Battery-electric vehicles have come a long way during the past decade, since the first mass-market models arrived in dealer showrooms. They’re quicker, more attractive and offer substantially more range. The 2011 Nissan Leaf couldn’t muster 100 miles per charge. The new Mercedes-Benz EQS, on the other hand, delivers as much as 350 miles range. But is that enough?
With public charging stations still difficult to find, potential buyers are looking for even more — and that’s where Mercedes’ Vision EQXX concept vehicle comes in. First unveiled 18 months ago, the one-off prototype was meant to squeeze every last mile possible out of a charge.
And it demonstrated what it can do during a record-setting run from Stuttgart, Germany to Cote d’Azur on the French Riviera early this year. It not only met its goal of 1,000 kilometers, or 625 miles, but still had a substantial charge left over. A second run from Stuttgart to Britain’s Silverstone race track topped 1,200 km, or 750 miles.
One-off prototypes like the EQXX typically are designed for a specific purpose and sacrifice plenty, including basic creature comforts. But, as I discovered during a recent visit to the Mercedes-Benz Proving Grounds near the German-Swiss border, the long-range EV prototype was unexpectedly refined and fun to drive.
Like the original Vision EQS concept vehicle, the Mercedes-Benz Vision EQXX aims to bring together the automaker’s classic luxury features while shifting from internal combustion to battery power. But here, the product development team put a premium on efficiency, aiming to squeeze out every possible mile of range from the show car’s battery pack.
In two separate long-distance runs, the Vision EQXX delivered more than seven miles per kilowatt-hour. That’s more than twice as efficient as the EQS sedan now in U.S. showrooms, and about 50% better than the Lucid Air Dream Edition, which is the world’s most efficient production EV.
While the original Vision EQS concept eventually morphed into a production model, don’t expect to see the Vision EQXX land in showrooms, however. Mercedes officials say they have no plans to build it — but it’s “how we imagine the future of electric cars,” according to Ola Källenius, the German automaker’s chairman. “It underlines where our entire company is headed,” he added, noting what Mercedes has learned from the EQXX program will strongly influence future retail models.
That covers everything from it’s sleek, wind-cheating design to its hyper-efficient battery-electric drivetrain.
At first glance, the Vision EQXX has a low, sleek appearance that might make a passerby think it’s the latest model from the AMG performance division.
The Vision EQXX is “ridiculously aerodynamic,” who served as the project manager for the concept vehicle. It boasts a drag coefficient of just 0.17, substantially lower than the Mercedes EQS sedan that itself lays claims to being the most windswept vehicle now in volume production.
To get there, the development team turned to some familiar tricks, among other things largely eliminating the conventional grille — as there’s no engine under the hood that needs cooling air. There is a small panel, however, covered with a field of small Mercedes tri-stars. The hood rises aggressively, helping direct air over the sharply raked windshield and roof. The body sides, meanwhile, adopt a coke bottle curvature that, while hyper-efficient, is also quite sexy.
A key to aerodynamic design is to “fool” the air into flowing smoothly over a vehicle, minimizing turbulence until it has detached from the body. Other useful features include air curtains around the front wheels, while the rear track has been narrowed about two inches compared to the front.
The underbody is smooth, including a specially designed battery pack. There’s also an active rear splitter that extends at speeds above 50 mph to help prevent a low-pressure zone behind the EV that would create drag.
One surprise was the use of conventional, albeit small, sideview mirrors. According to Julien Pillas, one of the lead engineers and test drivers on the EQXX program, going to camera mirrors would have little impact on the coupe-like sedan’s overall drag coefficient — but they actually would have required substantial energy to power the cameras and in-cabin video displays, for a net energy loss.
Unique wheels and tires are another critical feature. The rubber has exceedingly low rolling resistance and the covers on the lightweight alloy wheels contribute to reducing wind drag.
About the size of today’s Mercedes C-Class Coupe, the Vision EQXX is surprisingly elegant for a single-purpose show car and has generated enough praise some company officials have suggested they might need to rethink the idea of putting it into production.
Since every extra ounce matters when you’re targeting range, the EQXX design team had to put the prototype on a strict diet. Among other things, there’s only vestigial back buckets. And there’s only minimal noise insulation.
But because the prototype was going to be driven on extended runs, it does have some welcome creature comforts, including air conditioning — something I truly welcomed on a day when the temperature outside Stuttgart rose to a near-record 94 degrees Fahrenheit. But the development team took the opportunity to find ways to maximize the climate control system’s efficiency, using a new heat pump design while drawing some power from a set of solar cells covering the horizontal surfaces of the EQXX.
Lifting a page from the hyperscreen found in the Mercedes EQS, the concept vehicle’s instrument panel features a 47.5-inch, pillar-to-pillar screen. It displays the requisite gauges visible through the steering wheel. With a smartphone-style swipe, the rest of the display can be switched to show a map, the audio system or a variety of unique readouts showing critical vehicle operations. The 8K screen can even track the direction the wind is blowing and how much power the solar cells are getting from the sun.
In keeping with the Vision EQXX’s mission, the interior makes use environmentally friendly materials, such as a bamboo-based carpet and “vegan” leathers using base materials like old pop bottles and recovered plastic fishing nets.
Like the exterior, the EQXX cabin doesn’t have the rawness of a traditional concept vehicle. I could readily imagine something like it landing in a Mercedes showroom.
For a vehicle of its exterior footprint, the cabin is actually quite roomy, benefiting from the powertrain layout below the EQXX’s load floor. There’s no transmission tunnel, for one thing.
