Is driving on the German Autobahn on your bucket list? It should be. I’m fortunate. I’ve driven several high-performance vehicles, from Audis to Porsches, on sections of the autobahn where speed has no limits. My record is 260 clicks in a BMW 3-Series wagon. It’s a rush. A no-holds-barred experience, hitting excessive speeds in powerful machines with roaring engines. But this time, it’s different. This time, I’m driving an all-electric vehicle: a 2022 Mercedes-Benz EQB 350 4MATIC compact SUV; it’s the only BEV model from the German automaker coming to Canada, for now. Based on its gas-powered cousin, the GLB, the EQB is the first all-electric SUV from the German automaker.
Truth be told, I’m nervous. As an avid driver, I often experience range anxiety in EVs. It’s no different now. Perhaps, it’s even worse. On the autobahn, it’s illegal to run out of fuel – since it’s seen as preventable. What happens if I run out of juice? Too late to ask.
I had begun my 120-kilometre route at the Mercedes-Benz Centre of Excellence in Sindelfingen, Germany. It’s about 20 kilometres southwest of Stuttgart, the sixth largest city in Germany and home to Mercedes-Benz and Porsche headquarters. Right away, I ask the in-car personal assistant, “Hey Mercedes, what’s my range?” It responds “352 kilometres to your destination.” Immediately I question, is that enough? Speeding and pushing the EQB to its limits reduces range drastically. Not to mention, turning on the heated seats, heated steering wheel, cranking up the heat, and blaring Adele on the radio. It further depletes the battery, which is nerve racking for me to experience in real time.
Officially, the EQB’s electric range is 419 kilometres on Europe’s Worldwide Harmonized Light Vehicle Test Procedure (WLTP) test cycle. Expect that number to be less in North America when the numbers are released next year. The all-wheel-drive EQB has a 66.5 kWh battery and dual electric motors that deliver 288 horsepower and 383 lb-ft of torque.
I’ve reached the speed-limitless section of Autobahn A81 enroute to The Öschberghof golf and country club on the edge of the Black Forest Region of southwestern Germany. Sweat pours down the small of my back. I breathe deeply, signal, merge into the left lane and nail the throttle. Heart pounding fast, I’m thrown back into my seat. It’s gut-wrenchingly quick; it can hit 0-to-100 km/h in 6.2 seconds – not that I timed it. I glance down briefly at the speedometer: 163 km/h. Even at that speed, vehicles appear out of nowhere from behind and disappear past you in the blink of an eye. I push it harder, but it doesn’t respond. I can’t go faster. Dang. The EQB has been electronically controlled to a maximum of 160 km/h, which is a problem in the fast lane of the Autobahn.
Another car approaches quickly in my rearview mirror – time to change lanes fast. I’m disappointed I can’t go faster – at least hit 200 km/h. But even at its top speed, the EQB feels rock solid, secure, and well planted on the road, like the gas-powered GLB, minus the engine noise and harmful CO2 emissions. So who needs an ICE?
Here’s the problem for me: the range. It’s a common drawback and a major stumbling block for consumer adoption of EVs, and admittedly, it consumes my mind. Do I have enough juice to get to the lunch spot at The Öschberghof? Who will I call for help if I run out of range? I’m in a foreign country. Gulp.
On many sections of the Autobahn, especially near larger cities like Stuttgart and Munich, speed limits exist, ranging from 80 km/h to 130 km/h. On those stretches, I relied heavily on the semi-autonomous driving technology, especially the adaptive cruise control. It can read the speed limit signs and automatically adjust the speed to keep a safe distance from the vehicle ahead – the driver doesn’t touch a pedal.
It’s handy because the limits change frequently, dropping 100 km/h to 50 km/h in mere seconds and down to 30 km/h in the tiny villages with narrow roads and little room for the EQB to squeeze between parked cars on both sides of the street. You can take your hands off the steering wheel for short periods of time – around 15 seconds – and the vehicle will stay centred in the lane. Unfortunately it can’t change lanes on the highway anymore – new regulations in Germany prevent the maneuver. Still, the technology is impressive.
I exit the Autobahn to find sweeping mountain roads and rich forests with crimson- and gold-coloured leaves clinging from branches lining my route. Driving from one charming town to another, residents do double-takes my way. This is no ordinary Mercedes-Benz – the vehicle I’m driving is decked out with a solid black panel grille, electric blue accents, and multi-spoke, rosé gold-coloured 20-inch wheels. Probably a pain to clean, but they’re stunning.
Thirty minutes later, my range anxiety returns like a broken record, I ask the personal assistant, “Hey Mercedes, how much range is left?” “Hey Mercedes, how many kilometres to my destination?” And then other commands to pass the time. “Hey Mercedes, change the ambient lighting to blue … then green … then red” and then “Hey Mercedes, what do you think of Teslas?” The response is diplomatic: “They’re nice vehicles.”
I reach The Öschberghof relieved. Roughly 150 kilometres remain as Mercedes-Benz officials whisk away the EQB to charge it in an effort to relieve my anxiety, and also to ensure I have enough range for my return trip to the Center of Excellence. There is sufficient time to charge while I dine on local cuisine – a rich meat-based diet with a deconstructed Black Forest cake that’s famous in the region. Charging time is roughly 30 minutes to go from 10 to 80 per cent using a direct current, or DC, fast-charger.
After lunch, I hit the road again with less anxiety. Overall, the EQB is impressive – stylish, fast, luxurious and versatile with seating for up to seven, which is unique in an electric SUV. And the range was more than sufficient for my trip; in fact, it’s higher-than-average among many EVs. But maybe I’m used to driving EVs with less range or maybe I’m a bit paranoid of running out of power and being stranded on the road. For me, another 100 kilometres of electric range in the EQB would do the trick to ease my own range anxiety.