2022 Mercedes-AMG EQS First Drive: Silencing the Skeptics

Expectations are high for the 2022 Mercedes-AMG EQS, and rightly so. Rivals may not like to admit it, not publicly at least, but where the S-Class goes its counterparts tend to follow: the iconic sedan may not have debuted every must-have feature among the luxury set, but is still responsible for more than its fair share. Now, with the EQS representing the Sonderklasse's electric evolution, it's AMG's opportunity to bring the performance to back up the promises on its aggressive 2030 roadmap.

Aerodynamics clearly rule the roost in Mercedes' EQ division. We're used to EVs being slippery, but the EQS goes further than most with its river-smoothed-pebble silhouette. When I look at it, I can't help but see those abstract car models that dealerships have to show different paint samples, only blown up to full size and then with surface detailing painted on.

Find the right angle and it's handsome and imposing. AMG's beefy aero wheels – available in 21- and 22-inch sizes – help, offsetting some of the visual heft from the side. I prefer the AMG-specific grille, too, with its crisp vertical struts above a reworked lower intake. At the rear there's a larger spoiler and a new diffuser with crisper fins.

It's a head-turner, certainly, not least because it looks a little like a CGI creation that just rolled out onto the street. Inside, the high-tech sense continues, with Mercedes' vast Hyperscreen fitted as standard. Does the modern dashboard need 55-inches of display, including a dedicated touchscreen for the front passenger? No, probably not, but it makes the controls of every other vehicle on the road feel retro by comparison.

In use, it's less distracting than you might expect. The EQS makes good use of the inches on offer, with AMG-specific graphics and animations, even if some of the standard versions actually fit more info into the driver's screen and head-up display. The central touchscreen manages to feel comprehensive rather than crowded, and while I know many prefer physical buttons and knobs for things like HVAC settings, Mercedes does at least make them persistent across the bottom of the display.

All in, the AMG EQS cabin lives up to its "the S-Class of EVs" billing. It's lavish and cohesive in a way that no other electric car on the market can match right now, a blend of highly visible high-tech with old-school attention to detail and materials. It's also hugely spacious, not just in the front where the custom AMG sports seats are supremely comfortable, but in the rear where legroom is particularly capacious.

The US will get two drivetrain options. As standard, the 2022 AMG EQS has dual electric motors with 658 horsepower and 750 lb-ft of torque. 0-60 mph arrives in 3.4 seconds, and the top speed is electronically limited to 155 mph. Check off the AMG Dynamic Plus package, and you get 751 horsepower and 752 lb-ft of torque; great for bragging rights, even if it probably won't make much of a difference out in the real world.

AMG Performance 4MATIC+ all-wheel drive is standard, as is AMG Ride Control+ and air suspension, rear-axle steering, electronically-controlled damping, and AMG-specific bushings and mounts. The tuning division also throws in extra cooling for the motors, while ceramic brakes are optional.

A setting I quickly reached for, meanwhile, was the option to turn off the AMG Sound Experience. Like all EVs, the EQS is required by US law to make some sort of noise outside, to alert pedestrians to its presence. Inside, though, the automaker cooked up two custom soundtracks, one of which is only unlocked if you have the AMG Dynamic Plus package.

The goal, AMG says, was to make both the "Authentic" and "Performance" sounds feel engaging and – though electronically-generated – somehow real. Rather than monotonous drones that simply vary in volume, the tonality adjusts according to the drive mode you're in, how hard you're pushing, and other factors. The automaker even worked with audio studios more familiar with movies than mobility, to deliver suitably rich and evocative sounds.

Problem is, the end result feels more suited to an ominous sci-fi thriller than a luxury EV. After a while, my drive partner and I both realized that the warbling, reverberating noises were leaving us feeling oddly anxious, as though at any moment a blood-thirsty Xenomorph was going to leap out of the glovebox. It's definitely an emotional sound, I'm just not sure "existential dread" was the emotion that AMG had in mind.

With it mercifully deactivated – something you can do by default in the customizable Individual drive mode, but must toggle each time you switch through AMG's presets – the cabin hush is at glorious odds with the pace this most potent of EQS is capable of.

