We traveled to Germany to get first-hand experience at the wheel of the Mercedes Vision EQXX prototype.
Electric vehicle sales have quintupled in the last three years and could reach 20% of the market by mid-decade — assuming automakers can solve some nagging problems.
First up is range anxiety, the fear motorists have that they just can’t drive far enough between charges. The Mercedes-Benz Vision EQXX is designed to run at least 1,000km or approximately 625 miles before needing to be reconnected.
GearJunkie had the opportunity to test the prototype and see what production plans might look like.
Mercedes past & future
Past and present lay side by side on a scorching hot day at the Mercedes-Benz test site near Stuttgart.
The first is a working replica of the Patent Motor Car. Introduced by Carl Benz in 1885, it was the world’s first real automobile. It was a real horseless carriage, with a smoking, chugging internal combustion engine struggling to negotiate even the gentlest of hills. As primitive as it may seem today, few machines have had a greater impact on modern life.
Next to it sits the Mercedes-Benz Vision EQXX, a sleek, teardrop-shaped two-seater that could have an equally profound impact on the future. While it’s not the first all-electric vehicle — there are already dozens in showrooms around the world — the electric coupe was designed to overcome the key obstacle to widespread EV adoption: range anxiety.
That C class-Size prototype can travel at least 1,000 km or about 621 miles between charges. And it has easily surpassed that target on several occasions.
Mercedes Vision EQXX: It’s all about the details
While Mercedes officials are quick to stress that the EQXX is a learning exercise, they also note that key elements of its design and technology will help improve the efficiency, design and dynamics of future electric vehicles that the automaker will be making in the years to come want to put into production.
“We left no stone unturned,” says Julien Pillas, one of the lead engineers and test drivers on the EQXX program, as we climb into the prototype.
To get that much range out of a roughly 100kWh battery pack, his team had to consider every detail of the car’s design, right down to the weight of the vehicle’s nuts and bolts. Key chips in the power control unit have been switched from less efficient silicon to silicon carbide. A less energy-hungry engine system was adopted. The brake discs were made of lightweight aluminum and not steel.
And even the most subtle design details of the Vision EQXX Concept have been reworked in digital design simulations and wind tunnel tests.
As with most EVs today, there’s no grille because there’s no engine under a steeply angled hood to help wind flow smoothly across the windshield and roof. As part of an active aero system, above 50 km/h a power splitter extends behind the rear wheels to control how air is released from the rear of the car. Even the wheels and tires have been optimized to minimize wind and rolling resistance.
The result is a drag coefficient of 0.17, which is significantly slimmer than Mercedes’ production EQS sedan – which was already claiming to be the most aerodynamic production vehicle on the road.
The chrome door handles sink into the side panels and pop out when you run your hand over them. As they swing open, a passenger discovers a surprisingly refined cabin that would make the German automaker proud if it were in production today.
A door-to-door video screen dominates the instrument panel. It has the required cluster of gauges in front of the driver, but additional gauges are spread across the display.
The charge level of the battery can be queried with a swipe of your finger. This is the amount of electricity used by the various electrical components – even how the wind blows and how much electricity the coupe’s solar cells generate.
During a record-breaking 1,008km or 625-mile drive from Stuttgart to France’s Côte d’Azur last spring, this array delivered about 15 miles of additional range. The EQXX actually finished with 100 unused miles in its battery pack.
So, determined to push the limits, the automaker headed to the legendary Silverstone circuit in England for a second run, covering 746 miles without recharging.
As impressive as these numbers are, more important is the EQXX’s efficiency at the electric equivalent of miles per gallon. During the trip to Silverstone, the battery car averaged 7.5 miles per kilowatt hour. Similar sized vehicles are lucky enough to get more than 3, with the Lucid Air Dream Range Edition – the most efficient BEV currently in production – coming in just under 5.
Driving the Vision EQXX
But the question was, how would the EQXX drive? I shifted into gear and headed for the gate to the proving ground’s main test loop while Pillas led me from the shotgun seat.
I’ve driven many concept vehicles and engineering prototypes over the decades of writing about cars, and they usually involve a lot of sacrifices. To my satisfaction, the unique heat pump provided more than enough cooling on a 94 degree day.
Equally satisfying was that the single-engine drivetrain had plenty of momentum when I hit the gas pedal. With 240 hp, the development team did not deliver a stone pony. That’s 50% more power than the single-engine version of the Kia EV6, for example. And all the work done on the EQXX kept its mass at just 3,858 pounds, about 100 lighter than the Korean BEV.
Outside, the Mercedes prototype maneuvered nimbly through the curves. The engine was responsive and lively, almost silent in its run.
One of the distinguishing features of a BEV is regenerative braking. To maximize range, EVs recover as much energy as possible during braking and coasting and send it back to the battery pack.
The amount of “Regeneration” can be adjusted on the fly in the EQXX. On the one hand, the coupe’s aerodynamics and low rolling resistance allowed me to roll more than half a mile without losing an mph. However, switching to “D-” mode maximized regeneration and brought the EQXX to a halt from 40 mph almost as quickly as if I had hammered on the brakes.
Production Mercedes Vision EQXX is coming?
Overall, the EQXX turns out to be surprisingly close to what one might expect from a production vehicle. Although Pallas warned that it would require a lot more engineering work to be suitable for the range of driving conditions that the typical motorist faces every day.
That begged the question: could this be something Mercedes is thinking about? The most immediate answer is “no”. CEO Ola Kallenius and his management team have repeatedly stated that there are no production plans for the show car. But pay close attention, and they’ve softened that resistance over the past month or two.
Aside from a complete flip-flop, the Vision EQXX project isn’t a dead end. On the contrary, according to Pillas and other members of the team. Admittedly, Mercedes has a lot of work to do in its quest to become the dominant player in luxury BEVs.
The EQXX has provided directional beacon showing many of the steps needed to improve range, performance and cabin comfort, among other things. Expect it to have a big impact on the products Mercedes is currently working on.
So where the original Patent Motorwagen helped set the course of the industry for more than 100 years, the Mercedes-Benz Vision EQXX offers a promising vision of where the industry is headed now, as electric powertrains gain the upper hand.