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Electric

Mercedes EQC vs Audi e-tron vs Jaguar I-Pace

Audi, Jaguar and now Merc have electric SUVs vying for your £70k. So who’s best?

  • I reckon we make it 12 words into this without mentioning Tesla. Whoops. Summer 2019 and, at last, there’s a big-hitting electric family car group test that doesn’t feature one of Elon’s Silicon Valley chip-chariots. Tesla always protested its mission wasn’t so much to build world-beating cars as to give the global auto-giants a crowd-pleasing kick up the exhaust pipe. Here’s their reaction.

    Audi vs Jag vs, well, not the first electric vehicle from the company that brought you The Car. But the first one to launch an EQ sub-brand that’ll duel the VW’s ID family, the next gen of iBMWs, and yep, Tesla. The Merc EQC is a very important car. Not that it looks it. It’s a blob. Current Merc design boils down to: “Sorry we blemished our cars with creases and angles last decade; here’s a pebble.”

    Grafted onto the XXL-wagon form of the EQC, it looks oddly thickset. Form following flab, then – the EQC’s foundations are donated by the GLC, but at 2,495kg, it’s over half a tonne heavier than one of Merc’s internal combustion SUVs. Unavoidably, 625kg of that is the floor-mounted 80kWh battery.

    Photography: Jonny Fleetwood

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  • The claimed range of 232 miles is unremarkable, but thanks largely to the average speed-check roadworks just outside Lolham (they’re no laughing matter), Mr Blobby is reporting a virtuous 3.1 miles per kWh of consumption as I thread its relatively slender shell along the narrow lanes. And since £1,695 of optional Driving Assistance Package has us aligned with the car in front and the haphazard cat’s eyes, I can indulge in more of the information the EQC beams at its occupants from freestanding 12.3-inch flatscreens.

    Apparently, my piousness has bought an extra 22.7 miles of range since setting off over an hour ago. Really? I can monitor power flow, plot the peaks and troughs of recent leccy consumption, and tweak accelerator, steering and ride moods.

  • It’s the same touch/voice-command ‘MBUX’ interface from the A-Class, but Mercedes has really gone to town on the EV Easter eggs. Having coded all that, it set about revamping what’s at heart a GLC cockpit with coppery vents and doors fashioned from the unloved side of a cheesegrater.

    None of that’s necessary – it’s actually a bit twee. But at least they’ve tried to imbue the EQC’s interior with a sense of ‘you’re in the future now’. Much more than can be said for its amorphous exterior, scarred with lazy vents, fake grilles and a front bumper modelled on a hipster’s Poirot moustache.

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  • As we depart motorway drudgery and forge deeper into East Anglia, the EQC is less in its comfort zone, and not just because of the sparse charging infrastructure. As road surfaces deteriorate, the big Benz struggles. It’s surprisingly softly sprung – when the suspension is asked to catch that leaden body as the road crumbles or downright disappears beneath it, the car wallows before it settles, like an American land-barge.

    The pay-off is an unusually compliant ride for a German SUV. Modest 20-inch wheels and languid suspension travel mean it’s absorbent when you’re gentle, then soggy if you push a fraction harder. Basically, the EQC handles like kitchen roll. Later, a colleague drives it down an undulating lane and observes: “So it doesn’t just look like a pudding, then.”

    Will handling matter in the age of the EV? Will ‘handling’ amount to how much speed you can safely carry into a roundabout without summoning embarrassing volumes of tyre squeal or a confidence-tap on a disconcertingly numb brake pedal? If you can live with the body roll, the EQC is game for that – it boasts the most intuitive regen system of our three cars, needing two quick clicks on the left ‘minus’ paddle to stop the car smartly. Squeeze the right ‘plus’ paddle and it’ll relax the regen. Result: coasting like you’re in a vacuum. Realistic range today, even with a righteous right foot and the best efforts of the Highways Agency, the on-board IMAX reports, is 220 miles.

  • Usefully over half of that’s left following a 105-mile schlep from west London to our base for the day: Stags Holt wind farm in Cambridgeshire. Briefly, these beacons of motoring innovation aren’t the most interesting machines in sight. Did you know it only takes a 4mph wind to start one of these fanned leviathans? That each can produce over 6 million kWh annually? That’d juice the biggest battery here (the 95kWh cells amid the Audi e-tron) enough to send it 15 million miles. And yes, when it’s dangerously breezy, the National Grid really does ask the owners to take their giant fans offline, so the network isn’t overloaded.

