LISBON, Portugal — The narrow ribbons of pavement along the Portuguese coast are stunning, but they don’t exactly do the new Mercedes-Benz EQE SUV any favors. These winding roads call your attention to the EQE’s somewhat stiff ride and wafty handling, and at no point do you feel compelled to toggle over to Dynamic mode and toss the EQE into a corner.
But you know, that’s OK. Because once you’re back in the city, the EQE totally redeems itself. The optional 10-degree rear-axle steering virtually shortens the wheelbase, making this midsize SUV easy-peasy to maneuver through tight European alleys. Available augmented reality navigation overlays ensure you never miss a turn, and once you’ve arrived at your destination, a standard 360-degree camera system makes parallel parking a snap.
Quiet, plush and effortless to drive; in 95% of the EQE SUV’s use cases, it’s a peach. The A-pillars are a little chunky, but an upright seating position gives you a commanding view of the world outside, and the SUV doesn’t have the same annoyingly high cowl as the EQE and EQS sedans. There’s seating for five, with supportive chairs wrapped in either real leather or MB-Tex synthetic upholstery, and a standard panoramic sunroof lets in plenty of light – until nighttime, anyway, at which point the 64-color ambient lighting steals the show.
You can get an EQE SUV with Mercedes‘ Hyperscreen infotainment system (below right), but the standard dual-display setup (below left) is still rich with features. There’s a 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster that’s reconfigurable and packed with information, and the 12.8-inch central display has a logical menu structure, and can run both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto wirelessly. Honestly, I prefer the Hyperscreen-free setup, and I’m not alone here at Autoblog. There’s enough digital real estate to satisfy technophiles, and if you spec an EQE SUV with open-pore wood trim, the overall dashboard look is really quite beautiful. Taken as a whole, the EQE has the same excellent level of fit and finish you’d expect from a Mercedes-Benz, but this cabin is plenty functional, too. The center console has a deep storage pocket, and there’s a small cargo space underneath, with a pair of USB-C ports.
Three versions of the EQE will be available when the SUV goes on sale this spring, all powered by a 90.6-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack. The EQE 350+ has a single motor mounted to the rear axle, producing 288 horsepower and 417 pound-feet of torque, which is enough to get this 5,300-pound porker to 60 mph in a relaxed 6.3 seconds. 4Matic all-wheel drive adds a second electric motor to the front axle, increasing total output to 288 hp and 564 lb-ft. But because the front drive unit comes with a 335-pound weight penalty, the more powerful EQE 350 4Matic is only a tenth of a second quicker to 60 mph.
Unlike the EQE Sedan, the EQE SUV’s all-wheel-drive system is a no-cost option. And while it might seem like the natural way to go, given the extra power and the traction 4Matic affords, there’s a range penalty to consider. Mercedes-Benz says the rear-wheel-drive EQE 350+ can travel 279 miles on a full charge, while the EQE 350 4Matic reduces that range to 253 miles. In an effort to operate more efficiently, 4Matic only relies on the rear drive motor under light loads in normal operation, so it’s not an always-on AWD system. Really, unless you live someplace where foul-weather prowess is a must-have, maybe stick with the 350+.
You certainly won’t feel a difference between the EQE 350+ and EQE 350 4Matic from behind the wheel. These SUVs drive similarly, with a somewhat stiff ride – even on the optional air suspension – and light but accurate steering. Three levels of regenerative braking are offered, and you can toggle through them via would-be shift paddles. But be aware: The EQE SUV has the same stupid adaptive braking as the other EQE and EQS models, where strong regenerative stopping force will actually move the pedal’s position to simulate how much pressure would normally be applied by your foot. I’ve now used this a lot and I can’t get used to it. Even worse, when your foot makes contact for extra braking power, the pedal feel is inconsistent. The whole thing just feels weird.
If it’s more power you’re after, Mercedes also makes an EQE 500 SUV, which comes standard with 4Matic all-wheel drive. Here, the e-motors are tuned to produce a combined 402 hp and 633 lb-ft of torque, shaving the EQE 350 4Matic’s 0-to-60 time down to 4.7 seconds. Driving range doesn’t take a massive hit, thankfully, with the EQE 500 rated at 269 miles.
Despite it being quicker, the EQE 500 isn’t any more enjoyable to drive than the 350 models. Yes, the uptick in passing power is nice, but this isn’t an SUV that feels even the least bit athletic. Instead, the main reason to opt for an EQE 500 is because it comes with a longer list of bells and whistles, including 20-inch wheels instead of the base 19s, and AMG Line exterior styling. However, while driver-assistance technologies like blind-spot monitoring and lane-keeping assist are included on every EQE, adaptive cruise control costs extra, even on the EQE 500. Don’t look for Mercedes’ Level 3 Drive Pilot tech anytime soon, either.
At $79,050, including $1,150 for destination, the EQE 350+ and EQE 350 4Matic are priced well below their chief rival, the BMW iX. However, the iX has more power, greater driving range and a significantly more interesting interior design – even if the exterior styling is, um, polarizing. Stepping up to the EQE 500 costs $90,650, putting it more than $10,000 below the base MSRP of the larger EQS 450+ SUV. All EQE models are split into Premium, Exclusive and Pinnacle grades, with the most expensive EQE 500 4Matic reaching $96,600.
Later this year, Mercedes will introduce an AMG variant of the EQE SUV, with 677 hp, active roll stabilization and unique air suspension tuning. Will that make it a more entertaining steer? Perhaps. But given how pleasant and serene the EQE SUV is, I’m not sure that really matters.