Mercedes-Benz claims that the R2.6 million EQS 450+ can travel up to 780km once its massive 120kWh (108.4kWh usable) battery is brimmed full of charge. This range capability goes a long way in dealing with the annoyance of frequently having to spend hours charging when daily commuting, but also gives the EQS the ability to just about span the distance between the 300 EV charging points dotted across our vast country. Almost 300

So, armed with the [claimed] longest range electric vehicle on sale in Mzansi and a route with ample charging opportunities, I happily obliged to join a few of my friends on a breakfast run from Pretoria all the way to the glorious roads of the Mpumalanga Highveld. The 1 071km, one day round-trip promised not only to push the electrified quintessential premium sedan to its limits, but also test the robustness of the country’s EV Charging network as it exists today.

To prepare for the journey, I topped up the EQS at the Mercedes-Benz-sponsored 75kW fast-charger at Pantry Rosebank to about 80% the evening before. This left me with about 480km of indicated range.

Not a wheel had been turned before a problem became apparent. Travelling from my home in the south of Johannesburg to the meeting point at Menlyn Mall at 3am would eat away 70km of range. There was a 60kW charger available at Menlyn, but I would’ve had to leave Johannesburg at 01:00 and arrive at Menlyn at 2am (when everyone else was just waking up) to get a decent hour of charge before setting off towards Mpumalanga. Another 30 to 50 minutes would’ve been added to the trip after stopping at the ALZU N4 Petroport 80kW charger for a non-negotiable top-up either way as there would be no major stops until Graskop after this point, 212 enthusiastic kilometres away.

Quick maths determined that heading straight to ALZU N4 Petroport and meeting the boys there was the wisest choice. So, I woke up at 02:00 on Saturday morning, prepared a caffeine heavy brew and set off onto the lonely journey to Middleburg. The EQS 450+’s incredible sound insulation, generously sidewalled tyres and plush air suspension felt like piloting a sofa down the freeway. It glided over the M1 and M2 freeways’ joints with little more than a “whomp” that reminds you that you are indeed still connected to the road.

The 2०C air outside meant that we didn’t need to use range-sapping air conditioning, but because I intended to be as energy efficient as possible, I couldn’t engage the seat heating function either and depended entirely on the heater to keep me warm.

Dawn was still many hours away, and while Mercedes-Benz’s brilliantmatrix-LED headlights were fully capable of illuminating the entire length of the N4, the auto-high beam assist remained as frustrating as ever, as I made my way through the unlit countryside. It was far too sensitive to stray sources of light and took too long to switch back to high-beam after an oncoming car had passed. My co-pilot waded through the myriad menus and submenus on the massive 32.5m infotainment screen to switch the function off, but to no avail. A Google search revealed that there was no option to temporarily manually intervene whenever I needed more light, and I had to switch the entire headlight system to manual ON in order to have any control over the high-beam. An unfortunate and frustrating user-experience.

Nevertheless, we wafted along with the cruise-control pegged at 120km/h and Spotify blasting road trip tunes through the MBUX infotainment’s integrated Android Auto and the base Burmeister sound system. I couldn’t have cruised at a higher speed even if delinquent temptations wished otherwise because EVs, unlike the large-displacement internal combustion engines you’d usually find in large luxury cars of this ilk, take a disproportionately heavy hit on efficiency when cruising at highway speeds.

I arrived at ALZU having spent about 220km of range or 45% of the battery after 205km. Plugged in the Audi GridCars 80kW DC fast-charger and answered an onslaught of questions about EVs from curious passers-by while I waited for the lads to arrive from Pretoria. Five am hit and as luck would have it, load shedding struck! I was living the counter-argument to every discussion about electric vehicles in Mzansi in real-time and I felt panic creep in. Fortunately, the DC charger was hooked up to the wonderful rest stop’s ample backup power and I continued charging at full speed once the system had rebooted. An hour and 30 minutes after heaving the python-like charging cable into the EQS 450+’s port, the battery stood at 92% with an indicated remaining range of about 550km. Off we wafted in serene silence among a bevy of crackling and popping boy-racer mobiles.

We finally came upon the first of the trip’s backroads and the convoy indulged in safe but enthusiastic B-road blasting. The 265kW and 568Nm electric power of the EQS had no problem keeping up with the pack. Better still, electric motor power is not dependent on ambient air pressure or temperature, so while normal turbocharged petrol lost some efficiency at the Mpumalanga Highveld’s 2 100 metre elevation, every single one of the EQS’s lithium-powered horses reached the tarmac. A quick rest stop in Dullstroom 67km later (range reading 470km now) and I made use of the 13kW AC charger and gained 3km in 15 minutes. Every kilometre counts.

The pockmarked R540 between Dullstroom and Lydenburg resembled a partially tarred rally stage than a regional public road and so it was navigated gingerly. Once again the boat-like ride of the EQS hovered over most of the potholes effortlessly. At this point I’d figured that Sport mode seemed to slow down the rate at which the remaining range plummeted, just as well because we’d reached the foot of the famed Long Tom Pass – 56km of some of the most thrilling tarmac draped over achingly beautiful scenery. With my range reading just under 400km remaining, 291km of the planned route ahead and 124km to the nearest charger, I was free to unleash the electrons.

