silent, they are significantly quieter than vehicles with conventional internal combustion engines. Motorists can enjoy the lack of noise or they can opt for one of the soundscapes, “depending upon the emotions of the moment,” said lead sound engineer Thomas Kuppers.
- Silver Waves is meant to be soft and soothing;
- Vivid Flux is “shimming and explosive,” a bit “techie but (with) warmth,” said Kuppers; and
- Roaring Pulse is “pretty raw, with “the growl of thunder,” especially under aggressive driving.
Still more soundscapes will follow, Kuppers promised. And, using the sedan’s smartphone-like ability to deliver over-the-air updates, expect to see Mercedes offer additional features, such as new digital safety systems, in the years to come.
Company officials have suggested that they may charge for some of those features, much as you’d pay to download apps for your iPhone.
Mercedes has big plans for EVs
Mercedes has already revealed a number of battery-electric vehicles, including the new EQB and EQC models. By the end of next year the automaker says it will have eight BEVs in production around the world, though not all will come to the U.S.
“The company envisages that more than 50% of its passenger car unit sales will be accounted for by plug-in hybrids or all-electric vehicles by 2030,” it said in a statement.
The new EQS will go into production shortly, with American dealers expected to deliver the first of the battery sedans by autumn. Pricing has not yet been announced but the automaker has signaled it will carry figures in line with comparable S-Class models.
Taking on Tesla
By minimizing the price gap Mercedes could win over traditional buyers who might otherwise shift to Tesla — or one of the other high-line battery models soon to come to market, such as the Lucid Air.
The automotive world is facing a rapid transition, especially in the premium sector where price is less of a barrier. And with the many potential advantages, getting in the game with a model like the EQS is likely to prove critical to Mercedes’ future.
“They have to prove they can build a better vehicle than the (Tesla) Model S,” said Brinley.