Mercedes-Benz rewrites history with electric luxury

When it comes to ‘legacy’ car manufacturers, literally none have the history and heritage of Mercedes-Benz.

Rewriting History

The brand’s new EQS is a looking glass into its EV future and that of performance division, AMG.

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FOR ALMOST 100 YEARS, the Mercedes-Benz S-Class and its early iterations have set the benchmark for internal combustion-powered luxury. With the EQS, the German manufacturer intends to do the same in the electrified space, bringing with it segment-first performance, material quality, and intuitive technology – and, yes, that headlining 141cm A-pillar to A-pillar Hyperscreen.

Within the comforting confines of a meeting room planning the first all-electric Mercedes-Benz S-Class probably felt an incredibly liberating moment for the engineers and designers present. A moment in time that few have – or ever will – enjoy in the automotive world. That’s because engineers and designers were given a blank sheet of paper on which to create the blueprint for an electric version of the most successful, and consistently unbeatable upper-luxury sedan there is, using every ounce of knowledge and experience gained from said limousine, applied to an electric version for our brave new world.

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An electric S-Class built upon its own bespoke platform, with battery and motor technology that promises the holy grail of EVs: performance and range. The opportunity to integrate driving aid technology like never before, take interior luxury and functionality to another level. Basically, redefine the luxury car for this second century of motoring.

The EQS draws its aesthetic foundations from the 2018 Frankfurt concept car of the same name, and that concept’s navy-over-silver paintwork and multi-spoke wheel design is available on the production car. With its underpinnings having so little to do with the large luxury Mercedes-Benz sedans that we’re used to, it’s not surprising to see its aesthetic tread its own path.

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This aspect is exaggerated by the short bonnet, which is fixed in place and only able to be removed by technicians. For access to the wiper fluid, there’s a small flap on the front guard. The grille has been reimagined as a convex black panel, housing both the typical three-pointed star and all of the active safety hardware behind. The EQS 53 4Matic+ that we’re testing features an EV-friendly interpretation of AMG’s Panamerciana grille.

Thanks in large part to the smooth silhouette and tight shutlines up front, the EQS is the slipperiest production car ever made, with a drag coefficient of just 0.20, while the high-performance EQS 53 AMG variant boasts a drag coefficient of just 0.23.

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As you’d expect, technology is never far away from being part of the EQS experience and it starts as you approach with the key fob in hand or pocket. The flush door handles slide out of the body to meet you as if extending the hand of the EQS in greeting.

Inside is where the EQS gets serious. With a 3210mm wheelbase (in total, the car stretches the tape measure to 5216mm) you don’t know whether to sit in the back and enjoy the long-wheelbase-S-Class-beating leg room, or jump in the front.

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The pièce de resistance is Mercedes-Benz’s updated MBUX system, and of course, the showstopping 141cm Hyperscreen – which design chief Gorden Wagener refers to as a “digital work of art.” Joining the hordes of OEMs attempting to stamp out driver distraction through intelligent UX, the new MBUX Hyperscreen is ergonomically designed to reduce reflections and distractions by utilising a “zero layer” system – meaning users don’t have to go digging through menus to find their most-used controls. Instead, the system learns behaviours, eventually delivering a personalised service that gives occupants what they want before they think to ask.

Audiophiles will be pleased to hear that sound is also at the heart of the car’s sensory tech, with Burmester not holding back with its optional surround sound system and acoustics playing a big part in experience in lieu of an engine sound. The EQS even has a number of audio party tricks, including three intuitive driving soundscapes that adapt to driving styles and the car’s selected drive programme.

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Regardless whether you’re discussing design or technology, it’s difficult to overstate the EQS’s importance – not only is this a representation of Mercedes-Benz’s latest technology, it’s also a looking glass into where the brand plans to go both in the mainstream and for Mercedes-AMG in the performance sphere. A technological leader in the form of an electric sedan – it’s a baseline of a whole new era of vehicles for Mercedes-Benz, and a platform for the next generation of performance models from AMG. For now, though, there’s a lot to unpack in the new EQS, starting with its structure.

