The flagship electric SUV from Stuttgart is nice, but it's hard to imagine it reshaping the EV landscape.
We’re off-roading an electric Mercedes SUV, a phrase I’ll bet you never expected to read in a car review. I know I didn’t.
Yet here we are, crawling silently up a rocky Colorado slope in the Mercedes EQS SUV, the ‘Bama-built follow-up to the EQS sedan. And the EQS’ dual offerings illustrate how the old automotive playbook is being wadded up and tossed. Despite its flaws, the EQS sedan already staked a claim to being Mercedes’ tech flagship, torpedoing the fossil-fueled S-Class, hastening its dive toward the ocean floor of obsolescence. (We know that technical leadership is kind of a big deal at Mercedes, and the brand is determined to eventually go fully electric). At the same time, roughly two of every three Mercedes buyers in America write their check for an SUV, not a car. So the EQS sedan’s reign, if that’s what it was, ends up a tad shorter than Queen Elizabeth’s. In sales popularity at least, Mercedes expects the EQS SUV to usurp its sedan sister, as is happening at every luxury brand. And there we have it: An electrified SUV, with an optional third row and a theoretical taste for the outdoors, becomes the new billboard for the Mercedes brand.
In this case, the EQS’ taller-riding throne gives Americans more reason than usual to send the sedan to the guillotine: The EQS sedan’s claustrophobic back seat is a major demerit in a car of its size and demeanor. The Mercedes CLS-Class at least had the excuse of sacrificing practicality for sinuous beauty; the EQS’ sedan’s own sloping, hybrid-esque roof has yet to inspire any critical sonnets.
The EQS SUV solves the back-seat issue. Sharing the sedan’s lengthy 126.4-inch wheelbase, but nearly eight inches taller, the SUV carves out the legitimately roomy, airy second row you expect in a full-size vehicle. Especially in the back, the gain isn’t merely headroom, but what seems at least one-third more side glass area than the sedan. An optional $1,250 third row—surprisingly, with no power folding features—brings seven-passenger possibilities, including just-enough room for adults on shorter trips, albeit with tricky ingress and egress.
America-first layout aside, the EQS SUV is the tech-and-luxury powerhouse you’d expect in an EV that starts at $105,550. Coincidentally or not, that price is smack atop the spectacular, petrol-powered Range Rover at $105,530; Mercedes may hope to lure a few electric converts before the Rover itself gets stuffed with batteries. Mercedes also thumbs the scale for EQS shoppers, pricing the base SUV at just $100 more than the EQS sedan.
Top tech includes a standard air suspension, rear-axle steering, and the optional 56-inch Hyperscreen, the IMAX experience of automobiles. It’s guaranteed to dazzle occupants with bravura displays, augmented reality navigation, and a 12.3-inch OLED passenger touchscreen. Its MBUX interface gets the “Zero Layer” design that plasters key functions on the home screen, and uses AI to add suggestions via “Magic Modules”—a phone number that one reliably calls on the drive home, or the Charge module as you approach a Plug-and-Charge station. Set a course, and the nav system’s “Electric Intelligence” plans the fastest route, including the most convenient charging stops, and adjusts dynamically to traffic jams or changes in driving style. AI also allows predictive range estimates that peer into the past and future, analyzing everything from driver behavior to nav routes, traffic, topography, and ambient temperatures. Within the first 10 miles of one drive, the Mercedes pegged my remaining range on arrival by 1 mile.
That $105,500 price nets a single-motor, rear-drive EQS 450 + with a yawn-inducing 335 hp and 419 lb-ft of torque. A stronger jolt, including a roughly 4.6-second scamper to 60 mph, requires spending at least $127,100 for an EQS 580 4Matic Premium, with 536 hp and a gutsy 633 lb-ft. A top-shelf EQS 580 4Matic Pinnacle starts from $133,350. For any model, 4Matic all-wheel drive adds $3,000.
All models squeeze a 12-module, 108.4 kWh battery below the floor, giving the EQS 450 + an EPA-rated 305-mile range that feels easily achievable in everyday driving. EQS 450 4matic and EQS 580 4Matic versions offer 285 miles of range. The Mercedes can’t quite match the charging speeds of a Lucid Air—or Hyundai-Kia-Genesis EVs, for that matter. But it can slurp current at up to 206 kilowatts (200 kW officially), and sustain a roughly 160 kW average on a fast DC connection, for a claimed 10-to-80 percent recharge in 31 minutes. That includes two years of free fill-ups on the Electrify America network.
The SUV’s exterior is doggedly conventional, with no desire to upset the suburban bourgeoisie. For better or worse, it’s the antithesis of the BMW iX, which envisions the electric future, and doesn’t much care what you think. Visual statements are limited to the Benz’ plastic-encased “Black Panel” grille, with striking LED lighting that includes optional, tiny Mercedes stars orbiting a larger three-pointed honker. But especially in lighter paint colors, all that soft body surfacing put me in mind of melting ice cream; or a Porsche SUV that spent too much couch time during Covid. Driver-assisting cameras and sensors hide behind the starry badge, with more cameras in the front fascia, side mirrors, and behind the windshield. Aero wheels squeeze efficiency from the electric powertrain, with energy-saving tires of 20 or 21 inches.