The battery pack itself is a custom design that, unlike almost all of today’s battery-electric vehicles, opts for an air, rather than liquid, cooling system. The drivetrain is so efficient, claims Pillas, that it just doesn’t need the extra cooling capacity — which would have taken up significant space and added range-stealing mass.
The roughly 100 kilowatt-hour pack feeds a single, rear-mounted electric motor making 240 horsepower and, weighing in at a modest — for an EV — 3,858 pounds, the Vision EQXX proved pleasantly quick when I decided to floor the throttle during an uphill stretch of track at the Mercedes proving ground.
The prototype has been electronically limited to 140 kmh, or 87 mph, but could readily push higher. The team specifically tuned the EQXX to deliver maximum efficiency during the mid-range driving speeds they expected to encounter on routes like the one from Stuttgart to the Cote d’Azur.
The program’s initial goal was to use no more than 10 kWh of energy for each 100 kilometers driven. On the run from Germany to France, the final figure was a mere 8.7 kWh. Measured in American terms, the Vision EQXX could drive 7.1 miles per kWh. Most of today’s BEVs are lucky to get 3.5 miles to a kWh.
That’s all the more impressive when you realize the EQXX had to cross the Alps along the way.
Safety and Technology
The Mercedes-Benz Vision EQXX is, as you’d expect, a technological tour de force. You won’t find features like Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, however. Pretty much everything onboard is designed to boost the battery car’s range.
The electrical architecture, for example, runs at about 900 volts, rather than the 400-volt system found in the production Mercedes-Benz EQS. Virtually everything, including the motors, were designed to minimize energy consumption.
For a first-time driver, however, the most impressive feature is the 8K digital display that stretched the full width of the instrument panel.
Switching the EQXX on, I head towards the entry gate to the Mercedes Proving Grounds and steer towards the long test track that sweeps through a broad valley. The layout serves as a good way to test out not only the efficiency of the battery-electric prototype, but how it sounds, handles and feels.
I’ve driven plenty of show cars and prototypes over the past 40-plus years and many of them seem almost dangerous on the road. The EQXX, however, feels surprisingly comfortable and adept. The extremely low center of gravity helps, of course. Even with those super-low rolling resistance tires, the car handles corners easily, both Pillas and I staying firmly planted in our seats.
While I’m intentionally keeping my speed down to see how much range I can get, I can’t entirely resist the temptation, however. The single rear motor responds willingly, blasting me from 30 to more than 60 in just a few seconds.
While there’s relatively little insulation to restrict wind noise, the EQXX drivetrain is all but silent, with virtually no wind noise due to the low aerodynamic drag. So, my co-pilot Pillas and I could almost talk in a whisper while driving at 60 mph.
To maximize range, the EQXX got an expanded selection of regenerative braking settings. “D—” mode aggressively recaptures energy normally lost during braking an coasting. Using it in corners and when coming up on a stop sign, it felt like a V-8 with a manual transmission downshifted from sixth to second gear and, according to the concept car’s video display, I could see it sending plenty of energy back to the battery pack.
At the other extreme, “D2” mode completely disconnected the drivetrain. And with the aerodynamics of the EQXX body and the hyper-efficient tires, I found myself coasting on a straight and level section of track for close to a mile while losing barely 1 mph of speed.
Ultimately, I wound up clocking just over 8 miles per kWh during my time behind the wheel of the Vision EQXX, even better than the program team’s drivers recorded during their record run.
As I exit the Mercedes proving grounds I have to remind myself that the Vision EQXX is just a concept vehicle, not even an advanced prototype for an upcoming production model — as was the case with the Vision EQS show car that eventually morphed into Mercedes’ flagship electric sedan.
Intriguingly, several senior board members seemingly have softened their stand in recent weeks as praise for the design of the EQXX rolls in. Does that mean a production model might get the green light, after all? I’d still bet the odds are slim. For one thing, the electric sedan is about the size of today’s C-Class — and the all-electric version now reportedly in development.
At the other extreme, I could readily imagine a revised version of the EQXX being retuned for the AMG brand which has been expanding its line-up of unique models. In such a scenario, however, I would expect to see a trade-off, sacrificing some range for improved performance. The EQXX could win up being the German brand’s answer to ultra-efficient competitors from Tesla and Lucid.
Assuming the EQXX is a one-shot project doesn’t mean it’s a waste, however, not by a long shot. The program has provided tremendous insight into ways to dramatically maximize the efficiency of an electric vehicle. And so, whether it’s the hyper-aero design, the improved drivetrain or tweaks to the climate control system, expect to see the EQXX have a dramatic impact on Mercedes EVs to come.
Mercedes-Benz Vision EQXX — Frequently Asked Questions
Is the Mercedes-Benz Vision EQXX real?
The Vision EQXX is, for now, a one-off concept vehicle designed to learn about how to maximize range in battery-electric vehicles. It will influence future Mercedes products, however.
How far can the Mercedes-Benz Vision EQXX go on a charge?
The concept vehicle was designed to get at least 1,000 kilometers, or about 625 miles, per charge and met that goal during its first run from Stuttgart, Germany to the French Cote d’Azur – with more than 100 miles of range left in its batteries. It deliver even better numbers during a second run from Stuttgart to the Silverstone race track in England.
How much would the Mercedes-Benz Vision EQXX cost?
There’s no way to easily estimate the cost of the Vision EQXX since it is just a one-off concept vehicle. If it were to go into production it would readily cost several $100,000 or more, depending upon how it was positioned and how many would be built.