2022 Mercedes-Benz EQS First Drive Review: An EV like nothing else

Sometimes, expectations weigh heavy on you. Big names, promising big things, and with big implications: the 2022 Mercedes-Benz EQS is a prime example. After spending two full days driving the German automaker's attempt to redefine luxury through Zurich, Switzerland, it almost comes as a relief to report that the EQS surpasses all my expectations of Mercedes-Benz. To risk a cliche, it's the S-Class of electric luxury, redefining what a modern-day high-end sedan embodies through form and function.

And really, when was the last time a carmaker had two flagships that are utterly unrelated from one another? When you think about it, the Mercedes-Benz EQS is the only true premium luxury electric sedan available today, and it's nothing like the performance-oriented Porsche Taycan and Audi e-tron GT. With the existing S-Class going nowhere, the EQS is about reinterpreting Mercedes' decades-long flagship – and its superlative-inspiring levels of luxury, refinement, and prestige – but showing how EVs could do better in all three.

First, let's talk details. It's heretical to call the EQS an all-electric S-Class, and Mercedes sure doesn't appreciate it. True, both vehicles are flagship luxury limousines with different powertrains. Still, underneath the EQS' "one-bow" sheet metal is an all-new scalable EVA platform, the first of the automaker's cars to use it. Honestly, you need to view the EQS in real life to appreciate its seamless design idiom. Swoopy may be an understatement, but the curvaceous profile allows it to slice the wind in utmost efficiency to improve range.

Speaking of which, the 2022 Mercedes-Benz EQS comes in two offerings: EQS 450+ and EQS 580 4MATIC. The former has a single, rear-mounted electric motor churning out 329 horsepower and 419 pound-feet of torque. It goes from zero to 60 mph in 5.9 seconds and has a top speed of 130 mph. Believe me, the EQS 450+ feels faster to 60 mph than Mercedes-Benz's official numbers, even with its positioning being more to do with luxury cruising than blazing the Autobahn.

On the second day, I selected the EQS 450+ as my test car and was blessed with rain and slippery roads. I would be lying if I said I wasn't concerned with the rear-wheel powertrain, but those concerns were dismissed thanks to all the electronic nannies: it handled just as well as the First Edition 580 4MATIC I also spent time with. For most buyers, myself included, the EQS 450+ is more than enough, especially if you reside in areas that don't snow or battle with icy road conditions.

For those who need the very most, though, the 2022 EQS 580 4MATIC has dual electric motors with 516 horsepower and 631 pound-feet of torque. Equipped with 4MATIC all-wheel-drive and torque vectoring, the EQS 580 is a hot rod luxury car. It goes from zero to 60 mph in 4.1 seconds but has the same 130 mph top speed as the EQS 450+. The EQS 580 isn't a Tesla Model S Plaid killer by any means, at least not in the speed and acceleration category, but in ride quality, refinement, build quality, and overall feel, the EQS is leagues ahead of any Tesla on the market.

Both are powered by a 107.8 kWh lithium-ion battery pack, good enough for approximately 780 km or about 480 miles of range in the WLTP cycle. I should note that I was driving European-spec testers, and things could change slightly by the time the EQS arrives in North America. So, Mercedes-Benz is keeping mum on the EPA figures, but I reckon it has enough juice to reach 370 to 400 miles on a single charge, weather and driving style depending. Find a 200 kW DC fast-charging station, meanwhile, and you can replenish 186 miles of range in around 15 minutes, which is not bad at all. I never once had range anxiety, no matter how hard I pushed the EQS, which says a lot given that I ended up driving in some relatively remote areas of Zurich.

Step inside, and it's hard not to notice that awesome looking – yet sometimes distracting – 56-inch MBUX Hyperscreen dashboard-slash-infotainment system. Despite how it might look, it's not actually one single display. Instead, it's split into three different OLED panes, with a seamless cover-glass that helps to create an immersive viewing experience.