Like all of the big players embracing electrification, Mercedes-Benz has developed a brand new and bespoke chassis that the EQS is the first to utilise. Its layout is similar to that of many dedicated EVs, built around a flat battery pack that sits under the floor, with the axles and integrated electric motors at either end. At 5216mm long, the EQS is 37mm longer than the current S-Class, slightly narrower at 1926mm and a bit taller at 1512mm, giving you some idea as to its outright size. Due to the tiny overhangs and long cabin, interior space is significantly larger than that of the standard-wheelbase S-Class, which also negates the need for a long-wheelbase variant of the EQS. We sampled an S580L shortly after our drive of the EQS 53 4Matic+ and the new electric model exudes the same level of supreme space and luxury.

Despite the switch to electric power, the EQS also delivers commanding performance reminiscent of the AMG S-Class models of recent years. The EQS 53 4Matic+ boasts a 400-volt lithium-ion battery pack with a useable 107.8kWh rating. With a motor on each axle, the EQS 53 delivers 484kW and 950Nm, but the optional AMG Dynamic Plus Package increases these outputs (in Race Start mode) to 560kW and 1020Nm. The standard outputs will propel the 2655kg EQS 53 to 100km/h in 3.8 seconds and on to an electronically limited top speed of 220km/h. When fitted with the full-house AMG Dynamic Plus Package, the EQS 53 hits the 0-100km/h benchmark in 3.4 seconds while the top speed (still limited) increases to 250km/h.

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According to the ADR 81/02 testing regime, the EQS 53 features an impressive range of 587km and the system can be charged at up to 200kW on a DC fast charger. Using such a system (and assuming the full 200kW charge rate), the EQS’ battery can be replenished from 10-80 percent charge in 31 minutes. The system also accommodates 11kW AC charging and there’s an optional 22kW AC charging system available.

With a 22kW charging unit, a 10 to 100 percent charge time can be reached in around five hours, while the 11kW charge time is 10 hours (a typical overnight home charge). Its “intelligent charging” system has three types of charging functions that change depending on location and includes an eco mode. This, says Mercedes-Benz, will help reduce battery load, preserve battery life and save on electricity costs. With circular sustainability and social responsibility in mind, the EQS debuts a new generation of batteries with a higher energy density and a reduced (and responsibly-sourced) cobalt content of less than 10 per cent, and an end-of-life battery programme is already in place.

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Available driver assistance features include adaptive cruise control with in-built navigation data including a system that can predict range based on HVAC settings, driving style, traffic and geography, as well as the battery’s capacity to return to the starting point without charging. There’s also lane-keep assist (from 60 to 250km/h) and lane-centring assist (up to 210km/h). On top of the primary active safety systems found in all top-spec Mercedes-Benz models, the EQS has Active Emergency Stop Assist with lane-change support (which will stop the car even with the driver incapacitated), driver attention monitoring and evasive steering assist. The EQS even has three park assist systems, including a clever memory parking assist and a 360-degree camera with 3D view and 12 ultrasound sensors.

“The EQS is designed to exceed the expectations of even our most demanding customers,” says Ola Källenius, board member for Daimler AG and Chairman of the Board of Management for Mercedes-Benz AG. “That’s exactly what a Mercedes has to do to earn the letter S in its name. Because we don’t award that letter lightly.

Future Factory

After a total investment nearing $3 billion, Mercedes-Benz’s Factory 56 in Sindelfingen promises sustainable production practices for future generations of the brand’s models.

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FACTORY 56, HOME TO PRODUCTION of the EQS and S-Class, is a zero-carbon factory and features an array of technological advancements aimed to reduce the company’s environmental impact and to provide the best possible support for the employees. The principles behind Factory 56 will be gradually spread throughout the Mercedes-Benz world, acting as a blueprint to the company’s manufacturing plants.

Flexibility and scalability are the keys to Factory 56. While presently dedicated to the production of the new-generation S-Class, and, more recently, the EQS, Factory 56 can quickly be adapted to produce everything within the Mercedes-Benz empire from compact cars to SUVs, and including conventional internal combustion drivetrains, PHEVs and BEVs. The latter is key in the brand’s Ambition 2039 statement that the entire company will be carbon neutral by 2039.

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“The EV shift is picking up speed – especially in the luxury segment, where Mercedes-Benz belongs. The tipping point is getting closer and we will be ready as markets switch to electric-only by the end of this decade,” said Ola Källenius, Chairman of the Board of Management of Mercedes-Benz Group AG. “This step marks a profound reallocation of capital. By managing this faster transformation while safeguarding our profitability targets, we will ensure the enduring success of Mercedes-Benz. Thanks to our highly qualified and motivated workforce, I am convinced that we will be successful in this exciting new era.”

