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The best thing about the new electric Mercedes is not under the hood

Hannah Elliott April 16 | Updated on April 16, 2021

The premium luxury electric sedan on the market, something striking at the luxe levels established by the S-Class, takes on Tesla

Mercedes-Benz has finally joined the electric car club. In a video conference held on Thursday, Mercedes debuted the EQS, the first all-electric car the 94-year-old company will sell in the US.

An electric version of the flagship S-Class sedan, 2022 Mercedes-Benz EQS boasts a driving range of 770 km (478 miles), improved charging times, and all the accouterments that make the cabin of the S-Class feel more like a private jet than a German town car. (Pricing has yet to be announced, but a Mercedes spokesperson said it’s likely to be similar to the $95,000 it costs to buy a 2020 S-Class.)

The vehicle makes such electric sedans as the Tesla Model S, Porsche Taycan, and Audi e-tron GT feel almost minimalistic—geared for no-nonsense, no-frills driving rather than anything so frivolous as luxury.

But the most interesting thing about EQS isn’t its electric powertrain or all that suede. These are nearly imperceptible from the conventionally powered S-Class we’ve had since 2014. (That’s a good thing; it’s all very up to snuff, and S-Class loyalists will have no trouble transitioning to electric.) Instead, the massive screen bolted across the front of the cabin is what wowed me most during a private preview of the car on April 7 in Los Angeles. Renderings and photos don’t do it justice.

Technological wonder

The Mercedes-donned “Hyperscreen” is a single board of scratch-resistant aluminium silicate glass spanning 56 inches across the car, from one side mirror to the other. It presents a masterclass on progressive technology.

After experiencing it for a time, I can say it’s ingenious enough to convert even those who insist on tactile feedback into proud first adopters. Where Lexus, Nissan, and even BMW have fumbled in attempts to modernize and propel the tech consumers use inside their cars — and Tesla tablet-like central command screen feels outdated in comparison — Mercedes has once again proven why it is the best in offering the latest interior technological magic.

What looks like one screen is actually three; a 12.3-inch driver display, a 17.7-inch central display, and a 12.3-inch passenger display. They sit under a single bonded cover made from the same type of glass used in cell phones. All three screens are bonded to the cover glass in a uniform curve that helps avert reflections.

Safety first

I had two concerns going into this viewing. The first had to do with safety: What horrible thing could that guillotine of a screen do to passengers in the event of a crash?

Sylvain Wehnert, the vice president of advanced design for Mercedes-Benz research and development in North America, assures me that the company has taken care of the question. The hyperscreen is connected to the frame of the car via honeycomb-shaped aluminium brackets that bend in a controlled manner in the event of a minor crash. In the event of a severe impact, multiple predetermined breaking points behind the side air vents will prevent the glass from acting like a single blade, Wehnert explains.

My second concern revolved around the general need for tangible feedback while I drive. Call me crazy, but I prefer to keep my eyes on the road while I barrel past Priuses, not fumbling on a piece of glass to select radio stations or seat settings, as in early versions of the Model S. Like an iPhone, the new screen offers both haptic feedback — perceptible vibrations when you push certain “buttons” — and force feedback, wherein a pressing hard vs softly on an icon, for example, will different trigger functions, such as jumping to another menu.

Simplicity is best

Safety and practical fears having abated, I settled back against the pillow-topped headrest to absorb the screen(s). They feel expansive, with only a thin silver frame, a vent band, and a narrow leather frame surrounding it.

As I basked in the soft glow of the wellness settings that gleamed with woodland green and pitched birdsong behind my ears, I had the sinking feeing that much of the system’s capability would take hours to ingest and memorize. Wehnert had lost me halfway, as he spoke about how to set expected battery life along driving routes and monitor air purity levels inside and outside the car. (Activated charcoals in the HEPA filter and the cabin filter filter out sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, along with odours).

But a mode called Zero Layer is meant to make it simpler for Luddites like me; the name means the user must scroll through zero menu levels. Using facial recognition like the kind that unlocks your cell phone, the car will learn who is behind the wheel and adjust the interface over repeated uses, pushing to the fore the buttons, tasks, destinations, and preferences of those who drive it most often. It will even store and remind the user of birthdays and other important dates.

Still, my favourite parts about the screen, even from my limited non-driving preview, were the simplest: It adjusted brightness automatically according to the lighting conditions of the interior of the car; it adjusted sound, lighting, climate, and even fragrance as I scrolled through energizing comfort modes with such names as Summer Rain and Sounds of the Sea. (The new fragrance, “No. 6,” smelled like fresh figs and crisp, clean linen, not like a cheap cologne or drug-store air freshener; the No. 6 reflects that Mercedes made its first electric vehicles—the "Mercédès Electrique” cars, trucks, buses, ambulances and even fire trucks—in 1906.)

Crucially, for those of us who don’t often have white-gloved drivers awaiting our arrival, the hyperscreen is treated with a scratch-resistant aluminium silicate and a stick-resistant coating to make fingerprints and other invasive marks less likely to adhere to its surface.

This might not be new technology, but it may be the most critical to sustaining the beauty and functionality of this billboard in the daily and extended use of real life.

Once inside the EQS, that’s exactly how often you’ll want to use it — even if you’re only ever in the passenger seat.

Published on April 16, 2021

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