Beyond that, the interior is devoid of clutter and physical buttons. It still has a conventional push-button start mechanism, perhaps a remnant of the glory days of gasoline-powered machines. Still, all the buttons and switches are now touch-capacitive surfaces – heck, even the sunshades react to touch or swipe gestures.

I expected the EQS to behave, feel, and smell like an S-Class, but I was wrong. You can blame the steering wheel and seat controls for that, the latter of which, thankfully, still come in physical form. But as soon as I drove off, the immediate and distinct sensation of electric sportiness came to mind.

Does it have something to do with the EQS' cab-forward design, or perhaps the baked-in sportier genes, albeit of an electrified variety? The steering feels more direct and intentional than that of an S-Class, weighted just right for piloting a rather hefty all-electric limousine. For sure, you'll feel the weight of the car through the tiller (again, not a bad thing), but a quick stab of the throttle will re-orient your senses. As I mentioned before, the EQS 580 is not Tesla-fast, but it's not far behind, either. Besides, the ultra-quiet cabin and tranquil ride from the standard AIRMATIC air suspension are begging you to relax despite the playful steering feel, further distracting your mind from engaging in hooliganism.

Mercedes has decades of experience getting its cohesive luxury just right, and the EQS is no different. As you approach the EV, you're greeted with the automatic opening of the door; a tap on the brake pedal prompts it to close. Despite that spacious touchscreen, it's much easier simply asking "Hey Mercedes" to turn on the seat massage, call your spouse, look up the nearest Thai restaurant, or even tell it to turn up the AC by simply point out that it's hot in the car.

Also worth mentioning are the regenerative modes and one-pedal driving, which you can toggle via the paddles behind the steering wheel. In the EQS, there are four regen options, and my favorite is D Auto that utilizes data from the navigation and driver assistance systems to, for lack of better words, very almost drive itself and bring the car to a stop even before I grazed the brake pedal. I can't stress how impressive this singular feature is for those long commutes, where you arrive not only safely but relaxed and rested.

Tapping on the left paddle activates the "more regen" mode. I found that coasting along the twisty mountainside, and I rarely needed to touch the brake pedal. This is great for hypermilers striving to get the best range out of a single charge.

Another feature responsible for the car's agility is rear-axle steering. That's something we've seen on the S-Class before, and in the case of the EQS the rear-axle steering system supports up to 10-degrees of steering either way. The rear wheels turn in the opposite direction to those at the front at slower speeds, delivering a 35.8-foot turning circle. That's about the same as a Honda Civic or Subaru BRZ. During a self-parking demo, I watched with only mild unease as the EQS maneuvered all on its own around tight turns, within a couple of inches of surrounding objects.

During higher speeds, the rear wheels turn in the same direction as the front to improve stability. It doesn't matter how fast you're cruising along; it's as quiet as a whistle, providing the perfect backdrop to explore the auditory wonders of that standard 15-speaker Burmester audio system. Lights and sound in-sync truly make the cabin your living room on the move.

It's also the ideal setting for Mercedes' Energizing Comfort system. That taps lighting, sounds, and even smells to help keep you alert or relax you, and while it's not a new feature the hush of the EQS' cabin makes it all the more effective. Active ambient lighting capable of producing 64 colors works wonderfully with the three signature soundscapes exclusive to the EQS – Sounds of the Sea, Summer Rain, and Forest Glade.

The sound experience extends beyond just keeping you relaxed, should you decide to switch on the Roaring Pulse, which reminded me of a joyous AMG engine. If that's not your jam, Vivid Flux has more of a smooth rhythmic sound, while Silver Waves will no doubt give you a sense of being embraced in a cocoon. The protective feeling isn't just symbolic, either: the HVAC system has a charcoal-infused HEPA filter to dispense the cleanest air, and I swear you can feel it working. At the end of the day, there are no details left out regarding you and your family's well-being.