Factory 56 and the EQS are very much at the forefront of this new era. The nearly $3 billion investment in the Singelfingen plant includes systems in place to dramatically reduce energy consumption (by around 25 percent compared to other manufacturing plants), extensive use of solar panels and an innovative DC power grid and energy storage system that utilises recycled vehicle batteries.

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In addition to being carbon-neutral, Factory 56 is also completely paperless. The new plant uses a high-performance WLAN and 5G network as the basis for its full digitisation, including complete digital tracking of each vehicle during the production process. This system provides data to line employees in real time on display screens and handheld digital scanners, rather than having to wait for an updated printout. In total, the new digital system saves approximately 10 tonnes of paper per annum. This digital ecosystem also extends beyond Factory 56 itself and into the supply chain of Mercedes-Benz, allowing the digital tracing of materials around the production world.

While the majority of roof space is given over to photovoltaic cells (which generate approximately 30 percent of the annual power requirements), 40 percent of the roof is occupied by plants.

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Not only does this application of greenery offset the sealed ground area of the facility, it also retains rainwater, thereby improving the interior climate of the building. An additional benefit of retaining and capturing the rainwater is that it reduces the requirement for outside water resources. Not only is recycling an important part of the products that Factory 56 produces, it features in the very construction of the building. For the first time in a Mercedes-Benz facility, the main façade of Factory 56 is constructed using reclaimed and recycled concrete.

The holistic approach to the environment and carbon-neutrality is an often-overlooked measure in the rush to bring electric vehicles to market. However, brands such as Mercedes-Benz are endeavouring to close the loop and ensure that the entire production process – ethical material sourcing, transport, production and now even the construction and running of the facility itself – is done in a manner to bring the least amount of harm and maximum benefit to the environment.

Quiet Riot

For a brand built on thunderous noise, the near-silent EQS 53 4Matic+ is a dramatic departure. However, AMG fans will recognise the crushing performance that’s been associated with the company for 55 years.

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JUST FOUR YEARS AFTER IT HUNG out its shingle in Affalterbach, AMG made its name with the Red Sow, the famous 6.8-litre V8-powered 300 SEL that finished second at the 1971 24 Hours of Spa. The Hyazinth Red Mercedes-AMG EQS 53 4Matic+ that I’m sitting in feels like a similar milestone for the brand that, since 1999, has been Benz’s official hot haus and is this year celebrating its 55th anniversary.

As the first fully electric offering from Mercedes-AMG, the EQS 53 4Matic+ is a line in the sand, representing a change of direction for a brand whose reputation has been forged by blood and thunder V8s. Pedants might feel that statement isn’t entirely accurate as the AMG badge has previously been applied to an electric vehicle. First shown at the 2012 Paris motor show, the Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Electric Drive used a 60kWh lithium-ion battery pack that powered four electric motors (one for each wheel), delivering 552kW, 1000Nm. Highlighting the progress of the last decade, the Electric Drive had a claimed range of just 250km compared to the impressive 587km range of the faster EQS 53. Just nine Electric Drives were built but they worked as a proof of concept for an electrified future for AMG that is beginning to be realised with the EQS 53.

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“The AMG EQS 53 4Matic+ is the first all-electric ambassador in the performance segment, made in Affalterbach,” says Philipp Schiemer, Chairman of the Board of Management of Mercedes -AMG GmbH. “It is tailor-made for car enthusiasts who are looking for a combination of innovative electric mobility in a luxurious ambience, coupled with sportiness and agile driving dynamics.

“In addition, the EQS 53 is further proof that Mercedes-Benz is consistently driving electrification forward with all its brands as well. Further all-electric AMG models will follow in the not-too-distant future, also on our AMG.EA platform developed entirely in-house.”

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Jochen Hermann, Chief Technical Officer of Mercedes -AMG GmbH, added that its EV models will deliver on the AMG brand promise. “Our customers can also look forward to a dynamic and emotional driving experience in this area. We ensure this with AMG-specific solutions, particularly when it comes to the drive system, suspension, brakes and, above all, sound.”

Of course, there’s no theatrical cold-start bellow and roar from a grumpy V8 being cajoled from its slumber. Instead, the EQS 53 creates its own aural signature inside the cabin through the use of speakers, a bass actuator and a sound generator. The soundscape is offered in two stages, Authentic and Performance, and it automatically adjusts its depth and intensity in sync with the driving mode that has been selected and style of driving. The system can also be tailored according to the driver’s wishes. We found that the AMG Sound Experience, especially in its Performance setting, provided a welcome addition of feedback to help you marry the speed of the EQS 53 with all of your senses. With the AMG Sound Experience inactive, the EQS 53 delivers near-silent progress, to which the inner ear takes some time to adapt, especially if you’re tapping into the reserves of vast performance on offer.

