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Mercedes-Benz's $100,000 electric SUV is an awesome Tesla rival — but its blob-like looks aren't for everyone

Tim Levin   

Mercedes-Benz's $100,000 electric SUV is an awesome Tesla rival — but its blob-like looks aren't for everyone
  • I drove Mercedes-Benz's new electric SUV: the EQE SUV.
  • It costs $77,900 and up. The EQE 500 4MATIC SUV that Mercedes lent me cost $99,860.

The first words out of my wife's mouth after laying eyes on Mercedes-Benz's new Tesla-fighting family hauler in our driveway were likely not what the folks in Stuttgart wanted to hear: "It kind of looks like a minivan."

But she has a point.

The EQE SUV's jelly-bean features, short hood, and long, low stance yield an unusually friendly appearance compared with your typically rugged, high-riding model. In fact, all of the brand's new EVs — denoted by the "EQ" prefix — exhibit the muscular definition of a bratwurst. But plenty of critics and internet commenters have already made a meal of this controversial new design direction, so I'll restrain myself from doing the same.

I'm not here to yuck anyone's yum. As someone who salivates over unsightly Subaru Bajas and 2000 Honda Insights, I'm in no position to write off anybody's proclivity for an egg-shaped Benz.

And besides, the EQE is fabulous. A highly satisfying blend of flashy technology and traditional luxury, the midsize SUV is well-positioned to steal some thunder — and more crucially, customers — from Elon Musk's up-and-comer. That's an important mission, seeing as Tesla became the US's best-selling luxury brand last year, beating out both Benz and BMW by a wide margin.

(Confusingly, Mercedes sells two EVs bearing the EQE name: a sedan and an SUV. For simplicity's sake, I'm going to refer to the SUV as the EQE.)

The EQE will run you $77,900 to start, making it a bit pricier than Audi's E-Tron, slightly cheaper than BMW's iX, and pretty much dead on with Tesla's Model X. Piling on customizations like more horsepower, fancier upholstery, and extra tech can run the final bill up into the low six figures, as evidenced by my test vehicle's sticker price of $99,860.

From my EQE's pillowy driver's seat, the view was sublime. The dashboard was clad in warm wood sprinkled with three-pointed stars. The heated and ventilated seats were wrapped in soft, brown leather. Colorful LED striping snaked around the cabin, creating a dancing light show during nighttime cruising.

All the most frequently used items — from the turbine-like air vents to the turn signals — operated smoothly and sturdily. Since an electric powertrain precludes the need for a bulky transmission tunnel, the EQE can provide a little shelf below the center console perfect for my fanny pack. Don't judge me — it's practical.

The EQE isn't short on Silicon Valley razzle-dazzle either. Its 12.8-inch touchscreen is intuitively laid out and responds to pokes nearly as quickly as your smartphone. A fingerprint scanner ensures nobody can mess with your radio presets or lumbar support setting.

The built-in mapping system shows the way, literally, with the help of the car's forward-facing camera and an ingenious augmented-reality overlay that points right to your exit.

Many cars come with smart cruise-control features these days that eliminate some of the drudgery of highway driving — by using cameras and sensors to automatically follow lane lines and match the speed of the car ahead. Some of these systems inspire more confidence than others.

The software stunned me with its smooth and eerily human-like performance. It even changes lanes to pass slower cars and works with the navigation to make sure you're correctly positioned for upcoming turns.

Whether I or the car's computer took on the brunt of the driving, getting places in the EQE was pleasant. The Benz handily insulated me from bumpy roads and noisy surroundings alike.

And when I wanted to have a little fun or shock an unsuspecting passenger, it eagerly delivered the gut-punching quickness EVs are known for — and heaps of it. It didn't hurt that I tested the EQE 500 4MATIC SUV, the gutsier all-wheel-drive version with 402 horsepower and 633 pound-feet of torque on tap.

The EPA pegs range at up to 279 miles for the more efficient EQE 350, while charging rates max out at a respectable 170 kilowatts. Those competitive figures still may repel buyers desiring only the very best in EV tech. The same goes for the lack of a front trunk — in this e-SUV, the hood is sealed shut. I didn't love the overwhelming spaceship noises emanating from the interior speakers upon acceleration, but that's easily switched off.

And although the EQE SUV looks nice enough, for $100,000 (or close to it), I'd prefer styling with a dash more spice.

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