“It looks like a spaceship,” my friend exclaims once he stopped pacing around the car long enough to finally take a seat behind the wheel. For what it’s worth, his observation is pretty on the nose, as I had been given the Mercedes EQS luxury sedan for the weekend and it is, by all measures, the nicest car I have ever had the pleasure to drive. I lean across my friend to tap the 56-inch MBUX Hyperscreen, turning on the ‘massage’ function for both our seats. “Do you want the classic massage or the stone massage?”, I ask, a smirk spreading across my face as my friend looks back at me incredulously.
The aforementioned Hyperscreen is, admittedly, something you have to see to believe, and when I first got into the car I found myself overwhelmed (in the best way possible). Just as Dorothy wasn’t in Kansas anymore, I am definitely no longer behind the wheel of my Honda Civic; the EQS dashboard is visually stunning, with a wide array of touch-screen features and aesthetically pleasing ambient lighting.
Once I get my bearings, I finally ease the car onto the road for a late evening drive. I am immediately struck by how smooth the driving experience was; the EQS features an electric version of Mercedes’ 4MATIC all-wheel drive, which allows for tight and dynamic handling. This is worth noting, says my friend Sheldon, who is especially well versed EV technology, and who jumped at the opportunity to get behind the wheel of the EQS. “This car weighs over 5,000 lbs, to my knowledge, which could, understandably, negate the EV’s ‘drivability’ from a handling perspective,” he explains.
“You have rear-axle-steering, which allows the rear wheels to angle and makes the car easier to manoeuvre,” he points out while turning a corner. “Even at higher speeds, this car should feel fairly stable and responsive to drive, and it seems like the steering is fairly precise … not too much in the way of oversteering or understeering.”
This, along with the in-depth parking assist functionality, comes in especially handy for tight city corners and even tighter city parking. After all, parallel parking under pressure in downtown Toronto is no joke, so I’ll take all the help I can get. Even more impressive, though, is the torque. We didn’t have much opportunity to put the pedal to the metal, so to speak, with most of our driving being confined to city limits; however, a few trips across the highway gives us a taste of what this EV can do.
“Electric cars build maximum torque from 0 rpm,” Sheldon goes on, practically vibrating with excitement. “It’s why you can have a four-door sedan go from 0-100 km/h in under four seconds, like this one.” Sheldon is entirely correct; comparatively, ICE cars like my Civic and Sheldon’s Chevy Cruz make power in a much more “peaky” fashion, which is why they have transmissions designed to try and maintain as much time through the acceleration process in the desired maximums. EVs don’t have this limitation, so when given a stretch of open highway, feeling the instant pick-up of the EQS in response to your foot on the gas pedal is a rather surreal and satisfying experience. “I can’t get over how quickly this car accelerates,” my partner shares the first time he gets behind the wheel. “You can feel the pick-up as soon as you really press the gas – and it’s so quiet.”
As the weekend wears on, and I become increasingly comfortable cruising around in the luxury sedan, I decide to take it north of the city to Durham Regional Forest to join some friends for our weekly hike. While I know the drive itself will be comfortable, I am admittedly a bit worried about the inevitable detour that I would need to make to charge the car. Having spent so much time writing about EV range (and subsequently, the ‘range anxiety’ felt by so many Canadians) I have no intention of pushing the limits of the car’s battery. When I picked up the EQS, it had just under 400km of range which, for reference, is approximately an 80 per cent charge. When we finish the hike and I get back into the car, the battery is at 22 per cent, so I pull up the navigation system to look for available chargers on my way back downtown.
Fortunately, the MBUX dashboard makes this easy, with the navigation system able to display a comprehensive map/list of all nearby chargers, their status, and their charging capacity. The system organizes chargers into three categories: 0-49 kWh, 50-149 kWh, and 150 kWh and up. As I browse charging stations along my route home, I see a 150 kWh charger and quickly select it as my first stop, in the hopes that it would offer a quick charging experience. Unfortunately, as I near that station, the charger becomes unavailable and I have to detour to the next best option: a 50 kWh ChargePoint station in a parking lot. When I plug the EQS in at 5:30 PM, the battery is at 18 per cent, and after an hour and a half of charging, the battery is back to 80 per cent, at a cost of $29.49.
