The Tesla Model S took the electric car from quaint curiosity for the eco-conscious driver to legitimate contender for the hard-earned dollars of luxury shoppers. When the Model X SUV debuted later, it made the same argument while adding an extra row of seats and a lot more usability. And with the Model 3, Tesla is finally executing its vision of electrification for the masses.
While Tesla surges ahead with borderline-reckless abandon, traditional automakers are more methodical and reservedwith their progress. That’s why we’re just now starting to see the first vehicles – beyond simple curiosities and compliance cars – that can truly challenge the company that first electrified luxury.
We’ve already told you about the Mercedes-Benz EQC (and if you haven’t read about it yet, get your butt over there and check out our first drive). The Audi E-Tron is also something of a known quantity. Yet, it was the global launch of the former and the U.S. launch of the latter that presented us with a unique opportunity – the first direct comparison of these two electric crossovers.
While the drive programs took place on opposite sides of the planet (Oslo, Norway for EQC and Napa Valley/Lake Tahoe, California for E-Tron), the two events were only a week apart. Seven days after landing in Oslo, we were setting off for California. Doing a comparison between these two new EVs was a no brainer.
While only a week (and about 5,200 miles) separated our stints in the EQC and the E-Tron, it’s still enough to have an outsize effect on what you’re about to read. With that in mind, a quick disclaimer. This piece is more of a high-level overview of the two cars and how they are alike and different from behind the wheel, rather than a nitty gritty dive into their all-electric drivetrains. If you want to read something like that, consider our comparison test of the Jaguar I-Pace and Tesla Model S for which we had both cars at the same time. We’ll touch on range briefly, but it’s worth noting only the E-Tron’s figures are set in stone. Ditto on price. There will not be any mention of real-world figures, because figuring that out on a media drive while also drawing conclusive driving impressions is next to impossible.
Gallery: 2020 Mercedes-Benz EQC400 4Matic: First Drive
Unsurprisingly, each brand’s design philosophy is front and center in these products. Mercedes-Benz’s more conservative look gets an update for electric duty, but this is still a low-key vehicle that has no problem blending into the background.
We like the conventional profile, which more or less mirrors the GLC-Class crossover. Less successful is the EQC’s front fascia, with its oddly shaped grille and headlights, as well as the hood-spanning light bar. That said, we didn’t see the EQC at night, so the effect of its light signature might have a much bigger impact. The smooth, rounded tail cleverly hides aerodynamic elements, while another light bar ties together the slim taillights for a look that’s far more cohesive and visually pleasant than the front.
The other exterior highlights include attractive wheel designs inspired by traditional Mercedes models but modified for EQC duty. Electric blue accents and a unique script for the tailgate badges help this Mercedes stand out from its gas-powered siblings.
The EQC is relatively small. With just a 113.1-inch wheelbase and an overall length of 187.4 inches, it’s only slightly longer than a gas-powered GLC but almost six inches shorter than the E-Tron. It’s also 3.8 inches narrower from mirror to mirror and 1.6 inches lower than the Audi. This isn’t lightweight versus heavyweight, but the size difference between the EQC and E-Tron is immediately noticeable in person.
While the EQC’s exterior stands out from other Mercedes products, its cabin doesn’t. In fact, aside from a single small detail, it’ll be hard for any current Mercedes customer to tell the EQC’s interior apart from their own car. The EQC plucks its main interfaces from other Mercedes products: the twin 10.3-inch displays and MBUX infotainment system are from the new A-Class, while the tiny column-mounted shifter and the steering wheel, with its real metal accents, come from a host of Mercedes products.
The cabin’s main standout are its climate control vents, which ditch the ball-socket-style units from other Mercedes models and replaces them with rectangular vents that feature rose-gold accents. It’s a little touch, but we dig the way the rose gold gives the EQC a more modern look than the German company’s other products.
The design of the Audi E-Tron is both more progressive and more derivative than the EQC’s. Audi’s current design language calls for modern looks with sharp, clean angles like you’d see on a well-pressed suit. Aside from the occasional miss (ahem, A8), this has yielded attractive sedans in the form of the new A6 and A7, and appropriately aggressive SUVs, like the upcoming Q3 and new Q8.
But the Q8 is the problem, because parked side by side, it’s hard to spot the differences between that gas-powered SUV and the battery-electric E-Tron. The two designs have a tremendous amount in common. Sure, the Q8 has a more conventional grille and lacks the E-Tron’s brightwork, but these two vehicles are far closer to identical twins than fraternal ones. The E-Tron, though, gets a more conventional tail, as it lacks the Q8’s small rear deck.
