During a Mercedes-Benz GLS international drive in 2019, I found myself staring at the just unveiled GLB and wondering if the German brand might consider electrifying a model like this one? Would this be too focused on practicality for the EV market, which back then was filled with luxury wannabes? Or will a luxury family van in the compact class still find a fit within the EV lifestyle?
These questions apparently didn’t worry the folks at Mercedes-Benz because, by 2021, of the four new full-electric vehicles that debuted, the EQB and the EQS sat at the two ends of Merc’s luxury EV space. And both of these are going to make it to our shores later this year. One is a sedan, likely to whet the appetite of the enthusiast, and the other is a crossover MPV/SUV that is likely to find takers amongst the more conservative, family-focused and yet environmentally-conscious buyers in the luxury space. I got an opportunity to get behind the wheel of the EQB earlier this month in Stuttgart, Merc’s hometown, and here are my first impressions.
The EQB is a cleverly packaged, luxe people carrier that manages to deliver a strong crossover SUV vibe. Built on the same ICE platform that the GLB is based on, this is an all-electric that, along with the GLA, forms the twin offering in the compact class for Mercedes-Benz in Europe and the US. It is offered in 5-seat and 6/7-seat configuration, though, in India, the 3-row, 6-seat is likely to be what will be launched. The EQB is not a small vehicle by Indian standards, at about 4.7 metres long, but it seems narrower than the GLC. Thanks to a wheelbase of over 2.8 metres, the space inside the cabin is also surprisingly generous. But it looks so much like the GLB from the side.
However, the design at the front and rear is characteristic of Merc’s EQ vehicles. The solid glossy black panel grille with the 3-pointed star in the middle and the headlamps connecting onto it are design signatures. The blue LED highlights within the light elements are also an EQ vehicle trademark. The other distinguishing design element of Merc’s all-electrics is the connected or continuous LED light strip, both at the front and the rear. The overall stance of the EQB is that of an elongated crossover SUV, with the only hint of it being a 3-row being the larger rear quarter glass and the sloping front bonnet. The proportions are still those of a classic Merc SUV. What’s different with the GLB is, of course, the focus on aerodynamics to achieve a lower cd value of 0.28. To aid in improved efficiencies, the EQB features a nearly completely enclosed underbody, optimised front and rear aprons and wheel spoilers, and specially developed 20-inch rims.
The EQB’s interior is focused on functionality and flexibility for family users. Yet, the plush, hi-tech dashboard and cockpit have been executed so well that even regular buyers will be interested in getting behind the wheel. All the classic Merc elements, including the turbine style aircon vents with LED backlighting, the discreet ambient lighting that captures the design details, the multi-function steering wheel with its touch pad controls and the trademark centre console features, give the EQB context. While being upright for that SUV-style dashboard, the top half is curved inwards to offer more room for the driver and front passenger. There are EQB-specific tubular elements that have been executed in aluminium that adorn the door panels, dashboard and centre console. The widescreen cockpit for the driver includes two screens for the instruments, info display, and infotainment system with Merc’s proprietary user-interface MBUX integrated.
The EQB’s seats are perfect for long journeys; mine was a 200km-long trip out of Stuttgart into the neighbouring countryside and a loop back into town. The rear seats are not as sporty and generously bolstered as the front two. But, there is enough room even for tall passengers. The boot offers about 495 litres of space. The EQB is also offered with intelligent navigation solutions in markets like Europe. While this may make it to India at a later date, the system calculates using parameters like distance, battery state of charge, availability of charging stations etc. There is also ECO Assist, which offers a recuperation process optimised for the particular driving conditions. It incorporates navigation data, traffic sign recognition and information from the vehicle sensors into its efficiency strategy. Anticipatory driving saves power, thereby extending the range.
The only quibble about the EQB’s cabin could be that it is a bit like a conventional Merc and there is not as many special bits identifying its ‘electric’ DNA.
The EQB is offered in two variants: the EQB 300 4MATIC with an output of 168 kW and the EQB 350 4MATIC with 215 kW. Both the variants feature two motors-one each on the front and rear axles. The driving ranges according to WLTP are 419 kilometres in each case. Further variants are expected to follow, including a particularly long-range version. Merc says that an asynchronous motor is used at the front axle. The electric motor, a fixed-ratio transmission with differential, the cooling system, and the power electronics form a highly integrated, very compact unit. This electric powertrain combines with the ‘permanently excited synchronous’ motor at the rear. The power demand between the front and rear axles is intelligently regulated 100 times per second, depending on the driving situation. The system optimises consumption by using the rear electric motor as often as possible. In overrun mode or during recuperative braking, the electric motors become alternators to feed charge back into the battery pack. The EQB features a lithium-ion battery with a high energy density. It has a maximum voltage of 420 V and has a usable charge of 66.5 kWh. The battery is made up of five modules and is located underneath the passenger compartment in the middle of the vehicle. If navigation with ‘Electric Intelligence’ is activated, the battery may also be pre-heated or cooled while driving in order to ensure that it is within the ideal temperature window for a rapid charging station. The battery can be charged in a conventional wall socket at home or with the 11kW charging adapter supplied with the car, or with a DC charger of up to 100kW.
The EQB drives like a classic Merc SUV, with just a shade more body movement than the average. The smooth, well-laid tarmac of the German autobahn and the narrower country roads that I experienced the EQB on are not going to help me form an opinion about what this vehicle is going to feel like on our own streets. But suffice it to say that the suspension will certainly have a pliant bias and won’t be as stiff as some of the sportier Mercs.
It is still going to be a difficult positioning exercise for Mercedes-Benz India when the EQB is introduced. As commendable as it is for Merc to be launching such a breadth of new electrics, the EQB customer is likely to be from a very finely focused, niche. The EQB is likely to be launched as a completely built unit (CBU) and as a consequence the price could be in a slightly more expensive band in the Rs 70-80 lakh range.