We compare the different formats as we search for the best premium electric vehicle from a traditional carmaker
Ten years is not a very long time in the automotive industry.
It’s all about the life span of some models. It’s long enough to see one trend fade away and another one emerge, for a new segment-leading vehicle to rise to prominence or for an older one to fall into insignificance.
This is usually enough drama to last a decade. The past 10 years of turmoil and upheaval in the car industry have been as turbulent as any geological epoch. Tesla had not yet launched the Model S in 2012. The Paris Climate Accords, to which Donald Trump would eventually make America deaf, were still three years away. Our side of the pond didn’t have a Euro 6 emissions standard for engineers to point a defeat device at’. So our love affair was still full bloom with diesel.
Except for the Tesla Roadster only three main production electric cars were available to global sale: The Nissan Leaf, Mitsubishi i-MiEV, and Renault Fluence ZE. In Europe, less than 8000 of these three cars would be sold. Saab sold more cars in 2011 than it did the previous year.
A supertanker load a s*** has fallen since then, I don’t want to make too many points. Dieselgate, Brexit, an economy downturn, the UK announcing a 2030 ICE Ban, a global pandemic and another economic downturn: a new crisis each minute.
Uncertainty is the best catalyst. In 2012, who would have thought that so many car manufacturers would be committing to an electrified future by 2022. And that the two European luxury car manufacturers would be so committed to electrification as to introduce zero-emission halo models at the same time?
The top of the car market has seen a seismic shift. Two of the most successful and prolific luxury car manufacturers of the 20th century are now paving the way for luxury transport. The all-electric Mercedes-Benz EQS (all-electric Mercedes-Benz iX) and BMW iX (all-electric) are now available.
Dear reader, which one would you choose, the giant potato or the semi-aquatic, angry-looking rodent? You might be able to see that some first-world problems are very nice not having. We can leave aside the snarky gags, but the more important question is: Which choice would you make, if you were in such a fortunate position to enjoy a full-electric, modern, sustainable, and charmed motoring lifestyle? Is now the right time to jump if you haven’t already. We have spent several winter days with them both, learning about their real-world driving, charging and carrying abilities, and how they cosset in towns and villages.
Let’s start with a simple, but crucial observation. Both of these cars feel like tangible progress for the electric vehicle. If you are serious about investing in an EV, it would be foolish to dismiss either of these cars for superficial reasons. Regardless of their individual strengths, priorities and preferences, they are both state-of-the art. After being disrupted, the German automobile industry establishment has returned to fire with enthusiasm.
These cars do and offer something that no other electric vehicle has ever done. The iX xDrive50 SUV is a luxury high-performance SUV that has the range to make the Audi E-tron S shiver; handling that rivals the Jaguar I-Pace’s; and interior appeal that surpasses the Tesla Model X.
Even more daring is the EQS 450+, which is longer-legged and more determined to the idea that it can transport its occupants to another motoring world. This is undoubtedly the bravest car. A limousine that looks like a space capsule with an interior that could have been taken straight from a farsighted show car from not too long ago when such cars still had shows.
With its bright reflective hides and silvery features, the interior of the EQS is sure to impress with digital technology like you have never seen. The EQS is a classic limousine, similar to the Mercedes-Benz S-Class. It has a very similar passenger capacity, although the exterior design is more aerodynamic and sexier. In terms of secondary controls and driving ergonomics, it shares many similarities with the S-Class. It excels in car technology with its large, touch-controlled digital fascia Hyperscreen that is full-width.
However, this is not what it seems. You can make your dreams come true if you are a technophile who has envisioned dragging the display screens and menu consoles across the entire car’s dashboard.
The Hyperscreen is a PS7995 option for all trims. It offers a 12in touchscreen display to your front passenger, an 18in central display that works just like Mercedes’ top-level MBUX infotainment systems; an augmented reality head-up display; and an fingerprint scanner which allows the car to recognise its driver and adjust itself accordingly.
Mercedes has actually fronted several smaller screens in order to make it appear like one big, configurable, and super-large digital instrument. But it’s a trick. It works as it should, looks great and does the job. Tesla fans, you can even play Tetris there. However, separate passenger screens and huge head-up displays have been seen before, no matter how crisp and clear they might look or how welcome they may be. This isn’t a revolutionary idea.
Parallel to the iX, BMW’s Operating System 8.0 is introduced. However, it has not been weaponized like the Hyperscreen. It sits in a cabin design which looks a lot less like a 1990s comic book and makes you feel much more at ease.
The EQS’s broad-eyed futurism is countered by the iX, which has a more warm, idiosyncratic, and less formal flavor, both inside as well as out. This car is a good choice. It’s also a pleasant car.