Of course, changes dictated by the E-Tron’s all-electric powertrain are also necessary. The silver grille, for example, has a small opening for cooling with active aero shutters behind it. The grille surround wears the E-Tron logo at the bottom, much as Audi’s RS offerings get Quattro signage, while the overall emphasis on aerodynamics means the E-Tron’s face is, ultimately, prettier than its gas-powered sibling.
Like Mercedes, Audi made small touches to highlight the E-Tron’s zero-emissions powertrain. Charge ports sit ahead of the front doors and feature a light-up E-Tron logo, while the slim character blades at the bottom of the doors are a new styling element inspired loosely by the side blades on the R8 supercar. Finally, the rear bumper ditches the Q8’s traditional exhaust outlets, because zero emissions.
The biggest surprise about the E-Tron is just how large it is. Where the EQC’s size is more or less identical to the compact GLC-Class, the Audi splits the difference between the compact Q5 and the bigger Q8 with a 115.1-inch wheelbase and an overall length of 193 inches. The Q8’s wheelbase is slightly larger at 117.9 inches and it measures in at 196.3 inches long overall. In short, the E-Tron’s proportions are substantial.
Between its two axles sits a cabin that, as is the case with most Audi products, is more forward-thinking than you’ll find in a comparable Mercedes-Benz. Ingolstadt’s decision to adopt an all-glass cockpit and minimize the number of buttons is a bold one. It’s at least more progressive than the careful, calculated approach coming from Stuttgart.
The glass displays dominate the E-Tron’s cabin to the point that it’s hard to appreciate its other small design touches. We like the ambient lighting, even if it’s not as extensive as what Mercedes offers, and the matte wood trim and silver accents scattered across the dash are lovely. But there are also design decisions that make little sense.
There’s a giant chasm in the center console that we couldn’t find a way to conceal. At the bottom of said console, there are a pair of lousy cup holders that serve as a reminder that Germany still struggles with the concept that someone may want a beverage while driving. But more glaring than the undersized cupholders is what this huge cubby will mean for owners: it’s going to be a massive catch-all of detritus, while the lack of a cover means valuables will be exposed to the world.
The E-Tron’s odd shifter also left us scratching our heads. Yes, it’s very pleasant to use, and we certainly appreciate how the cushioned top doubles as a very comfortable place to stabilize one’s wrist while working the lower display screen. The sensation of changing from Park to Drive or Reverse is also immensely satisfying. But it also feels needlessly futuristic in a cabin that already has a steep learning curve.
Gallery: 2019 Audi E-Tron: First Drive
Mercedes-Benz hasn’t released final stats for the EQC’s interior volume, but after riding about Oslo in both the front and back row of the battery-electric crossover, we can confirm that there isn’t a bad seat in this particular house. The front chairs offer abundant support and adjustability, while heating and ventilation are both available (our tester only had heated seats, though). A slim rear window compromises visibility to a degree, but it’s hardly Camaro-like – if anything, this is similar to what you’ll find in one of Mercedes’ coupes.
Despite having so much in common with the GLC, the EQC’s impressive second-row seats have plenty of leg and headroom. Getting in and out is easy, although the lack of seat adjustability – either via the backrest or by sliding the bottom cushion fore and aft – is disappointing. That said, four adults can easily use the EQC for a road trip. Cargo space looks impressive, as well. However, Mercedes (again) hasn’t released final figures for the cargo hold.
As with most electric vehicles, the EQC is spooky quiet. Exterior speakers issue a subtle warning note below urban speeds to protect pedestrians, but beyond that, the EQC runs entirely silent. The driving rain we experienced in Oslo made it difficult to rate how well this car controls the wind, but the impressive drag coefficient makes us think only serious gusting could disrupt the cabin. There’s little tire roar, though, and suspension impacts are minimally heard.
Overall, the EQC’s ride exhibits excellent manners, even with larger wheels attached. Our tester wore 19-inch alloys, although thankfully, Mercedes used very conservative aspect ratios, with the 235/55 front and 255/50 rear tires providing a welcome five inches of sidewall. That said, European roads are typically excellent. It’ll take a few days on southeast Michigan’s pummeled pavement to get a real sense of the EQC’s ride quality.
Well, this is easy. Take all the stuff we just said about the Mercedes, and it applies to the Audi. This is an impressively comfortable, composed vehicle that will easily handle four adults. The difference is Audi has come out and told us just how much space the E-Tron has.
