If it could rumble portentously over the hill, it probably would. Instead, though, this new Mercedes-Benz EQC glides silently into showrooms this summer, making up the fourth member of that most modern of eco-motoring clans, the battery-electric sports utility vehicle.
Existing members comprise Jaguar’s Car of the Year-winning iPace, Audi’s eTron, and Tesla’s Model X, recently subject to a price drop, though it's still the most expensive in the class; EQC starts at £65,640.
Is it any good? That depends. First the price, which puts it, even with the £3,500 OLEV grant, out of reach for most of us.
Then there is the way this car is built – not as its rivals, with their purpose-built lightweight chassis, but instead onto Mercedes’ existing family SUV, the GLC. It is built on the same production line as the conventional C-class range in Bremen, Germany and the lithium-ion battery pack is assembled at Dresden.
So instead of sporting the futuristic looks of the iPace, the EQC resembles nothing so much as a gussied up GLC; handsome, but not especially notable, with an ugly idiots-grin grille and light pack, which looks cold-chiselled off a Chrysler minivan.
The logic is unassailable; if people like the GLC, why won’t they like a battery GLC? Such an argument would be clear-cut if Mercedes wasn’t planning on making a separate electric brand out of EQ, which will include an S-class-sized vehicle and, if an indiscreet test driver is to be believed, an EQ A-Class for next year. Mercedes says there'll be 10 EQ models by 2022 covering 60 per cent of its market and outgoing chairman Dieter Zetsche still reckons battery electric cars will occupy between 15 and 20 per cent of Merc car sales by 2025.
And all these EV cars to follow will be based on their own special chassis, which if applied to this car, would be about 150kg less. There'll also be an end to the ridiculous tubular, faux gearbox tunnel, which dominates the EQC's underbody (ensuring high crash test marks) but also adding considerable bulk and weight.
The cabin follows broadly similar principles, with five seats, reasonable amounts of space and tilting rear seat backs to extend the load bed from 500 to 1,060 litres with an almost flat floor. The 652kg, 80kWh battery pack sits beneath that floor, between the wheels. The facia receives the biggest upgrade for volt power. That’s one of the good bits, as is the rest of the interior, which is nicely made and comfortably plush.
Safety systems are comprehensive including emergency braking, pedestrian and bicycle recognition, lane keeping and blind-spot monitoring. Mercedes says its tests show that drivers react badly to cars steering themselves out of trouble so their cars will always try to slow and stop first.
There’s an app (there’s always an app) which surprisingly is genuinely useful, with software which takes live information on the car's charge state, routing you between recharging stations, although in some cases this might mean so fairly long detours. There's also a Mercedes 'me' account allowing access to a fair proportion of the myriad recharging firms across the UK and Europe.
Dealing with these can be one of the most vexatious parts of owning an electric car (“Some of them are absolute cowboys,” said one Mercedes engineer) and this feature, while not quite as convenient as Audi’s eTron plug-and-charge system, is still a boon. I used the Ionity 150kW charger en route from Oslo to the fjords; the car's internal screens correctly identified the pump, arranged the payment left me to plug in with the thick, heavy cable. Charging at a steady 89kW, it took about 25 minutes for half a charge; sadly there aren’t many of these extraordinary white voltage sentinels in the UK.
Norway really is in the vanguard of electric car use, with a parc of 15 per cent and about 40 per cent of new car sales of either pure battery electric, or plug-in hybrid, plus widespread recharging facilities. Government incentives are high (partly funded by the country's natural-gas receipts) and the multi-storey at Oslo airport contained about 400 charging electric vehicles on several floors. Sadly the car park’s concrete structure also acted as an effective Faraday Cage, which meant the other parts of the Mercedes app such as pre-heating the car, providing information about the state of charge and so on, were useless.
