Packed with leading-edge tech, Mercedes-Benz’s EQS paves the way forward as few automobiles can. And yet, it also feels exactly how a traditional luxury car should.
When the Citroën DS was launched at the Paris motor show in 1955, it caused a sensation. At that time, just 10 years after the end of World War II, automobile design was still dragging itself out from the 1940s and cars were mostly lumpy, bulbous objects.
The DS, in contrast, was a spaceship on wheels, a machine so futuristic and other-worldly that within minutes of its unveiling the company had sold almost 750 of them — and by the end of the same day it had racked up another 12,000 orders, a number almost unimaginable in those days of post-war reconstruction and austerity.
According to the philosopher Roland Barthes, who wrote about the car in his 1957 work Mythologies, it looked as if it had “fallen from the sky”.
The Citroën wasn’t just different in appearance from everything else on the road; it also represented a quantum leap in automotive design, incorporating such revolutionary technology as hydropneumatic self-levelling suspension and headlamps, variable ground clearance, power steering, hydraulically powered front disc brakes and semi-automatic transmission, all of which meant that it drove and rode like no other automobile in existence.
(It was even designed around a set of radial tyres, then in their infancy, that Michelin had developed specially for it.)
In a knowing pun, the initials DS were pronounced in French as déesse (goddess); a later, cheaper and slightly less advanced version took the initials ID, whose pronunciation also meant idée (idea).
Perhaps it was with the DS in mind that when Mercedes-Benz, at last, got round to designing its first electrically powered saloon, it opted for a clean-sheet silhouette quite that of any other current motor car.
The 2022 Mercedes-Benz EQS 450+
The new Mercedes-Benz EQS limousine, which is just beginning to appear on Asian highways, eschews the unimaginative three-box or two-box default configurations for a radical upper-body shape that more resembles an unbroken arc or a bow, with a bonnet line that seamlessly flows into the raked windscreen and A-pillar, and a gracefully curved roofline that sweeps right down to the tail.
As space-age in appearance as the Citroën was all those years ago (though, to the contemporary eye, admittedly not quite so devastatingly different from current offerings), the EQS marks both a break from traditional car design and a statement of intent. Tellingly, it also just happens to be the most aerodynamic automobile now in production, with a drag coefficient of 0.20.
Occupying the pinnacle of Mercedes’ line-up of electric saloons, the EQS is effectively a future-proofed S-Class and is therefore required to incorporate all of the latter’s luxury and refinement. At more than 5 metres long, it’s big — considerably bigger, in fact, than it looks in the metal.
Swing open the frameless doors (which you don’t have to do: they’ll open and close by themselves) and the interior is positively vast — and, of course, it’s accoutred every bit as luxuriously as a top-of-the-line Benz should be, as well as visibly bristling with appropriately state-of-the-art technology.
Unusually for a luxury sedan, this is a hatchback, too, whose voluminous rear luggage deck should easily swallow up an entire set of Globe-Trotters and still leave room for the golf clubs.
There are, at the moment, three grades of the Mercedes-Benz EQS.
The version I’m driving, the 450+, has a single 328bhp motor at the rear wheels that, with some 568Nm of torque instantly available, offers fairly brisk performance in spite of its 2.4-tonne unladen weight and the enormous 107.8kW battery occupying much of the underfloor.
The twin-engine 580 sits in the middle, while the AMG EQS 53 4Matic+, with more than 700 horsepower and performance likely to humble supercars, will shortly occupy the top slot. Various trim and tech options are also available, possibly the most spectacular of the latter being a full-width array of three dashboard displays more than 1.4 across and known as the MBUX Hyperscreen.
Unfortunately, my test car isn’t equipped with this cinematic feature, which turns the EQS cockpit into the flight deck of the Starship Enterprise, even though for the life of me I can’t imagine anyone buying an EQS without it; instead, it has a standard driver’s display, as well as a central touchscreen that floats above a dashboard laser-cut with tiny Mercedes logos.
Aside from that glaring omission, the cabin is breathtakingly sumptuous and exquisitely finished, with hectares of soft white leather swathed across enormous, nicely cushioned but well-bolstered chairs, two in the front and two (though, at a pinch, there’s room for three) in the back, and adjustable in every possible direction.
The multi-coloured ambient lighting, panoramic sliding roof and automatic climate control all come as standard equipment, though the magnificent Burmester surround-sound system has been plucked from the extensive list of options, as has the rear-armrest touchscreen control panel. It’s pretty much everything you’d ever want from a luxury saloon, a subject Mercedes knows plenty about.
Notwithstanding the electric power and the absence of a traditional transmission, if you’re accustomed to an S-Class the driver’s seat, the EQS feels reassuringly familiar too, from the multi-function steering wheel and forward/reverse/park stalk to the old-school-style starter button.
Press said button and — nothing happens. Unlike an S-Class, there’s no distantly muffled engine bursting into mechanical life; instead — silence. Engage “forward” with the steering-column wand, take the foot from the footbrake and, gently depressing the right-hand pedal, the car moves forward noiselessly, the only sounds coming from the wheels and suspension.
Push the accelerator further and the increase in momentum is instant and linear; Mercedes claims 0-100km/h acceleration in a little over six seconds, impressive for two-and-a-half tonnes and 320-odd horses, but also perfectly believable.
Moreover, with a relatively light foot on the loud pedal, the 450 model is claimed to offer a range of up to 785 kilometres on a full battery charge, which in urban conditions means the car can be used for a week or so without plugging in.
Thanks to the combination of a slippery shape (wind noise is more-or-less non-existent), a body stuffed to the gills with sound-reduction tech, effortless power delivery and standard Airmatic suspension — along with the general familiarity of its controls — the EQS is an incredibly un-taxing car to drive.
I’d even go as far as to say that the absence of sound and the wafting, compliant ride outstrip those of the S-Class, which is high praise indeed, while the GPS-aided automatic recuperation mode provides a braking effect so gentle it’s hardly noticeable.
It’s not what you’d call a driver’s car: there’s a fair degree of body roll, the steering is too numb for real involvement and the sense that this is a big and heavy machine is ever-present (though you could say the same about any S-Class). Nonetheless, the provision of rear-axle steering, which can turn the wheels as much as 10 degrees, offers genuine agility that belies the EQS’s size, while the sense of sheer effortlessness in just about everything it does is perfectly delightful.
We’ve waited an awfully long time for this — and Mercedes simply had to get it right the first time. What the company has pulled it off isn’t simply the result of delivering the future so convincingly; it’s also because, in spite of the technological overload, the Mercedes-Benz EQS feels exactly like a traditional luxury car should. And that’s probably something you’d never have said about that revolutionary Citroën all those years ago.
MERCEDES-BENZ EQS 450+
ENGINE Electric motor at rear axle
TRANSMISSION Single speed, forward and reverse
MAX POWER 328bhp
MAX TORQUE 568Nm
MAX SPEED Around 210km/h
ACCELERATION 0-100km/h in 6.2 seconds
UNLADEN WEIGHT 2,480kg
This story first appeared on Prestige Hong Kong.