According to Cox Automotive, new car sales were down 20%in the second quarter of this year compared to the year before, but battery cars were way up, accounting for 5.6%of sales in the period.
US EV sales were 196,788, which is a 13%increase from the first quarter. Ford, which is starting to deploy the game-changing F-150 Lightning, saw EV sales soar 14%. Suddenly, everyone wants EVs.
It helps that the cars are getting a whole lot better, and that is amply demonstrated at the top of the market with two cars recently tested—the BMW iX xDrive 50 SUV (US$95,720 as tested) and the Mercedes-Benz EQS 450+ sedan (US$107,389).
Let’s start with the BMW. The iX is the Bavarian company’s electric flagship, based on the Vision iNext concept first shown in 2018. Styling isn’t its strong point—the iX is a conventional-looking boxy SUV, but with that huge kidney grille we know from the 4- Series. Of course, it’s not really a grille—EVs don’t need engine cooling, so it’s there for a show.
But boxes are typically roomy, and the iX cabin is welcoming. The huge front legroom is really helpful. The driver faces a digital instrument panel (12.3 inches) and center screen (14.9 inches) that effectively run together. There is 36 square feet of cargo volume, which is pretty darn good. And that’s without a “frunk”—the hood is to be opened only by qualified personnel.
The test car featured the standard 18-speaker Harmon/Kardon infotainment system, but a 30-speaker Bowers & Wilkins is available. A US$4,000 premium package on the test car is maybe an unnecessary expense, but it does add features such as multi-function seats and parking assistance. The car lacks interior door handles; an electrically operated button opens the portals.
The five-passenger, two-row iX makes an excellent highway cruiser, with combined power of 516 horsepower and 564 pound-feet of torque on tap. It’s quite fast, with four-second zero to 60 times possible. The power is from two axle motors, producing grippy all-wheel drive.
It’s certainly not a lightweight car, with a curb weight of 5,707 pounds, and that’s why BMW fitted a huge liquid-cooled 105.2-kilowatt-hour battery pack. The upside is an estimated 315 miles of range, and the downside is long recharge times unless you use a DC fast charger. BMW doesn’t include a 110-volt charger because, well, it would take forever.
If you could somehow locate a 200-kilowatt public charger, you can gain 93 iX travel miles in 10 minutes, or from 10% to 80% charge in 35 minutes. But on an 11-kilowatt 240-volt home charger, it takes 11 hours. Keep in mind, though, that your car is unlikely to be discharged to 10% in average driving.
An even faster M60 version of the iX is coming, but the iX xDrive50 is the one you can buy now. The Mercedes EQS 450+ offers many of the same virtues as the BMW, with the added incentive of truly knockout styling. This electric version of the S-Class is curvy and futuristic in appearance, like a show car you can buy today.
The concept is similar to the iX, luxury and long range. But the EQS comes in three versions. The EQS 580 4Matic (starting at US$119,110) is the closest to the tested iX, with 516 horsepower and 611 pound-feet of torque from twin electric motors. It can hit 60 miles per hour in just 3.7 seconds. That version is worth considering, certainly, but the 450+ as tested has a single electric motor on the rear axle with 329 horsepower and 419 pound-feet of torque. It’s still plenty fast, at 5.5 seconds to 60. The S-Class is traditionally thirsty, but this battery version is EPA rated at 97 miles per gallon equivalent (MPGe).
Again, it takes a big battery to move large, luxurious cars—in the case of the EQS, 107.8 kilowatt-hours. The 450+ has 350 miles of range (340 for the 580), and again it seems, with regeneration, to unspool slowly. Drivers are going to start forgetting it’s an electric car, and take it on long trips. Like the BMW, the car can be quickly fast-charged at 200 kilowatts DC. Fast charging from 10% to 100% takes only 31 minutes with 200 kilowatts. At home, with a Level 2 AC 240-volt charger, it’s an 11.25-hour experience.
It’s going to be tempting to order the top-of-the-line 580, but the 17-foot-long 450 is a very good driving experience—fast, quiet, maneuverable, and excellent handling thanks in part to its 10-degree rear -axle steering and adaptive air suspension. The car benefits from many of the upgrades on the conventionally powered S-Class cars. The cabin is airy so visibility is excellent—except for a blind spot because of the thick B-pillars.
And certainly the cabin isn’t lacking in luxury. The seats are both comfortable and supportive, with lots of legroom, and the controls are easy to use once you get to know them—“park” on the shifter can be confused with the windshield washer.
Available on the EQS is the Hyperscreen stretching across the front of the cabin—clearly the future of in-car tech—but the standard dashboard is just fine. The tester had such add-ons as rapid-heating front seats (US$1,050), active ambient lighting (US$450), and the interior assistant (US$350). Plus points include a really cavernous trunk/hatch with electric assist, a roomy back seat, an extensive suite of standard safety technology, and an excellent Burmester surround-sound system that was friendly with Apple CarPlay.
If you want even more, there’s the Mercedes-AMG EQS, with up to 649 horsepower and a boost function that takes it up to 751. It starts at US$147,500.