The one awkward element is a slab of hood that joins roof pillars and body sides like a sloppily assembled sandwich. As with the sedan that shares its electric architecture, the SUV’s incongruously tall cowl—an effect heightened by the optional, dash-spanning Hyperscreen and small windshield—kept forcing me to boost my seat higher, trying to peer over this thick digital hedge. You might assume this soaring hood was hiding a frunk the size of an F-150 Lightning’s. Instead, there’s a HEPA filter that engineers said was powerful enough to keep California wildfire smoke at bay on one test drive, filtering up to 99.75 percent of particles. Mercedes says the filter’s absorption area is equivalent to 150 football fields, and it takes up seemingly that amount of underhood space. When you do want a whiff of something, the EQS’ olfactory signature for its Air Balance system is “No. 6 Mood Mimosa,” described as “an earthy fragrance with an alluring scent.”
Mercedes defends its frunk avoidance, saying the cargo hatch—which can open by waggling a foot below the bumper—is plenty big and more accessible. That’s true, relatively speaking, with up to 31 cubic feet behind the second row, 28 cubes in seven-passenger versions, and about 74 cubic feet with all seats folded. That’s on par with a Mercedes GLE Class, a vehicle that’s seven inches shorter overall. Yet like the sedan, this EQS SUV isn’t especially well packaged, including a piddling 6.8 cubic feet of space behind its optional third row. The Mercedes GLS-Class, just four inches longer than this EQS, holds up to 18.4 cubes behind its third row. It also affords about 50 percent more cargo space behind the second row, and nearly 85 cubic feet maxed out. Even BMW’s iX, despite being six inches shorter overall, beats the Benz with a respective 35.5 and 77.9 cubic feet. At least the EQS offers generous space for odds-and-ends, including a big bin below its freestanding center console.
Despite the packaging concerns, I do find myself warming up to the EQS line’s interiors. In part, that’s because Mercedes is warming them up, with more natural materials, and richer colors to counter a sometimes-antiseptic vibe. My EQS 580 featured handsome open-pore magnolia wood, lasered with a star pattern, then pressed with stainless steel to create metallic stars. Other natural-grain choices include linden wood or walnut “ship’s deck” wood. The curling waist rail that wraps the cabin is a work of art, ribboned with lovely rose-gold metal accents and ambient lighting. That lighting can go full tutti-frutti with animations and alerts tied to various functions. Burmester audio systems are reliably ear-tickling, and now integrate immersive Dolby Atmos.
With style, sound and scent accounted for, we set off from Denver toward Silverthorne. The EQS 580 is limousine-quiet and appreciably quick, with its dual synchronous AC motors. Owners can dial in three digitized soundtracks, all fairly gimmicky, called Silver Waves, Vivid Flux, and Roaring Pulse. The latter recalls a sampled mix of a V-8 and the chili-campfire scene from Blazing Saddles. The Hyperscreen, despite its allergy to physical controls, really is a wonder to behold. For the EQS, one flourish is a selectable 3D bar graph in the driver’s cluster, whose “G-force puck” moves through space to correspond with Drive, Accelerate or Charge statuses.
Steering is robust and even a little communicative, by EV standards. A selectable off-road mode bumps the body up by one inch and optimizes all-wheel-drive torque distribution. On our steep, slippery off-road course, the EQS’ traction and capability were surprising—capability that few owners will test, but it’s there. Dirt or street, the 10-degree rear steer (up from a standard 4.5 degrees) reveals itself as the must-have option. It trims three feet from the EQS’ turning circle, to 36 feet, shorter than most midsize sedans.
The adjustable air suspension affords a sumptuous and occasionally floaty ride. But just like the sedan, the SUV’s blended brake pedal—which transitions from regenerative to mechanical braking along its travel—is a literal drag. The pedal smushes into nothingness, delivers too little initial bite, and then turns strangely wooden. The non-linear brakes ultimately get the job done, but rarely inspire confidence, not a good thing in a nearly 6000-pound SUV. Fortunately, mellow SUV-style driving rarely requires touching the brake pedal. Four levels of regenerative braking include a one-pedal mode and an Intelligent setting that slows the Benz based on surrounding traffic and situations.
Taking the enthusiast’s view, the EQS will dust most gasoline-powered SUVs like they were old teapots. Yet it must be said: Power and performance are middle-of-the-road by luxury EV standards. The EQS drives pretty much as you’d expect for a flagship Mercedes SUV, no real surprises.
The BMW iX is surprising, the kind of statement-maker that flash-fries your synapses and requires a new language to even describe—beyond trying to describe its baroque styling. Mercedes may say the EQS doesn’t compete directly with the iX, but of course, people are going to compare six-figure, family-sized EVs from fierce German rivals. For enthusiasts especially, that comparison doesn’t favor Mercedes: Across the board, the EQS costs at least $20,000 more than the iX, including a iX M60 (from $106,095) with oodles more muscle—610 horses, 811 pound-feet, 3.5 seconds to 60 mph—and Copperfield handling magic the Benz simply can’t match. The BMW’s own Minority Report interior is no slouch, either.
For Mercedes, a forthcoming midsize EQE SUV, which the company showed us in a studio preview, appears ready to up Mercedes’ electric game, including crisper exterior styling and a stonking AMG version. Let’s hope those EQE models exceed, rather than meet expectations.