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The headline acceleration figure of 3.8 seconds to 100km/h (or 3.4 seconds when the EQS 53 is fitted with the optional AMG Dynamic Plus Package) is par for the course in these days of mega EVs and ICE sports and supercars. But what the numbers cannot convey is the crushing relentlessness of the acceleration once the initial shock of the all-wheel-drive launch has abated. Unlike many EVs that jack-rabbit out of the blocks only to fall in a performance hole shortly after the headline 100km/h has passed, the EQS 53 (with or without the more powerful AMG Dynamic Plus Package) simply continues to reel in the horizon. In fact, its rolling acceleration is reminiscent of AMG’s recent twin-turbocharged V8 models, reminding us in particular of the crushing mid-range of the E63 S.

The 2655kg kerb weight leaps off the spec sheet but in the real world that mass is rarely a concern. Of course, I’m hardly going to claim that the EQS 53 feels like a lithe sports car, but neither does it feel any heavier or more reluctant to change direction than an S-Class. Handily, we were able to confirm this hunch with a near back-to-back drive of an 2040kg S580L.

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You’ve probably heard road testers (myself included) bang on about a car shrinking around them to offer a more involving and intimate driving experience. It’s a cliché, but it often is the perfect description as to how a large car delivers a small(er) car dynamic experience and it’s somewhat true of the EQS 53. Because the cabin is so voluminous, you rarely forget the true size of the EQS (the rear seat and back screen always seem like a long way away from the driver’s seat) but the chassis does manage the shrinking trick when you raise the speed through a series of corners.

This surprising agility is largely thanks to the rear-wheel steering system that offers an incredible nine degrees of counter steering angle to effectively shorten the 3210mm wheelbase. The steering angle is so great that when we were following another EQS 53 on a twisting section of tarmac, you could easily see the rear wheels counter steer. At higher speeds, the rear wheels turn in the same direction as the fronts to aid stability.

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The EQS runs suspension hardware that’s familiar from the S-Class; four-link front suspension, five-link rear with air struts, adaptive damping and anti-roll bars on each axle. But while the set-up is familiar, the EQS 53 sits flatter through corners and changes of direction, perhaps a product of having much of its mass low down in the chassis. Sport and Sport Plus modes bring increased stiffness and control, encouraging even greater liberties to be taken. For such a large and hefty car, the EQS 53 is eager to turn in, and the rear is just as eager to follow. With all-wheel-drive traction and vast grip from the 22-inch Michelin tyres (21-inch alloys are standard), the EQS has a firm hold on the surface, even though it’s transmitting such enormous outputs.

After diving for the apex thanks to the sharp steering and rear-steer agility, the EQS claws at the surface, firing itself up the road like the oversized sports sedan that it is. It’s a moment of clarity that not only impresses for what it is right now, but it’s a glimpse into an electrified future for the likes of the E63 and C63 models, and perhaps an EV supercar from Mercedes-AMG.

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The AMG EQS 53 will be joined later this year by a Mercedes-Benz-badged EQS 450, but for now the $328,400 (plus on-road costs) 53 offers major league performance, luxury and range. The AMG Dynamic Plus Package costs a further $7690 but offers value as it includes the additional power and torque outputs, AMG Driver’s Package, AMG Track Pace and the Performance AMG Sound Experience. For $9290, the Energizing Comfort Package adds a heated steering wheel, heated rear seats, Energizing Air Control Plus, a HEPA air purifier, and the MBUX High-End Rear Seat Entertainment System with two wireless headsets. The Night Package ($3990) includes red-painted brake calipers, the 22-inch multi-spoke wheels, and trim details in black. Individual options include ceramic-composite brakes ($9990), MBUX Augmented Reality head-up display ($2690); a 22kW AC charging system ($2490) and the Mercedes-Benz Wallbox Gen 1.5 for home charging ($1450).

In Australia, the EQS 53 is unique in offering such full-sized EV-powered luxury and performance, sitting above the likes of Porsche’s smaller Taycan and Audi’s much-delayed RS e-tron GT. That it delivers now almost feels like a bonus for the future it heralds for Mercedes-AMG.