Did Karl Benz See This Coming?

EVs have been evolving over the last few years from their position as purely a luxury buyer’s car. With options like the Tesla Model 3 inching ever closer to “affordable car” territory, it seems like EVs are finally starting to look like sensible purchasing decisions. But many of the higher end EVs, flashy and fast though they may be, can’t really be called luxury cars.

Aside from the solid front end, it doesn’t advertise that it’s electric.

Enter the 2023 Mercedes EQS 450+ SUV and its many offerings. Power seats in the back – check. Animated RGB lighting for acceleration and braking – got it, sir. Seats that will periodically move around for the benefit of your spine’s health – consider it done, madam. This all-electric SUV is more luxury than most people would ever consider buying into. The thrifty enthusiast in me cringes at the thought of all the parts of this car that are just waiting to surprise you with a hefty repair bill. It’s important, though, to keep in mind that the target buyer for this car is probably not going to feel sick when those bills come in, or perhaps, won’t even keep the car long enough for those to be of concern.

A sneak peek of trouble codes to come.

Driving this car is an outstanding experience. It’s not a driver’s car. One does not drive this car so much as pilot it from a much-enclosed cockpit. From a dead stop, stomping the accelerator to the floor results in a smooth ramp-up to full power delivery. All 355 graceful horses will come forth in a well-governed show of force in their own due time. The driver will feel every last one of them, but will not be thrown back in the seat. Rather, they will gently sink backward into the soft pillow headrest. Even in sport mode, there’s no feeling of instant torque here – only refined, respectable get-up-and-go. Even so, going fast in this car is easy to do by accident, as the wind noise is substantially less audible in this car than in most others.

When the driver is through feeling the wind in their hair and is ready to bring this nearly 5,600lb behemoth to a stop, there’s slightly less grace to be enjoyed, though the braking experience in the EQS is still polished. Depending on the intensity of braking, I noticed the occasional unexpected, sudden fluctuation in brake force when maintaining consistent pressure on the brake pedal. Specifically, a noticeable reduction in braking force as speeds reduced leading up to a red light or stop sign. This being an EV with regen, I have to surmise that I was noticing a change in intensity of, or disengagement of regen as speeds dropped below those where energy recovery is effective. Were I to drive this car long-term, I’m sure I would learn when to expect this behavior without a second thought, but I suspect this kind of unexpected on-the-fly change in braking force could frighten some test drivers into looking elsewhere.

Whenever this car is coming to a complete stop, its hefty, yet refined characteristics are accentuated. The jolt backward that is felt when most other cars finally stop is all but absent in this Mercedes, detectable in a small dose only when stopping particularly hard. In anything but a panic stop, the SUV gently reaches a soft stop and the air suspension bounces like a modern, classier 70s land yacht. It’s clear that even Mercedes’ sophisticated air ride system struggles to conceal the sheer weight of this vehicle sometimes.

The air ride in this Mercedes is decidedly secretive, seemingly aiming to hide the fact that you’re traveling on a road in favor of trying to convince you that you’re floating through a cloud, or perhaps gliding over a gelatin dessert with a few embedded cherries breaching the surface. Bumps, potholes and deteriorating road patches that would make me cringe after driving over them in most cars could barely be felt from inside the EQS. Granted, my cringing was only delayed, as I later considered the wear and tear the air suspension must have endured in order to grant me such a smooth trip over a poorly maintained road.

The EQS SUV weighs the better part of three tons, and it shows during spirited driving, though not as badly as expected. Its excellent all-wheel steering system, low center of gravity, and adaptive suspension all shine brightly as the 450+ masterfully glides around corners, putting power down via the rear wheels the entire way with no noticeable sign of slip-induced traction control engagement. Thrashing it around a bend, the Mercedes felt sure-footed and confidence-inspiring.

With the accelerator down and the wheel turned, the excitement was offset by a feeling of increasing risk. This is not by any means a driver’s car. Behind the wheel I felt disconnected from the road, and I found myself reluctant to test the SUV’s handling limits for fear of finding them unexpectedly. That being said, I doubt the target customer intends to track their EQS.

The all-wheel steering is exceptional, and enables the SUV to turn around in a smaller space than some cars half its size and weight. Very much appreciated when making a U-turn or navigating a parking lot. Still better, it’s that smooth, light steering that can be done with one’s pinkie finger in such situations as all of the others are busy holding a cup of tea that might otherwise be spilt.

The EQS’s driving assist features are convenient, if unpredictable at times. I found the auto steering capable, but opaque relative to competitors like Tesla’s Autopilot. Engaged alongside cruise control, it took over whenever it was able, and did a good job of appearing as though an attentive driver was turning the wheel. It usually allowed me to make minor steering adjustments, like choosing the appropriate lane after an intersection, without disengaging due to driver input. As I approached a local roundabout, a four-pointed icon appeared on the dash and the car began to slow automatically without a car ahead, giving me ample time to check for vehicles to yield to before I pressed the accelerator and sent the car through.

