We don’t do passenger-seat test drives; full stop. These well-worn devices generally come before the launch of an important new car and are misleading at best. A journalist sits alongside a talented test engineer who rattles off complicated technical information while driving gently to obscure less positive traits and you end up with conclusions which amount to not much more than “promising”.
So, when Mercedes-Benz asked us to sit beside test driver and engineer Christoph Scarzynski for a passenger seat drive in the new EQS electric car, we initially declined. Then we realised this passenger-seat test drive would be separated by 600 miles; him in Stuttgart, Germany, us on the Surrey/Sussex borders.
The opportunity for a virtual test drive was intriguing, so we signed up.
Watch: Mercedes reveals EQS flagship sedan’s elegant interior
Why the EQS is worth this preview
Mercedes-Benz isn’t saying that the EQS is a battery electric version of the latest S-class, but Scarzynski somewhat gives the game away when he invites me inside (virtually, of course), pointing out that the new car is “the size of an S-class, but as roomy [inside] as a long-wheelbase S-class”.
The EQS is an incredibly important car for Mercedes since, unlike its three other battery-electric models which comprise a large SUV (the EQC), a van (EQV) and a smallish crossover (EQA), it isn’t a converted version of an existing combustion-engine chassis. It’s a unique platform chassis specially built for this car, which is a large four-door hatchback, but is also scalable for smaller cars in future.
Yes, you did read that right, Mercedes has built a 5.2-metre-long hatchback rather than a saloon for this flagship vehicle, which is aimed at the market typified by Tesla’s Model S, albeit nine years late.
It rides on a 3.2-metre-long wheelbase, with frameless doors and a 610-litre load space behind, which extends to 1,770 litres if you fold the rear seats. There’s no storage space under the bonnet as that area is taken up by a huge heat pump air-conditioning system serving the car’s interior as well as the drive battery pack.
Driver’s eye view
The EQS has three cameras set up inside, pointing at the road ahead with a view of the ‘Hyperscreen’ facia, a second at Scarzynski from the passenger seat and a third giving effectively a driver’s view of the instrument binnacle and head-up display.
We’ve already written about the EQS’s curved, single 56-inch pane-of-glass Hyperscreen dashboard, but seen in these circumstances it’s clear that this is in fact three separate screens (instrument binnacle, centre console and passenger screen) with a single pane over the top.
The impression is of a seamless integration, but not quite the Minority Report-style gesture screens we’ve been sort-of promised. There’s also rather a lot going on, especially when you combine it with the customisable head-up display in front of Scarzynski.
He glides away into a Stuttgart suburb and I sit swaying into the corners at the kitchen table grabbing my tea as the ThinkPad screen fades in and out with North Downs connectivity.
Scarzynski explains that the system “learns” what I’m changing as I drive and will keep those functions in plain sight on touch tiles. The passenger seat screen will only come on if it detects there’s someone in the seat and although it will show the passenger a film, the driver’s eye line is continuously monitored; turn and look at the screen for more than a second and it will shut itself down.
The world’s most aerodynamic car
Even under the disguise panels, the EQS body is handsome rather than beautiful, though it’s extraordinarily slippery through the air with a coefficient of drag of 0.2 which makes it the most aerodynamic production car in the world.
And that’s without rear-facing cameras instead of conventional door mirrors, such as pioneered by Volkswagen and Audi. Scarzynski points out that while these things give a smoother side profile, the cameras and screens consume a lot of electricity so their advantages aren’t clear cut.
We trundle quietly around suburban Stuttgart as Scarzynski explains this four-wheel-drive top model has a Bosch twin-motor, 516bhp/611lbft drivetrain, with a 108kWh (net) battery giving a range of up to 479 miles. The lesser 400 model has (we think) a 342bhp single motor driving the rear wheels only, with power from a 90kWh (net) battery.
The EQS will come with an 11kW charger as standard with optional 22kW AC and up to 200kW DC systems. Using the DC option, Mercedes says the EQS can be given an additional 186 miles of range in quarter of an hour.
By this time, Scarzynski is demonstrating the one-pedal option in which the EQS will use its recuperation braking to top up the battery when you lift off the accelerator and it will also coast (or sail) if you choose to when lifting off while cruising.
“Giving the customer the same feeling when braking has been a big part of the work we have done on this car,” he says.
Seat comfort tested from the kitchen table
There are apparently a lot of seat functions such as massage, cooling and heating and inflatable side bolsters when cornering. These come straight out of the latest S-class, along with Mercedes’s MBUX and voice recognition systems. From the kitchen table I can’t honestly tell you a great deal about these.
And that’s it. We turn back into the depot and the cameras switch off one by one. Apparently, the car I was “in” had the full air suspension and also the S-class’s rear-wheel-steering system, but I’m able to tell you nothing about these.
In fact, I’m no wiser now than when I first sat down in front of the computer with a piping-hot mug of tea.
Interesting the EQS most certainly is, but promising? I couldn’t possibly say. The car is being launched later this year in Germany. We’ll be there to tell you what it’s actually like.
As for virtual test drives, they might be the future – even the present – but until we can get our hands on the car in the real world we’ll just say no.
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