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2023 Mercedes-Benz EQS SUV rocks the electric crossover cradle

Somehow, we missed a turn. It would seem impossible to do in the 2023 Mercedes-Benz EQS SUV 580, with its Hyperscreen and equally massive head-up display flashing navigation cues like an airport runway guy. But there we are, the road turning into gravel, the gravel to dirt, dirt to dust, ashes to ashes, like the valley below, a coffin of fog. 

It is unlikely Mercedes sent us on an unmarked road flanked by no trespassing signs in its $130,000 electric SUV. It is equally unlikely to feel anything but sublime comfort and reassuring groundedness in the third and largest Mercedes riding on its EVA2 dedicated electric platform. 

Larger but better proportioned than the related EQS sedan, yet with equal attention paid to aerodynamic styling, the three-row SUV conceals its size much like the fog we descend into. At an altitude of 8,500 feet or so, eye level with aspen trees celebrating their last splash of color before winter, ringed by snow-capped Rockies, the imagination wanders. My teens could fit in the third row, and we could relocate out here, there, nowhere and everywhere all at once, in a wooded cabin, ski to town, and enroll in the school of life. 

Utility poles, naked and strung out along the dirt path, step out from the blue spruce and Douglas firs, embarrassed or emboldened by what’s become of them. Electricity, power, possibility.

2023 Mercedes-Benz EQS SUV

2023 Mercedes-Benz EQS SUV

We’ve been gone 90 minutes and maybe driven 60 miles on our uncharted course. We’re not at our halfway turn-around point, an off-road course used most often by side-by-sides. Yet my drive partner and I have zero anxiety, about range, geography, meandering, life. We’ve climbed about 3,000 feet, descended some, climbed some and are left with more than 200 miles of range from a predicted starting point of 285 miles  in an EQS SUV equipped with dual-motor all-wheel drive. (The single motor 450+ without 4Matic has a 305-mile range.) The EQS sedan and SUV employ the largest lithium-ion battery pack in the growing EQ family, with a capacity of 108.4 kwh. 

The 3D navigation graphics of the 17.7-inch touchscreen, the centerpiece on the 56-inch wall of glass spanning the dash, takes us back on track soon enough, the augmented reality system popping up camera projections of approaching intersections overlaid with turn arrows. The nav shows charging stations in the old Colorado mining town of Idaho Springs, but we pass through, like tumbleweeds made of 21-inch wheels, and reach the staging area, where propane camp coffee and uncollared dogs welcome us in the most Colorado way. 

2023 Mercedes-Benz EQS SUV

2023 Mercedes-Benz EQS SUV

2023 Mercedes-Benz EQS SUV

2023 Mercedes-Benz EQS SUV

2023 Mercedes-Benz EQS SUV

2023 Mercedes-Benz EQS SUV

All three EQS SUV models come standard with an air suspension with adaptive damping, and rear-axle steering that turns the rear wheels 10 degrees in phase with the fronts at higher speeds, and opposite the fronts at lower speeds. The 450 and 580 4Matic models add an Offroad mode to the four other drive modes, and it automatically raises the suspension an inch so the ground clearance reaches 9.0 inches when activated. 

The suspension has been cosseting us during our climb up the mountains, the damping working against the lean endemic of a high-riding vehicle weighing 6,228 lb. Now it’s time to test its bona fides. 

But first, Mercedes switches us to an EQS SUV equipped with Cooper all-terrain tires on smaller 20-inch wheels. You can’t get all-terrain tires from the factory, but Mercedes has a point to prove. It aims to prove it on an off-road tester with running boards and air fins mounted low to direct air around the car. Much of the SUV’s design, from the running boards to the flush door handles to the various wheel designs to the sloping roof, are meant to reduce aerodynamic drag, not propel the SUV up slope over the chunky rocks that give the surrounding mountains its name. 

They’re not worried about the running boards, so neither are we. We begin the climb, the fog finally respiring into rain. The torque split between the axles is typically two-thirds due to the larger rear motor, but depending on mode and needs, 100% of the available torque can be handled by the wheels on either axle to get through the muck. Off-roading never gets old, but off-roading in complete quiet can be as enriching as a hike. 