My complaints about the autosteer are few, but with a couple of major concerns. On occasion, the car seemed to ping-pong in the lane slightly, or get too close to the center line for my liking. These, I can deal with easily, unlike my other observations. When the car decided it could no longer see the road well enough to steer for me, it would sometimes chime to let me know it was time to take over. Other times, it would vibrate the steering wheel as it disengaged. Still other times, it would make no indication at all, and I either noticed that the green steering icon had turned gray, or that the car wasn’t going to keep its lane unless I intervened, and then noticed the gray steering icon. In contrast, Tesla’s system leaves no question about whether or not it’s steering for you at any given time.

Perhaps the worst issue I noticed was when changing lanes with a vehicle behind while autosteer was active. I signaled and began to change lanes, and as I crossed the line, the car braked heavily, and only stopped when I stepped on the accelerator so as not to inconvenience the vehicle behind. I performed the same lane change again a moment later, with the same result, and no indicator on the dash to explain it. I certainly hope the vehicle behind didn’t think I was trying to brake-check them, and I’m only thankful the car aborted its endeavor when commanded to speed back up. I am not sure what system was triggering that event, but I wasn’t able to reproduce it after that. My only other complaint in this area was with speed limit recognition – it was prone to missing signs, incorrectly reading signs, and changing to a different speed limit when a speed limit sign hadn’t even been present recently.

Technology is an area where this car really shines. Even without the optional whole-dash infotainment screen, the 360 interactive exterior camera setup is a neat party trick, along with the animated RGB lighting that reacts to acceleration and braking. This car refrains from committing one of the most common offenses of EVs – simulated engine noise while still simulating a noise. It has three futuristic sound profiles to select from, each of which react to various levels of acceleration and braking, without trying to make you feel like there’s an ICE engine in the car. As an enthusiast who loathes stereo enhanced engine audio (I’m looking at you, EcoBoost Mustang and Kia Stinger), I found the sound experience in the Mercedes not only acceptable, but truly a lot of fun, even feeling encouraged to step on the gas to hear it.

The stereo had a nice sound to it once I adjusted the equalizer to my liking. It has an optimization available for either front or rear seats, both of which sounded strange. I liked it best when not optimized for either space. My biggest complaint about the infotainment is that the screen seems angled purposely to catch the most glare possible when the sun comes in from the side.

I ended up turning on defrost by mistake on more than one occasion.

It seems like Mercedes went out of their way not to shield the screen in any way from the sun’s rays. This becomes more of an issue when you realize that there’s no physical skip- track button on the steering wheel. That is, until you go through a series of menus to configure a multi function key to function that way. When I was driving, keeping my eyes on the road, and wanted to skip to the next track, I found that Android Auto was all but invisible due to the glare, and I ended up turning on defrost by mistake on more than one occasion.

There’s no physical skip-track button on the steering wheel.

That said, wireless Android Auto was seamless, and the car will even remind you to take your phone with you if you open the door with it sitting on the wireless charging pad. That’s attention to detail.

The headlights are another neat party trick, adjusting to oncoming traffic when conditions permit the use of high beams. Unlike other cars, I never caught it taking too long to accommodate other drivers’ presence, nor failing to light my path adequately. My only complaint here is about the headlight selector – it points toward the floor. I have to assume this is because it’s meant not to be touched often.

The front seats are incredible, equipped with lighting, intuitive power adjustments, heating and cooling. What I didn’t like so much was the “Kinetic Seats” setting, which causes the seats to adjust periodically to promote back health and circulation. It felt more like they were trying to dump me against the steering wheel every few minutes, so I left that turned off.

My only complaint here is about the headlight selector – it points toward the floor. I love that there’s a power moonroof in this car with a proper power blackout shade, both of which are absent in the Tesla Model X. I only wish the moonroof opened more than half of the front section. It’s better than solid glass, I suppose.

I only wish the moonroof opened more than half of the front section.

Styling of the Mercedes is better than many EVs, and better than many other Mercedes. Although it’s a large crossover SUV with a lot of curves, it avoids looking bulbous or bean-like.

The haunches flanking the rear are visible in the side view mirrors.

It also avoids excessive EV-specific styling. Aside from the solid front end, it doesn’t advertise that it’s electric. From inside, straight lines on the hood give it definition. The haunches flanking the rear are visible in the side view mirrors. As a result, the view from inside feels powerful, almost muscular.

All told, the EQS is exceptionally luxurious for the EV space. While the dash feel a bit cheap and barren if not hyperscreen-equipped, the car overall seems justified in its price point. I look at most of these features and imagine them needing costly repairs in the future, but I suppose I am far from the target customer for this vehicle. Would I buy one? No, but I love it, and I sure wouldn’t tell someone else not to get one.

1 thought on “Did Karl Benz See This Coming?”

  1. Nicely done article. It sounds like a cool vehicle. It’s well out of my price range for a vehicle but it’s still nice that Mercedes is making some effort to support the EV movement.

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