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MERCEDES BRINGS THE S-CLASS TO ELECTRIC VEHICLES

Since Tesla’s launch of its Model S sedan a decade ago, the fledging startup not only proved that battery powered vehicles could compete with petrol, the dominant fuel source for 136-years, but could smoothly slip by its rivals in performance and economy. The market has rewarded Tesla with a valuation that some analysts peg at over a trillion dollars and its vivacious founder Elon Musk zipped by Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates to become the world’s wealthiest individual.

The Tesla automotive brand, with its four-vehicle lineup, currently tops the luxury segment in sales volume. Of course if “luxury” was simply defined by the attributes of precision fit and finish and velvet-soft leather, its models might fit in a mainstream category. But tech savvy buyers value Tesla’s pioneering over-the-air software updates that can add new features without waiting for a new model and a charging infrastructure that is still unrivaled. In and around our Silicon Valley, many assume that the legacy automakers can never catch up.

Other Choices Arriving

When we reviewed Porsche’s Taycan, a week that included a drive from Los Angeles to San Francisco, we were impressed with its high style and luxurious interior. On the other hand, the EPA range of 225-miles seemed just a bit modest in a world where gasoline is far more available than electricity. But even with the published range deficit of 171-miles, the Taycan outsold Tesla’s Model S in the last few years, so it’s apparent that many buyers who spend six-figures for a luxury sedan want fresh style and a sumptuous interior.

For those EV shoppers with a preference for an emerging startup from Silicon Valley, the new LUCID Air took a page right out of Tesla’s playbook with a luxury sedan also designed in California and built right here in the USA. What’s more, LUCID’s CEO was the chief engineer for the original Tesla Model S and his car has won the latest Motor Trend Car of the Year award.

Virtually every major automaker today has a plan to electrify its vehicle fleet because the politics in every major market have legislated or simply ordered the change from petrol to electricity. And whether the grid and charging infrastructure can support this giant leap is in doubt, but that’s a subject for another article. Today let’s look at a new luxury entrant from a legendary automaker that’s ready to take on the few established EV rivals with style and reasonable range.

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Surprises

I had somehow missed the Mercedes-Benz EQS press introduction in the Bay Area a short while ago so I was unfamiliar with the new EV’s attributes, aside from PR materials. Fortunately, Mercedes is quite good about leaving a vehicle or two behind in the press fleet after a launch program, so I booked a week with this new electric S-Class when I returned from our holiday trip to the East Coast.

After shuttling to SFO offsite parking with luggage in tow, we wondered if the Mercedes would easily accommodate all our belongings. Although there’s not an engine up front, the hood, hiding a principal electric motor and controls, is closed and locked to anyone other than a service technician. What looks like it might be a release latch in the left fender opens to receive windshield washer fluid when needed. I’m betting that this is not the best scheme for a border crossing when the customs officer demands a peek.

However, the rear of the EQS delivered what the front had withheld, a big hatch opening quietly to a yawning cavity that easily accommodated our luggage and could have taken even more. I’ve always liked the usefulness of a hatchback and it’s especially appreciated when the designer accommodates its function fluidly into a sedan style.

Let’s Drive

After a few minutes of seat and mirror adjustments, along with iPhone pairing, I was pleasantly surprised with how easy this voluptuously-equipped sedan was to operate. When seated, the driver faces what Mercedes appropriately calls it Hyperscreen, a gracefully-curving user interface that stretches nearly from A-pillar to A-pillar. While that confrontation may seem a bit daunting, the displays contain useful information that you don’t have to dig through menus to uncover. And whatever you want, from climate to destinations or music choice, just say “Hey Mercedes” and the very smart voice recognition system delivers.

One of the rewards of driving with electric power is that you don’t have to wait for an engine to warm up. That was gratifying when we left the parking facility right onto an onramp for a busy highway. No need to give the accelerator a soft touch since the rated 516 HP power can whisk the 5,888-pound EQS to 60 MPH in just 4.1-seconds. And this performance is accomplished smoothly in eerie silence, a lovely feature for a top-tier luxury sedan.

Nearly all contemporary electric vehicles feel powerful, especially from a standing start. In fact it’s common to find published 0-to-60 acceleration times that handily beat muscular gas-fueled rivals. It’s almost as if stoplight drag racing was a vehicle’s most important attribute. I’ll concede that fast is fun, but range really matters when electric chargers are far less abundant and when found, far slower to refuel your EV.

Our EQS delivered nicely with a 340-mile range rating that proved fairly conservative. After my 22-mile trip home, with little of the terrain flat, the remaining range estimate had barely moved. And that performance attribute continued with longer trips during my week with the car, giving me the confidence we have come to expect with our fossil-fueled counterparts.

So the question is whether a pure electric vehicle is the right choice for your needs. And my answer is that nearly everyone I know who owns an EV still has a conventional fuel car as a backup plan. You know, when our power grid quits or a trip off the beaten path is planned. And those same EV owners have a single-family dwelling with a charger installed or a short commute to a workplace with charging available. Apartments and condos pose a real challenge that’s not easily remedied until fast chargers are as ubiquitous as today’s gas pumps and can deliver a fill-up in less than 10-minutes without harming battery life. But if you’re in the first category and a luxury EV is on your shopping list, the EQS is well worth checking out.

THE FINE PRINT

2022 Mercedes-Benz EQS 580 4 MATIC

TYPE:  Dual motor, all-wheel-drive

HORSEPOWER:  516

BATTERY:  107.8 kWh

BASE PRICE: $119,110

AS TESTED:  $127,020

RANGE:  340-miles

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