2023 Mercedes-Benz EQS SUV

2023 Mercedes-Benz EQS SUV

2023 Mercedes-Benz EQS SUV

2023 Mercedes-Benz EQS SUV

2023 Mercedes-Benz EQS SUV

2023 Mercedes-Benz EQS SUV

2023 Mercedes-Benz EQS SUV

2023 Mercedes-Benz EQS SUV

The EQS SUV 580 has all the latest off-road tech, including a hill descent control that works like cruise control from 1 to 11 mph. Four cameras, mounted on the side mirrors, up front under the illuminated tri-star, and out back, peeking out of the tri-star mechanical latch at low speeds, triangulate with the roof-mounted camera system to provide a multitude of views, including one that looks through the front axle to see what lurks under the front wheels. 

None of this tech is new to the off-road world, but it’s cool to experience in a luxury family SUV meant for town and country more than mud and rock. A brief moguls course flexes the suspension, but the ace feature is the rear-axle steering. Around 45-degree turns flanked by rock and tree, the rear wheels essentially push the rear end around tight turns, letting the fronts do the climbing. When one or two wheels slip, the planted wheels take over. An electric brake booster prevents the arrested wheels from making the grinding sound as it does with a hydraulic system. This was not a modest off-road course with a couple of man-made obstacles strategically placed; it was a genuine challenge, wet with mud, slick by rock, and graded with steep ascents and descents. The easy assurances mirrored its character on-road. 

2023 Mercedes-Benz EQS SUV

2023 Mercedes-Benz EQS SUV

But it was brief and we had to hit the road to make our flights out of Denver. Fortunately, we pressed the EQS SUV 580 and its pair of permanent magnet motors (rated at 400 kw) downslope, the only thing holding us back being the twists and turns of the mountain roads. On straight shots, the EQS SUV 580 launches from 0-60 mph in 4.5 seconds, according to Mercedes. Making 536 hp and 633 lb-ft of torque, it lacks the initial gut-punch thrust of quicker, lighter SUVs, but the linear power delivery keeps the smile growing at the same pace. It’s surprisingly quick for its size, and it moves and handles like a smaller vehicle. 

It’s built for comfort, but it feels stable and planted even when pushed, the prowess of its damping offsetting its lean. Thick A-pillars limit outward vision, and the three regenerative brake settings affect not only the brake pedal feel but also the throttle. Changing the regen setting from normal to strongest, for example, firms up the accelerator, requiring more foot pressure to maintain the same rate of speed. It’s odd, but easy enough to adjust to.

2023 Mercedes-Benz EQS SUV

2023 Mercedes-Benz EQS SUV

2023 Mercedes-Benz EQS SUV

2023 Mercedes-Benz EQS SUV

2023 Mercedes-Benz EQS SUV

2023 Mercedes-Benz EQS SUV

2023 Mercedes-Benz EQS SUV

2023 Mercedes-Benz EQS SUV

There’s an ease to the EQS SUV, even with the base 450+ model. Standard features include power front seats with 4-way lumbar support as well as heating and cooling of the leather upholstery, all standard. The massaging seat option should be popular. The power second-row seats move in lockstep with the front seats, so you don’t have to fiddle with headrests or worry if there’s enough room for the second row to fold down. The third row can fit two tweens, and they get armrests, USB ports, and cupholders, or it can be folded down for 31 cubic feet of space. Standard Burmester 3D sound system dials the cabin into soundscapes of rainforests and oceans or you can rock out to Rachmaninoff in sublime serenity. And the 64-color ambient lighting creates a light show that’s reflected outside, with light bars bookending both ends of the SUV.

The 580 gets all the goodies, Hyperscreen included, and opting for the top Pinnacle grade adds  twin 11.6-inch touchscreens in the seatbacks, an MBUX tablet that can be removed from and operated outside the car, heated second-row seats, comfort headrests, and other refinements. In case you can’t wait for the electric Maybach EQS SUV

We make it back to home base without issue, so Mercedes can DC fast-charge it at up to 200 kw. Mercedes says a mostly steady 110 kw will charge the battery from 10% to 80% in 31 minutes. A Level 2 240-volt charge can get it done in 12.5 hours. 

Back home in the Midwest, on terra flat, the EQS SUV calls like a peak on the horizon, beckoning me to drive it. Not to get lost so much as to get unfound once again. 

Mercedes-Benz paid for lodging and airfare for Motor Authority to draft this firsthand report.


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