► First drive in the new EQE
► Is it really an electric E-Class?
► Plus AMG variants incoming
Generations of Mercedes E-Class buyers would accept no substitute. If you liked the E-Class way of doing things, none of its competitors came close to the relaxed and reassuringly robust feel of a good Benz.
But now, with it becoming increasingly inevitable that almost everyone’s next (or next but one) new car will be electric, the E-Class is not such an obvious choice. There are E-Class hybrids, but they’re not full electric. For the zero-local-emissions equivalent, you need to think EQE.
I need a debrief first…
Whereas some earlier Mercedes electric vehicles adapted underpinnings from combustion-engined cars to take big batteries and e-motors, the EQE is the second car on the same EVA2 platform as the bigger EQS – the all-electric equivalent of the S-Class.
And it shows. The EQS may have grabbed a lot of early headlines with its tech-first approach and its heightened luxury, not to mention its challenging appearance, but it also drives very well for such a big, opulent car.
The EQE is, if anything, better. So far we’ve only driven the EQE 350+, which will be the first model sold in the UK, and not the higher-powered 500 or the entry-level 300. It’s not a rocketship, and it’s not meant to be. Rather, it’s about being calm, composed and comfortable, so it’s a fast car in the sense of making it easy to maintain high average speeds on longer drives, rather than burning up the ring road. It also benefits from being slightly shorter, with a wheelbase 90mm shorter than that of the EQS. Rear-wheel steering is available, with the back wheels able to turn through 4.5º, reducing the turning circle from 12.5 metres to 11.6, or an upgraded version (one of several features that can be retro-fitted via over-the-air updates) gives 10º of movement and tightens the circle to 10.7 metres.
Is it suitably plush inside?
Even the simplest, least expensive EQE is pretty special. That’s partly down to the high levels of standard-fit tech, but is also a lot to do with the superb cabin design (which, from where we’re sitting, is much more successful than the ungainly exterior design).
It’s roomy, front and rear, without having the sort of surplus space you might associate with a lapdance limo. The seats are excellent, with plenty of adjustment, so you don’t need to upgrade to pews fitted with complicated massage functions. And it’s quiet – not just from the absence of a combustion engine, but because everything works smoothly, and any external brouhaha is dampened down to a distant rumour.
The pillar-to-pillar optional Hyperscreen available here (and on the larger EQS) seems both unnecessary and rather vulgar here. The EQE’s marginally more traditional combination of 12.8-inch central touchscreen and 12.3-inch digitial instruments in front of the driver give you all you need, and it’s evolved to become very easy to use.
The rear window is quite small, restricting your view out of the back. And the camera/sensor cluster built into the windscreen behind the rear-view mirror is massive, restricting your view of some traffic lights.
What is the Mercedes EQE like to drive?
Good, sometimes very good, although some way short of great. There’s ample power from the e-motor mounted on the rear axle, so you’re always quick away from the lights, while the steering is easy and natural.
Switching between the different drives modes – Eco, Comfort, Sport, Individual – gives more or less lively response to the accelerator. But the bigger change to the driving experience comes from using the + and – paddles behind the steering wheel to adjust the level of energy recuperation when you lift off the accelerator. At one extreme, there’s no braking effect – you coast on. At the other extreme, it feels like you’re stabbing at the brakes. The middle setting works much better.
There’s also a setting that adapts to the circumstances. If, for instance, you’ve approached a bend at an unwise speed, the car will apply a heavy dose of recuperative braking when you finally ease off the gas. Or on a series of downhill bends, it will subtly help out without being explictly instructed to.
If you engage all the safety systems, and programme in a sat-nav destination, and activate cruise control, you can achieve a limited (and legal) level of self-driving, perhaps more accurately described as enhanced idiot-proofing: it will help you stay in lane, it will help you slow for bends, it will advise you when to stop accelerating, and it will suggest route alterations to get you to a charger. Clever enough, but a waste of an opportunity to enjoy the simple pleasure of engaging with a car that seems to like being driven.
The main fly in the ointment is the brake action – the actual brakes, not the recuperative system. There’s sufficient power, but you never feel that the pedal has the same healthy and happy relationship with the brake calipers as the accelerator has with the e-motor.
Mercedes EQE: verdict
A roomy, comfortable car that dials down the ‘look at me!’ flamboyance and overkill tech of the EQS to offer what Mercedes has always done best: put you in safe hands. Time will tell whether other versions tweak the formula to better effect, but so far the 350+ version seems to offer an excellent electric evolution of timeless E-Class virtues.