In the last few weeks, Mercedes and Audi have “launched” production versions of their electric SUVs, joining the Jaguar I-Pace, which was launched earlier in the year. While many have been making the obvious comparison between these three cars and the Tesla Model X (or, in some cases, the Model 3), I think these three are going to compete much more with each other, and, perhaps more importantly, with their internal combustion engine powered siblings.
One of the disappointments for me with the Audi e-tron, and with the Mercedes EQC, is that they backed off from the concept cars as far as they did to get to production vehicles.
Looking at the photo above of the new e-tron, I would be hard pushed to separate most of the design from that of the Q5. While this car is packed with innovations, the initial impression of the vehicle is that it is another premium SUV.
Then is struck me that while that is not what I am looking for in an EV (it has actually not been something I have looked for in an ICE vehicle either), it is perhaps exactly what is needed to get more people to switch from buying a Q5 to buying an e-tron. This car checks all the right boxes for that goal, except one: the entry level e-tron is almost 50% more than the top of the range Q5, and a good $10,000 more than the Prestige spec Q7. The Prestige model of the e-tron ventures into the mid-$80K range. Those prices almost make it seem that Audi do not want people to switch!
It was also announced that all US owners will receive access to the Electrify America charging network being built by Audi’s parent VW as part of the retribution for their diesel cheating, including a free 1,000 kWh of charging over 4 years. That’s certainly not as good as the free Tesla supercharger deal (for Model S & X users who still manage to get it), but it is something (I would estimate that at no more than $500 of value based on rapid charger pricing today however, so not really enough to account for much of the increase in price over Audi’s ICE SUVs). Without knowing their average efficiency numbers, that 1,000 kWh is probably around 3,000 miles of driving (based on an average 3 mpkWh).
Launched a little earlier, the Mercedes-Benz EQC the EQC is the first of a new generation of Mercedes electric vehicles (they already have the now discontinued B Class electric as well as the Smart electrics). As with the Audi, the end result looks much closer, at least on the outside, to its nearest ICE sibling, the GLC.
A snafu in the launch materials lead to some confusion over the range, but after the correction, it looks to be competitive with the other vehicles in its class on range. Performance, as announced, should be slightly better than the Audi, while close to that of the Jaguar and Tesla Model X 75D.
Unlike Audi, Mercedes did not announcing pricing of the EQC at their launch event, but the GLC that it comes closest to in size starts at the mid-$40K range.
Unlike the other two, this one does not really resemble any of the other vehicles in the Jaguar Land-Rover stable. In photographs it looks like an SUV, but when seen in the metal it feels much lower to the road. Not quite a car, but closer to it. the lines also make it feel more like an enlarged hot-hatch than an SUV.
The I-Pace is also much, much closer to the original concept car. In my opinion, as somebody who is not a big SUV fan, this is the most exciting looking of the three cars from the outside.
Pricing is in the $70K-$80K range (excluding the special first edition), compared to its ICE sibling, the F-Pace, which starts at $45K. Again, a big premium for the electric version.
All three cars have taken note of Tesla’s lead in terms of making the interior more high-tech. While it remains to be seen just how usable their versions of this are, at first glance they appear to be more in tune with the fact that the person using them is also guiding a heavy projectile along a freeway at high speed.
All three are also typical premium cars in terms of quality of the non-electronic components, although entry level models in all cases tend to be missing some of the features or using less expensive finishing materials.
Apart from the camera based door mirrors (unavailable in the US because of regulations), the Audi interior is perhaps the least novel of the three. The main dashboard, or virtual cockpit to use Audi terminology, is similar to the version in their other vehicles already. A version of the dual touch screen center console has also been seen in the flagship A8.
The Benz has perhaps the most novel interior of the three here. While the wide screen has been seen in the S Class and E Class already, this presentation of it is different (in the other vehicles it is embedded in a more traditional dashboard rather that floating in front of it). The ambient lighting and vent effect lighting is also new here. The physical buttons below the screen look more like traditional Mercedes design.
The Jaguar is closer to the Audi in style with a virtual dashboard for the driver, and a dual touch-screen center console, albeit a floating one with charging connectors under it. As with the other two, controls are a mix of touch screen buttons (difficult to find while driving without taking your eyes off the road) and some physical controls.
And the Winner Is…
To be honest, I don’t see a clear winner among these three. For me personally, despite my last four vehicles coming from Mercedes, I think the Jaguar wins. As I said though, SUVs are not really my thing, so it is no surprise that the least SUV-like one is my personal choice. Brand loyalty will also play a strong part in the success of these cars; owning cars in this segment is about more than just the car – the quality of the service matters too, and they vary quite a lot.
The Audi and the Benz both have strong points, and I do see the advantage of making them appeal to somebody who would perhaps have been looking for an ICE powered SUV. Where that falls apart is the premium in the price. Even with the government incentives, that is going to be a tough pill for many to swallow.
What Else Is Coming?
In the premium segment, the other semi-announced vehicles are the Porsche Taycan, the production name for what was first announced as Mission E, and the BMW iX3 electric SUV. Volvo is also expected to have a full EV in their line up for 2020.
Mercedes and Audi have also announced followup electric cars (Audi has the sportback/coupe version of the e-tron and Mercedes the compact EQA and rumors of an EQS, electric S Class level sedan). Jaguar has announced the E-Type Zero conversion (based on the 1960s Jaguar E-Type roadster).
One thing is clear, while they may not be pricing their EVs to replace sales of their ICE vehicles just yet, they are making more and more different models that are pure electric.