On the highway, it's hard to argue that electrification isn't the clear and true future of luxury vehicles. A V12 may be syrupy in its lavish, low-rev power, while AMG's favored V8 twin-turbo undoubtedly has its punchy charms, yet the seamless thrum of two electric motors leave each feeling like coughing reminders of a dying age. Even in Comfort mode, the AMG EQS surges forward with a smooth wave of uninterrupted potency, easily modulated with Mercedes' three-stage regenerative braking system, but always ready for overtaking or seizing the moment for a cross-lane maneuver.

The rear axle steering – a full 9-degrees of twist – helps there, of course, and AMG intentionally dialed in a broader spread of comfort through to performance in its drive mode settings. Then again, the regular EQS is hardly a slowpoke; my main curiosity was how the not-insubstantial heft of a luxury performance EV could hold up in more engaging terrain.

Rising up through the winding roads above Palm Springs, a pea-soup fog Olde London Town would've been proud of reminded me of a risks of a one-trick pony. After all, if you've pinned your hopes on that one, perfect car for that one, perfect road, the discovery that you can't see six feet beyond the grille could result in dismay at best. At worst, missing the edge of the mountain altogether.

Thankfully California's dalliance with winter was reserved for the very highest altitudes; winding back down provided plenty of opportunities to see how the AMG EQS could nail the twin-personality challenge. A small but useful graph gives an idea of what proportion of the total power you have to play with in each drive mode, not that nine-tenths of up to 761 horses is much of a sacrifice. The briefest squeeze of the accelerator is enough to send the EQS lunging forward ridiculously; the copious regen – capable of up to 300 kW – more than sufficient to slow you down again.

It never quite feels lightweight, or especially small for that matter, but neither is it unwieldy and the levels of grip are huge. The ride in Sport and Sport+ modes feels much the same, the EQS' low center of gravity and neatly tuned suspension ousting most of the body roll you'd predict. The end result is weirdly akin to what I imagine ace fighter pilots experience when they're flying terrain-hugging missions, the sense that you're sweeping and soaring from curve to curve, a little remote from what's beneath you.

Much as I suspect those pilots must feel a lot of the time, the opportunities to actually use what's on tap are few and far between. There's a whole lot of car here, far more than is required by regular roads, and yet I can't see AMG EQS owners taking their EV to the track. Then again, it's a recipe AMG has used before in its big sedans and SUV, and with sales booming it's clear that for many just the knowledge that they could is sufficient. Is that wasteful? Maybe, but that's the world of bragging-rights performance luxury for you.

Interestingly, 24 hours later I was tackling very similar – though happily far less foggy – roads in Porsche's new Taycan GTS Sport Turismo. The gods of scheduling don't normally smile with such beneficence, and it was a chance to compare and contrast what, on paper at least, were two similar beasts.

The reality couldn't feel much further apart. Though the Taycan isn't short on creature-comforts, it definitely feels like a Porsche GTS that happens to be electric. The AMG EQS, meanwhile, is like a preview of a whole new age for Mercedes.

If the S-Class has, over time and in AMG form particularly, attempted to distill luxury and performance into a blissful bubble – blind to physics, restraint, and budget alike – then the AMG EQS represents the next stage of evolution for that goal. Sheer pace alone isn't the strategy here. Instead, it's about a stubborn, Germanic refusal to settle or compromise. There may be more power elsewhere, or more range – Mercedes hasn't said what to expect there from the 108 kW battery, though I'd guess at around 280 miles depending on how you drive – but nothing, perhaps until the Rolls-Royce Spectre or Bentley's as-yet-unnamed first EV arrive, delivers this sort of lavish, all-encompassing experience.

None of that will be cheap and, while Mercedes-AMG hasn't confirmed pricing yet, it's hard not to imagine a healthy premium above the $120k an EQS 580 4MATIC will cost you. Nor will it be to everybody's taste, particularly the unavoidably high-tech dashboard. Still, as we've observed before, there's room for more than one vision of an electric future. A healthy EV market means a healthy range of options in models, just as no single ICE car is expected to satisfy every driver.

The fact that there is no AMG S-Class in its latest generation, though, is a decision that reverberates: it's hard not to see that as gas power bowing out before it's embarrassed by the AMG EQS. The performance division is clear that its future is electrons not hydrocarbons, and though the 2022 Mercedes-AMG EQS may only be the first sampling of that, what it teases is more than sufficient to quiet all but the most obstinate EV skeptic.