While I am in no particular rush this day, and am content to read a book in the car while it’s plugged in, the charging experience is admittedly eye-opening. As mentioned, this was a 50 kWh charger, and it took an hour and a half to generate a 62 per cent charge – which is a significant adjustment from the standard process of “stopping for gas” on your way home. What’s more, I notice that most of the public chargers situated close to where I live downtown are 6-14 kWh chargers which, as you can surely guess, would require the car to remain plugged in for many hours (ideally, overnight). Without access to a home charger for overnight charging, driving the EQS on a regular basis would require me to do a great deal of planning, and allot time to sit in the car while it charged if the station wasn’t in close proximity to a restaurant, cafe, or gym, etc.. Depending on the demands of your schedule, this is less than ideal.
“This is my primary concern with EVs,” my friend Julie shares, admitting that while she loves the ‘feel’ of the car both in terms of the drivetrain, instantaneous torque, and comfort of the cabin, EV infrastructure seemed limited at best. “For right now, in the absence of a home charging option, it seems like driving an EV would require extensive planning – rather than your car catering to your life, your life might have to cater to charging the car.”
Once the car is charged up, I head back into the city and my partner and I drove into the east end to pick up dinner. “Honestly, this might be the coolest car I’ve ever driven,” he muses as he adjusted his seat to a comfortable position, switched on the SiriusXM channel he wanted, and changes the mood lighting to his desired colour profile. “The way it handles is so precise, it feels so smooth,” he elaborates.
Like Julie, the charging dilemma, he admits, would be a difficult pill for him to swallow, and his concerns are best articulated by another friend of mine, who chimes in. “I’m by no means against EVs,” explains Chris, who has an in-depth understanding of EV charging challenges as a commercial electrician. “I’m just for building a better infrastructure and technology system around it. DC current is amazing, but we haven’t yet developed a cost-effective way to invert that current to work with our modern day technology. So it basically feels like we are building a condo with no foundation, then once everyone’s bought their units and moved in, we will go back in to build that foundation.” To Chris’s point, EVs boast a lot of exciting potential; however, we need to be careful that our available infrastructure meets the realistic, every-day needs of drivers.
Of course, all good things must come to an end, and on Monday morning we hit the road around 7:30 AM to head towards Mississauga, where the car was set to be returned. As we pull out of my parking garage, I notice a few error messages pop up, notifying me that some of the assisted driving functions are currently limited. I think this is strange, but everything else seems to be in working order, so I make a mental note to bring it up upon returning the car. Unfortunately, by 7:45 AM we are effectively stuck on the side of the street just a few blocks away from my apartment, as the car would no longer shift out of park. We were, quite literally, sitting ducks as a new barrage of error messages cascade across the screen, warning us that the Rear Axle Steering was malfunctioning, along with the High-Voltage System, and Active Brake Assist Functions. A few minutes later, the Hyperscreen serves up a warning that a collision had been detected, and that the car requires service, even though no collision had occurred.
Upon checking the sensors on the vehicle to ensure dirt wasn’t tricking the car into thinking a collision had occurred, I use the Mercedes Me help function to call for assistance. Here is where things get complicated; as it turns out, many tow truck drivers have never dealt with an EV. Over the next five hours, I watch two tow trucks come and go, unable to take the EQS with them. When the third driver shows up (fortunately, with a flatbed truck) he still seemed to be totally perplexed by the car, asking many of the same questions that cops, passerbys, and parking enforcement officials have asked as they observed the scene that day. Unable to shift the car out of park into neutral, the driver eventually has to drag it onto the flatbed, which is a rather jarring task considering the wheels were effectively locked.
All in all, the experience takes around seven hours, and marks a chaotic end to an otherwise lovely weekend of driving. While I am admittedly frustrated by the unexpected malfunction, it provides some critical insight into the current landscape. EVs may be rapidly gaining in popularity among consumers and government bodies but, at large, people (tow truck drivers included) seemingly still have a lot to learn and understand about these vehicles. Our relationship with EVs remains new and, as with any new relationship, there are sure to be some hiccups along the way as we get familiar.