Slight insanity, electric off-road sensibility, Tonka-Toy styling, silly noises
Articulation could be improved for ultimate off-roadyness. It’s not a production car. Yet
What is it?
Very simply, it’s a Mercedes-Benz pure electric SUV with portal axles. A baby electric Unimog. Sort of. The idea isn’t actually that complicated: take the pure-electric EQC and drop it on some terrain-friendly portal axles, make light work of anything off-road within range. A portal axle or gearset, for those of us with less engineering in our lives, is basically a suspension set-up that allows the driveshafts to be offset above the centreline of a traditional axle, via the use of a small set of geared hubs. The main benefit being that you get lots more useful ground clearance - especially because the diff is squirrelled up out of the way - and a significant gear reduction thanks to the extra gears in the hubs themselves. Not much use in a road car, very useful in something more dedicated to having to drive over or through things. Weirdly, you’d often find them in low-floor buses, but fitted the other way up.
Anyway, dropped gearsets aren’t - in theory - that hard to fit. There are bolt-on variants available for most applications. Mercedes, on the other hand, made their own, did a proper job with the EQC Squared and created a kind of mini electric monster truck. Except better.
Why? Because this feels like an actual production car rather than just a lash-up. Created by a cross-departmental team of Mercedes skunkworks enthusiasts centred on an absolutely terrific chap called Jürgen Eberle, the EQC 4x4² rides twice as high as a production EQC, 58mm higher than a G-Class, has approach/departure and breakover angles to die for and wheelarch flares that make it look harder than a granite worktop. Slap on some 285/50 R20 wheels and tyres, and you’ve got a vehicle that can potter about silently off-road pretty much anywhere it wants to.
Other than that, it’s an EQC. There’s an 80kWh battery good for over 200 miles of range (even set up like this), over 400bhp instantly available and unmissable looks. And as well as being relatively practical - the electronics have been tweaked to make best use of the hardware in Off-Road+ mode, so it feels like a production vehicle - there are some fun bits. For instance, the engineers have messed with the EQC’s AVAS system (advanced vehicle alert system) that makes noise to alert passers-by. Now it uses the headlamp housings as amplifiers for a more suitable sonic signature - it’s more grumbly - but the best bit is that when you unlock it, it growls. No kidding, it actually makes a faintly startling growling noise. Which is going to put the absolute wind up your pets every morning, if nothing else.
Our choice from the range
What's the verdict?
A gloriously daft project that nevertheless highlights exactly how useful an electric drivetrain is off-road. Neatly and thoughtfully engineered by people with an excellent sense of humour, the EQC 4x4² actually does everything you’d expect, and a fair bit more. It won’t ever be more than a wonderful weirdo even if it does make it into production, but it’s no less brilliant for that. Keep an eye out on TopGear.com for the feature where we take it on a proper little adventure.