Mercedes Could End Range Anxiety Once and for All: We Drive the Vision EQXX Prototype

CAMPING GEAR

We traveled to Germany to get a first-hand experience behind the wheel of the Mercedes Vision EQXX prototype.

EV sales have quintupled over the last 3 years and could reach 20% of the market by mid-decade — assuming automakers can solve some nagging problems.

First and foremost is range anxiety, the fear motorists have that they simply can’t drive far enough between charges. The Mercedes-Benz Vision EQXX was designed to go at least 1,000 km, or roughly 625 miles, before needing to plug in again.

GearJunkie got a chance to test drive the prototype and find out what the production plans might look like.

Mercedes Past & Future

Mercedes-Benz Vision EQXX prototype
(Photo/Paul Eisenstein)

On a blisteringly hot day at the Mercedes-Benz Proving Grounds near Stuttgart, Germany, both past and present have been lined up side-by-side.

The first is a working replica of the Patent Motorwagen. introduced by Carl Benz in 1885, it was the world’s first true automobile. It was a true horseless carriage, with a smoking, chugging internal combustion engine that struggled to negotiate even the most gentle hill. As primitive as it might seem today, few machines have had more of an impact on modern life. 

Mercedes-Benz Vision EQXX prototype
(Photo/Paul Eisenstein)

Next to it sits the Mercedes-Benz Vision EQXX, a sleek, teardrop-shaped two-seater that could have an equally profound impact on the future. While it isn’t the first all-electric vehicle — there are already dozens in showrooms around the world — the electric coupe is designed to overcome the most significant barrier to widespread EV adoption: range anxiety.

The C-class-size prototype can travel at least 1,000 km, or about 621 miles, between charges. And it’s handily exceeded that target on several occasions.

Mercedes Vision EQXX: Details Matter

Mercedes-Benz Vision EQXX prototype
(Photo/Paul Eisenstein)

While Mercedes officials are quick to stress that the EQXX is a learning exercise, they also note that key elements of its design and technology will help improve the efficiency, design, and dynamics of future EVs the automaker plans to put into production over the coming years.

“We left no stones unturned,” says Julien Pillas, one of the lead engineers and test drivers on the EQXX program, as we climb inside the prototype. 

Squeezing that much range out of a roughly 100kWh battery pack required his team to rethink every detail of automotive design, down to the weight of the vehicle’s nuts and bolts. Key chips in the power control unit were switched to silicon carbide from less efficient silicon. A less energy-hungry motor system was adopted. The brake rotors were made from lightweight aluminum rather than steel.

And even the most subtle details of the Vision EQXX concept’s design were labored over in digital design simulations and wind tunnel tests.

Like most of today’s EVs, there’s no grille because there’s no engine under a hood that is angled severely, helping wind flow smoothly over the windshield and roof. As part of an active aero system, a power splitter extends behind the rear wheels above 50 kph to control how air detaches from the back of the vehicle. Even the wheels and tires have been tweaked to minimize wind and rolling resistance.

Mercedes-Benz Vision EQXX prototype
(Photo/Paul Eisenstein)

The result is a 0.17 coefficient of drag, substantially sleeker than Mercedes’ production EQS sedan — which already laid claim to being the most aerodynamic production vehicle on the road.

The chromed door handles retract into the side panels, popping out when you run a hand over them. As they swing open, a passenger discovers a surprisingly sophisticated cabin that would do the German automaker proud if it were in production today. 

Mercedes-Benz Vision EQXX prototype
(Photo/Paul Eisenstein)

A door-to-door video screen dominates the instrument panel. It features the requisite cluster of gauges in front of the driver, but additional readouts spread across the display.

With a swipe of the fingers, one can check out the battery’s state of charge. This is the amount of power being consumed by the various electrical components — even the way the wind is blowing and how much power the coupe’s solar panels are generating.

More Range

Mercedes Vision EQXX
(Photo/Mercedes)

During a record 1,008km, or 625-mile, drive from Stuttgart to the French Cote d’Azur last spring, that array delivered about 15 miles of additional range. The EQXX actually finished with an unused 100 miles in its battery pack.

So, determined to push to the very limits, the automaker set out for a second run to the legendary Silverstone race track in England, logging 746 miles along the way without charging. 

As impressive as those numbers are, what’s more significant is the efficiency of the EQXX using the electric equivalent of miles per gallon. During the drive to Silverstone, the battery-car got an average 7.5 miles per kilowatt-hour. Similarly sized vehicles are lucky to get more than 3, with the Lucid Air Dream Range edition — the most efficient BEV now in production — falling just short of 5.

Driving the Vision EQXX

Mercedes-Benz Vision EQXX prototype
(Photo/Paul Eisenstein)

But the question was what would the EQXX be like to drive? Shifting into gear, I headed for the gate onto the Proving Grounds’ main test loop, Pillas guiding me from the shotgun seat. 

I’ve driven plenty of concept vehicles and engineering prototypes over my decades of writing about cars, and they usually make plenty of sacrifices. To my satisfaction, the unique heat pump provided more than enough cooling on a 94-degree day. 

Equally satisfying, there was a fair amount of pep to the single-motor drivetrain as I tipped into the throttle. At 240 horsepower, the development team didn’t deliver a stone pony. That’s 50% more power than the single-motor version of the Kia EV6, for example. And all the work done on the EQXX kept its mass to just 3,858 pounds, about 100 less than the Korean BEV.

Out on the course, the Mercedes prototype nimbly maneuvered through the corners. The motor was responsive and sprite, all but silent in its running. 

Mercedes-Benz Vision EQXX prototype
(Photo/Paul Eisenstein)

One of the distinctive features of a BEV is regenerative braking. To maximize range, electric vehicles recapture as much energy as possible during braking and coasting, sending it back to the battery pack.

The amount of “regen” can be adjusted on the fly in the EQXX. At one extreme, I was able to coast more than half a mile barely losing one mph thanks to the coupe’s aerodynamics and low rolling resistance. Shifting to “D—” mode, however, maximized regeneration, bringing the EQXX from 40 mph to a complete stop nearly as fast as if I had hammered the brakes.

Production Mercedes Vision EQXX Coming?

On the whole, the EQXX proved to be surprisingly close to what you might expect from a production vehicle. Though Pallas cautioned that it would need a fair amount more engineering work to be suitable for the range of driving conditions the typical motorist faces every day.

That raised the question: Might that be something Mercedes is thinking about? The most immediate answer is “no.” CEO Ola Kallenius and his management team have repeatedly said there are no production plans for the show car. But pay close attention, and they’ve softened that resistance over the last month or two. 

Barring a complete flip-flop, the Vision EQXX project isn’t a dead end. Quite the contrary, according to Pillas and other members of the team. In its quest to become the dominant player in luxury BEVs, Mercedes admittedly has a lot of work to do.

The EQXX has provided a directional beacon, showing many of the steps needed to improve range, performance, and cabin comfort, among other things. Expect to see it strongly influence the products Mercedes is just now working up.

Mercedes-Benz Vision EQXX prototype
(Photo/Paul Eisenstein)

And so, where the original Patent Motorwagen helped lay out the course of the industry for more than 100 years, the Mercedes-Benz Vision EQXX offers a promising vision for where the industry is now headed as electric drivetrains take over.

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