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Mercedes Challenges Tesla With an All-Electric SUV

Mercedes-Benz unveiled its first fully electric SUV today in Stockholm, the first in a long line of electric vehicles the automotive juggernaut will roll out over the coming years as part of its new EQ sub-brand. The EQC will run to 60 mph in under five seconds, packs a tech-heavy punch, and when it enters production in 2020, it will find itself in a world of increasingly fierce competition.

The EQC unveil comes amid a flurry of electrifying announcements from the auto industry. Later this month, Audi will debut its own electric SUV, the e-Tron. BMW just began taking orders for its upcoming iX3 electric SUV. Tesla is showing the production version of its gobsmacking, revived Roadster at the Grand Basel motor show in Switzerland this week. Jaguar is gearing up to start US deliveries of its much-lauded electric i-Pace later this year.

For Mercedes, it’s a necessary move, as governments around the world insist on a move away from internal combustion engines, especially diesels. “It’s impossible to predict the take up speed of electric mobility,” CEO Dieter Zetsche told reporters during the event, held at Stockholm’s lakeside Artipelag art museum. “But for us, it’s a mandate. That’s why we said we must integrate electric vehicles with a purpose-built vehicle architecture designed around electric propulsion.”

The EQC earns its three-pointed star badge with 400 horsepower, all-wheel drive (thus its proper name: the EQC 400 4MATIC), and a full slate of high-tech goodies. Two asynchronous motors at the front and rear axles draw power from an 80-kWh lithium-ion battery (manufactured in-house). That’s enough for an estimated range of 279 miles, using the New European Driving Cycle testing protocol.1 Mercedes hasn't released numbers based on the EPA's style of testing yet, but those results typically fall far lower. (The Tesla Model S 75D, for example, has a Euro-rated range of 304 miles. On the EPA test, it gets 259 miles.) Plug into a DC fast-charger, and you'll get to 80 percent capacity in 40 minutes. With 564 pound-feet of torque and a single-speed transmission, the little SUV will reach 60 mph in 4.9 seconds, on the way to a (capped) top speed of 112 mph, just enough for fun on the Autobahn.

Mercedes says the car’s main competitors include Audi’s e-Tron, BMW’s iX3, Jaguar’s i-Pace, and Tesla’s Model X. Compared to the specs for the Jag and Tesla (BMW and Audi are staying quiet for now), the EQC comes up slightly short. The base i-Pace S produces 394 horsepower, and 512 pound-feet of torque, but it has a 90 kWh lithium-ion battery pack, a range of 240 miles and a top speed of 124 mph, reaching 60 a hair faster at 4.8 seconds. The Tesla has either a 75-kWh battery pack with 237-mile range and a 4.9-second spring to 60, or a 100-kWh battery that can do 295 miles and hit 60 in 4.7 seconds. (Or 2.9 seconds, with “Ludicrous Speed” mode enabled.)

The Germans could make up the gap with a performance edition of the car to follow this initial base model. Zetsche remains coy about whether such a car might originate from the EQ line or the AMG performance division. “Certainly we have a place for more electrification of performance cars,” he said. “For the foreseeable future we will certainly talk about hybrid AMGs, and the [$2.8 million hypercar] Project One obviously is one of those. There’s been no public discussion of a fully electric performance vehicle, though.”

Visually, the new Merc cuts some dramatic lines, though it’s not as over-the-top as the Model X, with its panoramic moonroof and falcon-wing doors. The EQC does introduce a new electrification-inspired design idiom that Mercedes calls “Progressive Luxury.” Designers point to the car’s avant-garde aesthetic, with unorthodox light strips connecting the headlights across the grille and the taillights across the rear hatch, as well as what they refer to as a mix of both “sensuality” and “sporty dynamics” in the overall feel and posture of the car. In person, it looks and feels larger than it actually is.

Inside, the car feels more like a traditional, if modern, Mercedes, with the large widescreen infotainment system and bold use of eye-candy colors. It combines the digital and the analog, with mechanical controls of things like vents but digital dials controlling the temperature.

The real test of the EQC will come in the drive itself. Mercedes’ engineers will optimize the compact all-wheel-drive system for handling based on its low center of gravity. The front electric motor is geared for efficiency in the low- to medium-load range, the company says, while the rear motor is engineered for sportiness, delivering more torque to the wheels.

Drivers eager to preserve their battery life can used the novel ECO Assist System, which will prompt them to lift off the accelerator at certain times, like when the speed limit’s about to change, or the car is cresting a hill. The car will then automatically maintain speed through transmission and throttle application, with the end result being better regenerative braking to push electricity back into the battery—keeping you away from the charger a little while longer.

Of course, what sounds fantastic on paper can be terrifically annoying in person, even to the most committed eco-driver, so we’ll reserve judgment until we’re actually behind the wheel. Unfortunately that’s still a good two years away. But for now, at least, Mercedes has staked a hefty claim on the future of electric driving—along with the rest of the field.

1Story updated at 20:35 ET on Wednesday, September 5, 2018 to remove mention of a 200-mile range for the EQC, which Mercedes included in various press materials. "The 200 mile figure was incorrect and should not have been included," a company spokesperson told WIRED.

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