The iX is generally less alien than the EQS. It’s easier to fit into any space. The iX is clearly an i-car, with its exposed ‘carbon-cage’ chassis sections, open footwells and two-spoke steering wheels, ‘floating control displays’, and pinched Cpillar. It looks a lot like they have outsized the BMW i3.
It’s a beautiful place inside: spacious, elegant, well-designed, elegantly furnished, and just a touch understated. It’s almost like the German luxury design idiom, as we know it. However, the EQS cabin is more like an outlandish fantasy for one dominant reason.
You can then drive. The kerb weights of both the saloon and taller SUV are only 105kg. The BMW is heavier and weighs in at over two-and-a-half tonnes.
Both offer usable batteries with a capacity of just over 100kWh, and both can be charged at DC rapid charging speeds up to 200kW. Both platforms are all-new, mixed metal, EV-dedicated platforms. They both have all-corner adaptive air suspensions and four-wheel steering.
So much, so comparable. The Mercedes, which is the entry-level model in its range, has one motor, one driven axle, and 329bhp. The BMW is mid-range and an SUV. It has two motors, four wheel drive and 516 bhp.
You can send your PS100,000. to Stuttgart and you’ll get the shorter, sleeker, faster, but longer-range electric vehicle that may be more suitable for your daily transportation needs. Mercedes claims that the car can travel up to 453 miles depending on its specifications. That’s certainly an impressive figure.
We saw a range of 350-380 miles from our higher-level EQS trip computer in sub-10degC conditions. This was despite some gentle intensive use in and around town. In warmer temperatures, with slightly smaller wheels, and for more common touring cruising, I Lighting is a major design focus. Grilles are not grilles, so you can easily imagine that this could be a real-world 400 mile prospect. It can’t be driven at higher motorway speeds without consideration for efficiency or conditions. It’s still the first EV I have driven that even remotely threatens to break this particular range watershed – not only in the laboratory, but on the streets.
The BMW offers more than the EQS, but less of what you might be most concerned about. Real-world range was between 265 to 290 miles under similar conditions. The iX is larger and more airy than the EQS and slightly more practical for cargo transport (although the gap between them isn’t too large in this regard, the BMW’s trunk is larger with the rear seats folded down and could carry heavier loads).
The EQS offers all the performance that luxury EVs need. The EQS would make the diesel S-Class feel incredibly slow and unresponsive, while it offers wonderful, confident, and linear driving. The iX is a lot quicker if you are looking for big performance and laid-back refinement in your PS100,000. luxury SUV. The EQS’s motors are less responsive than the iX’s and have a longer life span.
The low-speed handling of both cars is transformed by four-wheel steering, but the EQS’s are more noticeable than the iX. Mercedes is a 5.2m long saloon. It has rear wheels that mirror the fronts up to 10deg. It can be turned on sixpence like an ordinary black cab. It’s easy to keep it close to an urban apex, or to maneuver around tight parking lots or roundabouts. Although the BMW is a little larger when maneuvering, it still conceals its bulk well. Although it is a bit more agile at speed than the EQS, its body control is a little less tighter than the EQS, but it allows you to move laterally on all roads because of its higher hip point.
It’s the soft, quiet, filtered, and gentle ride we desire from our large luxury beasts. Even 2022, even with 500bhp under the ever-responsible big foot. Even more so, if the technical configuration of the luxury vehicle we chose seems to be ready to create the idealised bubble of hyper-refinement we envision.
There is, however, a car that rides quieter and better than the others. It’s the moral victor in this contest, at least for this tester. It’s truly a special ride, with its isolation and sophistication. Our test cars were both equipped with optional 22-inch wheels. However, the iX’s deft, cushioned ride made the EQS’s feel a bit clunky over sharp edges and craggy ruts.
The EQS rides very softly, it wafts a lot. It can also trip up sometimes, when it suddenly realizes it is riding on large rims with very little tyre sidewall. You might be able to infer that the BMW’s wheels are two inches smaller. This is mainly because the BMW’s SUV wheel arches allow for more sidewall, but also because the BMW smothers, smudges, and filters out the dirtiest areas of the surface more frequently.
One good reason to choose the Mercedes-Benz here is different from the BMW. Or you can say that there are 400 reasons to go the other direction. You would simplify a complex equation that has just played out in both cases, given the divergent philosophies behind these flagship models.
The iX is the better car overall because of its completeness, thoroughness and unexpected informality. It feels modern, more modern than the 100 digital touchscreens it could replace. It is more like a luxury vehicle that’s ready to transport us into the future of personal transportation, than one that has just come from it. And I know which one I’d rather be in.