Despite the EQS 450+ making no sporting pretences and weighing in at a hefty 2.5 tonnes, heaving the luxury land yacht up the first leg of the Long Tom Pass proved entertaining and surprising. The 7.5 degrees of rear-steering helped the EQS turn into tight bends much like a frighteningly acrobatic sumo wrestler.

After we summited the highest point, aimed towards the Earth and leaned more on the brakes, the electric Merc’s biggest flaw reared its head. While the anchors were decently capable of bleeding off the frightening amounts of momentum that the EQS could amass, plus a healthy bit of assistance from the most aggressive regenerative braking setting, the feeling through the brake pedal inspired no confidence at all. The pedal sinks to the floor with the unnerving sensation of faded brakes until the stopping force rises sharply just before reaching the pedal stop. To be fair to EQS450+’s going to more conservative owners, they’re unlikely to be hustled down B-roads, and experienced drivers can get used to the braking, but the poor calibration will make the brakes harder to modulate even in normal driving.

The convoy stopped in a rest area along the road and I was pleasantly surprised to feel much less heat radiating from the Merc’s brakes than any of the other, much lighter cars indicating that a significant portion of the braking was performed by the electric motors’ regenerative braking which turned that energy into electricity to charge the battery. Keeping up with light-footed hot hatches through a challenging mountain pass was not easy by any stretch of the imagination, but the EQS pulled up its gaiters and rose to the occasion.

We arrived at the Graskop Gorge for much-needed rest, lunch and sightseeing, but the trip took a frustrating turn for me and EQS.

The Blyde River Lodge still remained on the itinerary – 137 km away from the Graskop Gorge and 204 km total to the next charger in Hazyview. The 62km jaunt through the Long Tom Pass had consumed almost 180km of range, and even if I could chance the 204km with the 220km remaining by driving much more conservatively than I had been until this point, the 13kW charger in Hazyview would’ve taken at least two hours to give enough juice to reach the 200kW charger in Mbombela for the home run charge. So after another round of quick maths and a very helpful friend in tow, we resolved to rush to Hazyview 30km away and leave the EQS to charge for a while I headed back to join the rest of the party for lunch and the remaining leg of the trip as a passenger in my mate’s car.

We arrived at Hazyview Junction mall and bolted straight towards the blue-painted EV parking bay. The dusty cobwebs around the outlet of the sleek Audi-branded GridCars 13kW charging post confirmed my worst fears. The charger was offline. A scramble to the mall’s information desk, then to the mall management and a call to GridCars revealed it had been offline for a while and will remain offline for the foreseeable future. This incredible inconvenience left me with one option – separate from the group and head to Mbombela 70km away. The 160km of remaining range whisked me to Mbombela comfortably but the grief of unceremoniously parting with the group, missing lunch and more epic roads dominated the atmosphere. Rubbing more pepper into the wounds, my guardian angel suffered a puncture in his car while we snaked through Nelspruit to find a working charger.

The 200kW DC charger was offline but we finally found a decently fast 80kW at i’Langa Mall. We discovered that my mate’s tyre was not repairable and we’d have to wait two hours for a tow truck to pick it up. This at least worked in the EQS’s favour as there would be plenty of time for its battery to reach 100% for the 400km home stretch. We had an impromptu lunch, licked our wounds and set course for Johannesburg.

Seven hundred and fifty kilometres, far too many memories to fit on a memory card and 13 hours later I was back home. The Mercedes-Benz EQS 450+ sat endearingly in my garage, with a 170km surplus in its battery I so desperately wished I had only a few hours before.

Electric vehicles are still a very long way away from becoming the default choice of vehicle for many buyers, especially in Mzansi where we are very dependent on the car to span many hundreds of kilometres on a whim. What the EQS450+ does is increase the radius of the day-trips you are able to make, and at a push and with comprehensive planning, allow cross-country travel in exquisite comfort.

QUICK STATS

EQS 450+

BATTERY: 120kWh (400V)

POWER: 265kW

TORQUE: 568Nm

GEARBOX: 1-speed automatic

DRIVE: RWD

0 – 100KM/H: 6.5 seconds

TOP SPEED: 210km/h

COMBINED RANGE: 630km

CO2 e: 0 g/km

AIRBAGS: 7

LANE KEEP ASSIST: Yes

NATURAL RIVALS: BMW i7 M60, Porsche Taycan Turbo Cross Turismo

PRICE RIVALS: Audi e-tron GT, Audi RS Q8, Land Rover Defender 90 V8, Lexus LS 500h, Porsche 911 Carrera T man,

SERVICE PLAN: 5-year/100 000km, roadside assistance

WARRANTY: 5-year/100 000km

BADDIE INDEX: 4/5

PRICE STANDARD: R2 668 655

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