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Two prototype examples of the upcoming Mercedes-Benz EQC all-electric SUV are in Melbourne this week, to showcase near-future tech and coincide with this weekend's Australian F1 Grand Prix series opener. This is the brand that's won the World Championship for the past five years straight, let's not forget.
Build number 8 and 450 of 455 pre-production prototypes built so far have been accompanied by EQC testing head Karl Scheible, who took CarsGuide for a quick spin around the Todd Rd Go Kart track in Port Melbourne and give us a bit more detail about the brand's first pure-electric production model.
Firstly, that's a lot of development prototypes by today's standards, but signifies how careful Mercedes is being to get the product just right before launch. If you're not first to market, lagging behind Jaguar, Audi and likely Porsche, it's probably wise to make doubly sure the product is as good as can be before launch.
Mercedes-Benz Australia/Pacific boss Horst von Sanden explained the timing well at an EQC customer event on Tuesday night: “We always like to be first, but in this situation with electric cars we were not first, but for a very good reason,” he said. “We wanted to bring to the market the most complete solution for future mobility. I think it’s fair to say that electric now has a Mercedes!”
Mr Sheible explained that NVH (noise, vibration and harshness) suppression has been a key focus for his team, both to deal with the vastly different noise frequencies of the electric drivetrain, and also how its general quietness tends to highlight any other squeaks and rattles.
One of the biggest bugbears with EVs to date has been the accuracy of the remaining range calculation on the dash - the equivalent of a distance-to-empty reading in a conventional vehicle - but Mr Sheible assured us the EQC's readout will be more accurate. The EQC will base its calculation on previous trips along with plotted sat-nav routes and considering variables such as altitude and road conditions based on real-time traffic updates every 30 seconds.
Mercedes is yet to quote an official range between charges based on the new WLTP standard, but expects the final number to exceed 400km. The provisional rating is 450km, but based on the old-fashioned pre-2017 NEDC standard.
Mercedes also stresses that the 80kWh rating of the EQC's battery refers to its usable potential, not the total energy potential of the battery system.
As with existing EV options, an optional home wall charger is expected to be the most popular charging option. It is said to be three times faster than a standard power point, but no official charge times are being stated yet.
The EQC will be able to be charged from a standard power point, but Mercedes will consider this charging option for emergencies only, and doesn't plan to quote rate of charge figures.
Also like most existing EVs, a public DC fast charger will be the fastest charging option for now, with a 50kW charger tipped to restore 80 per cent charge within 50 minutes.
Mercedes-Benz is a founding partner of the Chargefox charge station network, which plans to link all capital cities along the east cost of Australia, from Adelaide to Brisbane, by the end of 2019.
Mercedes-Benz Australia EQ Infrastructure Readiness Manager Claire Painter told CarsGuide that the west coast in populated areas north and south of Perth are next, with the brand choosing to link customers to the largest available network to maximise convenience of use. The details are still being finalised, but Mercedes is aiming to provide Chargefox membership to owners to offer discounted charging.
Ms Painter suggests the Plugshare phone app as a good resource for existing EV owners, but the entire available charge network will be loaded into the EQC's built in navigation system, and also available via the Mercedes me phone app. The EQC will constantly display its state of charge on the dash instruments when plugged in.
Asked whether a multi-ratio transmission - as with all conventionally fuelled vehicles - was considered for the EQC, Mr Sheible said there had been no discussion, with the production model sticking to direct drive for its twin motors as per all production EVs to date.
It's this author's belief that multiple ratios will be a key solution to intrinsic EV high speed efficiency compromise, but it seems the torque characteristics of electric motors combined with relatively low production volumes in the near future is precluding this. The EQC will be speed-limited to 180km/h to help manage this.
The EQC's suspension layout is a rather unconventional air-spring front, steel-spring rear layout, which is likely due to a combination of weight and packaging challenges of positioning the battery system beneath the cabin floor. Mr Sheible explained this setup would typically cause unwanted diagonal pitching of the chassis, but has been avoided in this instance due to the inherent stiffness of the EQC's floor.
There's plenty of shared GLC SUV components throughout the EQC, but AMG brakes and GLC Coupe steering parts have been used to help offset the EQC's 600-odd kg weight disadvantage over a GLC because of the heavy EV equipment.
Note that this EV equipment doesn't eat into the boot area though, with the EQC promising the same 500-litre capacity and underfloor storage as a GLC.
Mr Sheible also explained that the EQC will also be the first Mercedes model to use a new Climatex interior trim, with the synthetic material designed to manage interior temperatures while being durable, recyclable and Cradle to Cradle certified.
The production EQC international launch is set for the coming months, before its Australian on-sale date before the end of the year.