That front seat features a similar level of adjustability as the Mercedes and offers optional heating and ventilation. Unlike the EQC we tested, though, the E-Tron’s front chairs have a lovely massage function to keep both driver and front passenger relaxed while covering its 200-plus miles of range. In back, there’s plenty of room for four, even with a couple of six-foot-tall adults in front. In fact, even with the passenger seat back as far as possible, we still found the second-row to offer plenty of legroom. Headroom is excellent for passengers up to six-foot two inches, and less so for those north of six-foot five. Audi says there’s 39.1 inches of legroom, and there’s little reason to doubt that generous figure.
While the EQC feels comparable to the E-Tron in terms of cargo space, it’s impossible to say whether the Audi’s 28.5-cubic-foot hold (expandable to 57 cubes with the second row folded) is more or less than the Mercedes’ trunk.
Unlike the EQC, Audi offers the E-Tron with multiple wheel sizes: look for standard 20-inch alloys, as well as optional 19-inchers on low-rolling resistance tires. There are also the Prestige trim’s standard 21-inch rolling stock, as featured on our tester. Aesthetically pleasing these wheels may be, but we’d be less inclined to take such an aggressive setup on rougher roads. Plus, they surely cut a few miles from the car’s driving range. On the impressively smooth northern California roads, though, the E-Tron feels isolated and pleasant, if a bit under-damped relative to the EQC. Thank the standard air suspension for the overall ride comfort, which bests the EQC’s adaptive dampers in terms of overall civility.
Again, appalling weather prevented me from hearing how well the E-Tron controlled wind noise and tire roar. It is, however, slipperier than the EQC, with a drag coefficient of 0.27 to the Mercedes’s 0.28, which could mean less wind noise. Suspension noise is comparable despite the Audi’s larger tires, and of course, its twin electric motors are silent. That said, we’re giving Audi the nod for the better pedestrian warning sound. It’s like something out of Star Trek.
The E-Tron wins this one, but that’s mainly because we know more about how its cabin and cargo space compares to its rival.
With a pair of electric motors (one at each axle), the EQC produces 402 horsepower and 561 pound-feet of torque. Those numbers help it accelerate to 60 miles per hour in 4.8 seconds, or half a second faster than the E-Tron. However, the Mercedes may be less appealing in its home country, since its electronically limited 112-mph top speed is down 12 points to the Audi.
It’s difficult to get a feel for what all of that means on slick roads, and in a country with surprisingly low speed limits (We’re not sure we drove on a road with a limit higher than 100 kilometers per hour). The EQC feels brisk off the line, but beyond that, there’s not a lot we can say about how it accelerates.
The variety of driving modes and regen settings in the EQC is impressive. With five regen modes, activatable by the wheel-mounted paddles, the EQC can easily jump from single-pedal driving to essentially zero regen. That’s more than we can say for the E-Tron, which boasts an automatic regen mode like the EQC, but fewer manual settings. It’s also much easier to swap modes in the Mercedes – just tap the paddles. Switching the E-Tron out of automatic regeneration requires the driver to dive into the menus, change a setting, and then adjust accordingly via the paddles. But, where the EQC clearly shows which regen mode is active at a glance via the D icon in the digital instrument cluster, it’s never all that obvious in the Audi, which hides the setting in what passes for the tachometer.
Powertrain aside, the EQC feels like the sharper, more manageable car on the road. It exhibits less vertical body motion and tighter lateral controls than the bigger Audi. Mercedes still hasn’t provided a curb weight for its new EV, but we’d be surprised if the EQC isn’t substantially lighter than the E-Tron, considering the latter is slower to 60 and feels so much more cumbersome on the road. The EQC possesses sharper steering too, although there’s little feedback from the tiller in either vehicle.
The E-Tron’s biggest opponent is its sheer girth. This feels like a far larger, more substantial crossover that’s tougher to place on the road than the EQC. The Mercedes feels sprightly in comparison. Even cycling through different driving modes – the usual suspects you’d find on any other Audi are present here – it’s hard to find a setting where the standard air suspension can manage the E-Tron’s roughly 5,500-pound weight.
The E-Tron rolls more freely and its weight is a constant companion along the tight, winding roads that take us from Yountville, California to Sacramento. The steering is pleasant, adapting to the weight well without feeling overboosted or unnecessarily numb. Still, it’s hard to really fling the E-Tron around. This is, ultimately, a vehicle that’s much happier in a straight line.
