Expert Reviews

2023 Mercedes-Benz EQS SUV First Drive Review

The fully electric 2023 Mercedes-Benz EQS SUV is a big deal for the brand.

This full-size crossover with an available third-row is built in Tuscaloosa, Ala., and is aimed squarely at the North American and Chinese markets. Yes, the German-built 2022 EQS and EQE sedans were first out, but as far as market relevance goes it’s the EQS SUV that will be leading the electric charge for Mercedes.

We’ll be getting two models in Canada – the EQS 450 SUV and the EQS 580 SUV, both of which feature a 108-kWh lithium-ion battery and a claimed range of 459 km. With electric motors on each axle, the 450 puts out a respectable 355 hp and 590 lb-ft of torque, while the 580 makes 536 hp and 633 lb-ft of torque.

Spreading the Seeds of Technology

The EQS SUV shares its platform and wheelbase with the EQS sedan, and it slips through the air with a drag coefficient of 0.26 – mighty impressive for a tall SUV. Visually, this new electric vehicle (EV) treads a conservative path, going for a pleasingly elegant look that doesn’t offend nor particularly excite. With its snout bearing a big grille-like panel, there’s nothing about the EQS SUV that screams electric. Mercedes seems to be taking the opposite tack to brands like BMW, Kia, and Hyundai, all of which are skinning their EVs in bold sheet metal.

Ah, but slide your keister into the wonderfully contoured front seats and the magic happens. The EQS SUV’s cabin is a showpiece of exquisite design and craftsmanship, resplendent with the finest detailing. It’s all set off by the brand’s new curved “hyperscreen” (standard in the 580, optional in the 450) that stretches the width of the dash and merges three screens: a 12.3-inch driver’s display, 17.1-inch central screen, and 12.3-inch passenger display.

It’s an impressive piece that’s sure to delight our screen-obsessed populace. Yes, it would be nice to have a few analog controls (a volume knob, perhaps), but the system is quick and easy to negotiate, and the graphics are spectacular. Mercedes calls this latest generation of its MBUX interface “zero-layer,” meaning all functions are accessible from the main display – no digging through menus. Additionally, say “Hey, Mercedes” at any time and the nice lady in the dash will do everything she can to make life better, from adjusting your seat massage, to finding the nearest DC fast-charger, to explaining vehicle functions, to telling bad jokes.

No Surprise, It’s Delightful to Drive

With 536 hp and an instant 633 lb-ft of torque on tap, the EQS 580 SUV proves to be an effortless cruiser with crushing acceleration just a toe flex away. Its sub four-second dash to 100 km/h is wholly believable. The cabin is hush-quiet and the ride suitably cushy, gliding along on its standard air suspension with adaptive damping. Rear-wheel steering is also standard, with the base system offering up to 4.5 degrees of lock, while an optional 10-degree system shrinks the big SUV’s turning circle to that of a compact car.

We’ve always known Mercedes-Benz as a luxury brand, but here we see evidence of the automaker’s push to reach further upmarket with its products. EVA2 Global Project Manager Holger Enzmann tells me Mercedes is not so much concerned with absolute volume now, but more with profitability per unit. And that means more high-end vehicles dripping in opulence and bristling with technology. Hence the EQS SUV’s showpiece cabin with massage, spectacular ambient lighting, available Burmester Dolby Atmos 4D sound, so-called energizing comfort programs (pre-selected atmospheric audio, ambient lighting, on-screen animation, massage, etc.), and so it goes. Over-the-air updates can add more features still.

Behind the wheel, the 580 feels heavy and a tad ponderous when negotiating the winding mountain roads on our test route. Sport mode helps by firming up the suspension and reigning in body motions, but as might be expected of a three-tonne SUV, this porker is no sportster. With the exception of the thick A-pillar that impedes sightlines when tackling tight left-hand turns, the airy cabin affords good outward visibility. The optional augmented reality head-up display works a treat, projecting a virtual colour 3D image about ten metres in front of the vehicle.

Various levels of regenerative braking, right up to one-pedal driving, can be called up via steering wheel paddles. The brakes get disconcertingly weird at times when the computers and mechanical bits perform an awkward dance as they try to blend regeneration with mechanical stopping power. It’s more egregious in the most aggressive regen settings when the brake pedal actually moves on its own, mimicking what your foot would be doing had you been pressing on it. It caught me out a couple of times when I needed quick braking and the pedal wasn’t where I expected it. Teething problems? Since this was a universal gripe at this media event, perhaps ’Benz should back off on the cleverness and make the braking more human-friendly.

Switching to the EQS 450 SUV doesn’t prove to be any kind of hardship. With 355 hp and 590 lb-ft of torque underfoot, the 450 is still plenty fleet, and if you don’t go for the hyperscreen upgrade, its cabin matches that of the latest S-Class sedan with its semi-free-standing 17.7-inch touch display.

A Sure-Footed Off-Roader

For those who think they might want to tackle some rough terrain with their shiny new EQS SUV, its off-road mode proves to be aptly named. Along with raising the SUVs ride height, it optimizes the all-wheel drive system, enables hill descent control, and calls up a nifty front camera that projects a live image on the main screen when speeds drop below three km/h.

Mercedes presented a rather gnarly course complete with ruts, steep inclines, sharp rocks, and tight turns over which we scrambled with impunity. The takeaway here was how well-suited the EQS SUV is to this kind of driving, with its linear power delivery and crazy-tight turning circle thanks to that 10-degree rear-wheel steering.

Space and Comfort Galore

The EQS SUV’s optional third-row seats are best suited for children, and with them folded into the floor there’s 565 L of cargo space. That’s expandable to 2,020 L with the powered second row folded. The EQS SUV is rated to tow up to 1,800 kg (3,968 lb).

Don’t look for a frunk in the EQS SUV. In fact, don’t even try to open the hood, because you can’t. That space is reserved for stuff like the standard air filtration system that scrubs the incoming air of pollen, particulates, and other microparticles. The fine particle levels outside and inside are displayed in real time, too.

Final Thoughts

The 2023 Mercedes-Benz EQS 450 SUV starts at $136,000, with the EQS 580 SUV bowing at $158,500 – the latter priced head-to-head with the Tesla Model X. Let the games begin.