Most bewildering is the feeling of being surrounded by blazing-new technology. The MBUX Hyperscreen's AI system takes some getting used to, and two days is not enough for the artificial brain to "know" or "predict" your preferences, but the whole damn thing is beautiful to behold and operate. Oh, and how can I not mention its augmented reality heads-up display that makes it seem you're inside a VR simulator. Those giant floating arrows hovering over the road ahead are a boon in unfamiliar territory, and the system takes up almost half the windscreen to deliver an immersive, hi-tech driving experience.

As for the passenger's touch display, it's not necessary but uber-techie to have. I didn't spend much time with it, since for all it can do today the EQS still isn't fully autonomous and so I was required at the wheel, but it grants the front passenger direct access to all the functionality of the center display. In addition, they get a web browser, YouTube access, and even the ability to catch up on the latest episode of their favorite show on Netflix.

Within the city and outskirts of Zurich, the EQS feels like a rocket as it scampers with the willingness of a high-strung sports car. On the highway, the EQS feels unstoppable, and it's a bummer Mercedes-Benz won't let the EV breach its 130 mph top speed.

As I said, the 2022 Mercedes EQS is like nothing on Earth, for now at least. The competition is not resting on its laurels, either. But it's safe to say the EQS is setting a high benchmark on what the future of driving should look, feel, and sound like.

Speaking of driving, I was in the driver's seat while Mercedes's Drive Pilot drove me around in a controlled environment. Drive Pilot is essentially Level 3 self-driving, expected to gain regulatory approval in Germany by the end of the year. It'll be available first on the S-Class and, later, on the EQS next year.

I tested Audi's Level 3 system some years back, which sadly never made it on the production version of the A8. Mercedes' implementation has a few less stringent requirements for Level 3 to activate, such as having a physical barrier or a "row" of cars. This is bonafide self-driving, hands-off the steering wheel, eyes off the road, allowing you to surf the web on the sizeable center-Hyperscreen display, text, or chat – while cruising up to 60 kph or approximately 37 mph in a traffic jam scenario. In some instances, traffic jams are caused by accidents up ahead, which means you can expect fast-approaching emergency vehicles. Mercedes placed a rear-facing camera high up on the driver-side rear window that can detect flashing lights and objects, at which point Drive Pilot hands control back to you.

Drive Pilot doesn't work in the rain; as such there are rain sensors on the front windshield and inside the front driver-side wheel well. There's a new LiDAR system mounted on the front wheel, hile on the back is a high-precision GPS module mounted right above the rear glass. You'd be forgiven if you thought there are two: Mercedes says the other one is just there to balance out the look.

During my test ride-along, the EQS quickly maneuvered around an obstacle while remaining inside its lane markings as legally required, and that's mainly due to the new GPS. If it's unable to do so, the control is immediately relinquished back to the driver. Overall, Drive Pilot adds to the many reasons why Mercedes-Benz is keeping up with technology to keep you safe and relaxed during your commute. I'm really looking forward to being able to click a button and de-stress on the next traffic jam.

It's easy to get caught up in individual features on the 2021 EQS: to be distracted by the attention to detail in the luxury features, or the ways in which the electric sedan pushes the tech envelope. In much the same way, words alone can't really convey how unique the EQS feels. The reality is that everything boils down to the sum of the parts, and just as with the new S-Class it's Mercedes' cohesiveness that makes these two cars some of the best luxury sedans that money can buy today.

When the 2022 EQS arrives in the US in the fall of 2021, it'll offer that familiar blend of Mercedes driving excitement and superlative comfort. It'll also demand a difficult choice: final US pricing hasn't been confirmed yet, but I'm told to expect the electric sedan to be in the ballpark of the S-Class. That starts at around $110,000.

Electrification may sway some, but there's more to the new EQS than simply saying goodbye to gasoline alone. It may be an EV, but it's a luxury car first and foremost, and one which wears its tech proudly, and unapologetically. Mercedes promised something big, and now we get to see just how big a splash the EQS will make.