But, while its 5.5-second sprint to 60 is disappointing relative to the EQC and the far quicker Tesla Model X variants, the way the Audi feels while accelerating should be satisfying enough for most E-Tron owners (and if it isn’t, there’s probably a performance variant on the way). Thank the heady tonic the two electric motors produce. The E-Tron starts at 355 hp and 414 pound-feet of twist, but a Boost mode – activated via Sport mode and a detent on the accelerator pedal – increases those figures to 402 hp and 490 lb-ft for eight seconds. It’s also the only way to net the E-Tron’s 5.5-second zero-to-60 time.
Both the E-Tron and the EQC feature single-speed transmissions, and honestly, there’s not much to say. Engagement is quick off the line, which is part of what contributes to the sharp performance from a standstill. In everyday driving conditions, particularly in urban settings, the E-Tron and EQC are both equally satisfying. But based on our initial tests, the advantage goes to Stuttgart.
Stop us if you’ve heard this one before: Mercedes hasn’t released mileage numbers for the EQC. Or, at least, not the ones we need. At the vehicle’s launch, the only available figures were the overoptimistic and obsolete NEDC stats, which rate the all-electric SUV at 277 miles of range with energy consumption of 20.8 to 19.7 kilowatt-hours per 100 kilometers.
According to Motor1.com’s sister site, InsideEVs, the EQC nets 259 miles on the more realistic WLTP scale, which ties the E-Tron despite the Mercedes’ smaller 80-kWh battery pack (the E-Tron has a 95-kWh pack). Estimating how the EQC may fare on the EPA scale puts it at around 230 miles according to IEV to the E-Tron’s 204-mile estimate, although the Mecedes’ figure is still quite optimistic. Unfortunately for both, the Tesla Model X offers anywhere from 255 to 325 miles of range, depending on the model.
The process of charging the EQC is unsurprising. It charges at 32 amps on a 240-volt outlet, and going from 10 to 100 percent in 10 hours. Find a DC fast charger and the EQC can handle a 110-kW charge rate, going from 10 to 80 percent in just 40 minutes.
By virtue of being closer to its on-sale date, the E-Tron’s range numbers are final, with an EPA estimate of 204 miles per charge and economy ratings of 74 mpge in the city, 73 highway, and 74 combined. That’s not stellar compared to what some versions of the Tesla Model X offer, but the E-Tron can handle a DC fast charger rate of 150 kW. With the upcoming E-Tron GT expected to accept a 350-kW charge rate, though, we doubt the E-Tron will stay at 150 kW for long.
Plugged in and charging at 150 kW, the E-Tron’s 95-kWh battery pack can go from zero to 80 percent in 30 minutes, while Audi estimates that a 10-minute charge at this rate would yield 54 miles of range and a 30-minute stop would net 163 miles. For home charging, a 240-volt charger can get the E-Tron to 100 percent in around nine hours.
A 150-kW charge rate and faster charge times are impressive, sure, but as the E-Tron is the only one of these two to offer range figures for the U.S. market, it’s the obvious winner of this particular category.
Normally, this is where we’d declare a victor after tallying up which vehicle took the win in more categories. By that metric, this is a draw, with two categories for the EQC and two for the E-Tron. That said, it’s still too early in the lives of both of these vehicles to declare one a winner, particularly as there’s still a great deal we don’t know about the EQC.
What we have learned from this test, though, is that consumers have a lot to gain by this segment’s newfound competition. While the Tesla Model X still makes the most sense, Mercedes-Benz, Audi, and Jaguar are all offering products that will force consumers to make a tough decision. The Model X has range and performance locked up, but the world of electrified SUVs no longer belongs to it.
|2019 Audi E-Tron Prestige
|2020 Mercedes-Benz EQC400
|Twin Asynchronous Electric Motors
|Twin Asynchronous Electric Motors
|355 Horsepower / 414 Pound-Feet (402 Horsepower / 490 Pound-Feet in Boost Mode)
|402 Horsepower / 561 Pound-Feet
|Lithium-ion, 95 kilowatt-hours
|Lithium-ion, 80 kilowatt-hours
5.5 Seconds (Boost Mode)
74 City / 73 Highway / 74 Combined (MPGe)
|230 Miles (estimated)
|9 Hours @ 240V / 30 Minutes @ 150 KW DC Fast Charging
|10 Hours @ 240V / 40 Minutes @ 110 KW DC Fast Charging
|5,500 Pounds (estimated)
|5,100 Pounds (estimated)
28.5 / 57 Cubic Feet
25 Cubic Feet (estimated)