    Inside the double-glazed cockpit of the Audi e-tron (£525 to you), the swooshing soundtrack of clean-gen power disappears. Take a moment to appreciate how beautifully finished this haven of gloss-black ’n’ brushed metal is, then prod the start button to awaken the fleet of screens. There’s none of the Merc’s titillation here – it’s an identical dashboard to an A6 or a Q7, but the Audi’s a higher-quality place to be. Trickier to operate, though – MB and Jaguar have good sense sticking with buttons to work simple stuff like climate control. Audi must learn that pixels aren’t the answer to everything.

  • Take the mirrors, or lack thereof. £1,250 of Virtual Door Mirrors, here. The cameras’ field of view, even with the touchscreen adjustment, isn’t wide enough, and of course, it doesn’t change as you bob and crane your neck at a tricky junction. And try unlearning your lifetime habit of looking through the window into a mirror lens for a quick blind-spot check, and instead remember to avert your gaze to a screen on the door. That’s taken you, say, 0.4 seconds. At 75mph, your orange 2.5-tonne Audi has just travelled 13 metres.

    I’ve laboured that point because the rest of the Audi is wantonly uncontroversial. The looks are classic modern VW Group SUV: some Bentayga here, Kodiaq there, an unnecessarily bloated grille and some fancy LED graphics. It’s the most spacious car here, it has the biggest boot, and the most sedate performance.

    To protect the battery, Audi has coded the 402bhp e-tron to actually deliver 355bhp in normal driving. Only when you choose Sport mode via the clumsy selector do you unlock the maximum, but even then, it’s the slowest on paper and the step-off from rest builds from sedate to rapid rather than pinging passengers off the headrest, like the uncannily rapid Mercedes and sprightly Jag. It’s the easiest of the trio to pilot smoothly, mind you.

  • Does the fact that only the Jag lives on an architecture designed specifically for electric motoring, not bastardised from an engine-driven car, betray that the Germans aren’t all-in on EVs just yet? Hmm. Either way, the Audi is a superior conversion to the Mercedes, which is dark and cramped in the rear, suffering pinched back doors and a lofty boot floor.

    The Audi is a more sorted car to drive. It’s less pillowy, but the steering is cleaner, body roll is better contained, and it hides its greater weight more cleverly, if not its sheer girth. Where it hasn’t converted its advantage is in range: bigger battery than the Benz, but only 205 miles of estimated range on test, even with consumption eked up to, at one point, 3mpkWh. Mostly, it settles at 2.6. Which is where the Jag stubbornly sits all day. Perhaps it’s being shy with the readouts, because its realistic range of 230 miles is the healthiest on test (if you leave the climate control dormant.)

    But you can’t do that because this I-Pace has a full-length glass roof, and no sunblind. “Ah, but it’s tinted,” says Jaguar, “so the interior stays cool and you get more headroom.” “Argh”, says us, every time we climb into the I-Pace’s oven of a cockpit and sacrifice 10mph on the motorway cruise home employing the air con.

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  • Once the air’s no longer lung-scorching, you appreciate how much more futuristic the I-Pace is inside. Maybe that’s because, unlike Merc and Audi, its regular car cabins languish below par, but there’s no doubt that the deep windscreen, low driving position and tasteful mix of leather and metal are a gratifying handshake.

    Materials and switchgear aren’t quite as professional as the Germans’. Neither are the screens, as per. You can’t adjust the regen on a paddle. The ‘gearbox’ and drive mode buttons are fiddly. But the Jag claws back cabin smarts by carving out more space front and rear than the Mercedes. Outside, it musters more want-factor in a light cluster than the other two put together. They draw momentary glances, but the 22nd-century Jaguar still cricks necks as it whistles by.

    The Jag’s driver is having the best time. I probably owe this car an apology, in fact. I first drove it last year, and though it handled tidily, went quickly and rode compliantly, nothing about it signalled ‘game-changer’. It needed context. Only having stepped from the wobbly EQC and inert e-tron can you appreciate what a number Jag’s engineers have done on this chassis. It’s deft, agile and makes corners worth savouring, not an inconvenience before the next recharge.

  • Speaking of which. The Merc swallows an 80 per cent recharge in 40mins at a 110kW 
rapid charger. The Audi can accept a 150kW charge, so 80 per cent is yours in half an hour. And the Jag? Painfully close to victory: the I-Pace is the prettiest, the best to drive, has a competitive range and more cabin space than you expect. But yet again, it was another I-Pace which fritzed when asked to accept a rapid-charge. This one’s coming to live with Top Gear for a while in our Garage. It has a chance to redeem itself. The greenhouse will be more bearable, come winter. Wonder how range will cope?

    What we’ve learned is that Audi and Mercedes haven’t converted their year of latency since the Jag landed into a killer advantage. The played-safe e-tron is the most complete car. The dumpy EQC peppers a mixed package with some neat ideas. Only Jaguar can claim an EV is its best SUV. Audi and Mercedes both make better family 4x4s than the e-tron and EQC.

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