EQC has four-wheel-drive, with steel-sprung wishbone front suspension and a multi-link air-sprung rear. There are two electric motors; one in the front tuned for economy which drives on its own when range is a priority and the rear, which is used more when power and speed are required. Total power is 408bhp with 564lb ft of torque, which gives a top speed of 113mph, 0-62mph in 5.1sec and a maximum range in the WLTP cycle of 259 miles, although temperature extremes, driving fast and hills and high loads will drastically eat into this figure. Recharging rates on an AC household wall box is about 11 hours, on a DC quick charge station you'll get an 80 per cent charge in 40 mins.
Of course it's fast, all these powerful EVs are; that amount of torque from a standstill would galvanise the Empire State Building and there's a childish delight to be had out of simply flooring the throttle and silently racing for the horizon, although do it too often and you'll know the true meaning of range anxiety. But it weighs 2.5 tonnes and you feel that in the way the car responds slightly sluggishly to inputs from the steering or the road surface. Nevertheless it feels plush and well sprung; perhaps a bit over sprung in the softer suspension setting, but even in Sport, there’s a pleasing accommodation of lumps, bumps and sleeping policemen.
Steering is accurate and well weighted, but without much feel. Turn into a corner and the nose wants to travel straight on and the body rolls gently onto the outside front tyre, but at medium to brisk speeds it’s deftly and progressively controlled. It isn’t the most dynamic vehicle in this class and arguably the Audi and certainly the Jaguar are better to drive, but there’s something rather relaxed and well honed about the way the EQC rides and handles.
As we always try and point out, battery electric cars are by no means an environmental free lunch. According to Mercedes the CO2 released in making batteries big enough to give this sort of range means a fuel cell, with its smaller battery, is a more environmentally-friendly proposition over a life of 125,000 miles. And if you take the latest average annual CO2 emissions figures for UK electricity generation including externalities such as the CO2 equivalent of other greenhouse gases, plus transmission losses, of 367g/kWh, and combine the EQC's best quoted energy consumption and its battery capacity you get a well-to-wheels figure of 70.4g/km. The lowest tank-to-wheels figure for the diesel Mercedes-Benz GLC is 129g/km and you'd need to add about 15 per of that figure to get a full well-to-wheels.
Being slightly more than the sum of its parts, the flawed EQC turns out much nicer than it should be: comfortable, practical, good to drive and with a terrific cabin – why do some cars turn out like that?
The EQC or its rivals aren't going to save the planet. In fact you'd get about the same CO2 savings by driving your conventional SUV about half as many miles next year. If you want one and can afford it, then no one's stopping you, but from a distance it looks awfully like self-indulgent virtue signalling.
Mercedes-Benz EQC prices and specifications
TESTED EQC five-door battery electric SUV, with 384-cell, 652kg lithium-ion battery pack (and a water cooled 7.4kWon-board charger), four-wheel drive via two AC electric motors with single-speed step-down gearing
PRICE/ON SALE from £65,640. On sale now with first deliveries in July
POWER/TORQUE 408bhp and 564lb ft of torque
BATTERY ENERGY 80kWh
TOP SPEED limited to 113mph
ACCELERATION 0-62mph in 5.1sec
RANGE (in WLTP test) 259 miles
RECHARGING TIME On a 32amp wall box, 11 hours. On a 150kW DC fast charger an 80 per cent charge takes 40 minutes
CO2 EMISSIONS 70.4g/km well-to-wheels, see text
VED BAND Zero rated but will pay £310 luxury car tax from years two to six
VERDICT Basing its new battery-electric vehicle on an existing conventional chassis means this volt powered Merc SUV is heavy and occasionally lumbering, but it drives well, is very comfortable and is somehow more than the sum of its parts. Expensive and it's not going to save the planet, but it's a strong contender in this rarefied class of vehicles
TELEGRAPH RATING four out of five stars
Mercedes-Benz EQC prices and specifications
Tesla Model X, from £75,700
Your 70 grand only buys the 75kWh 328PS version of this seven-seat, five-door SUV. It's a bigger vehicle than the e-tron but lighter. It's ugly though, and those gull-wing rear doors are gimmicky, problematic and eat space, but it's a pioneer and while it doesn't ride and handle as well as the Audi or the Jaguar, it's quite a special thing to drive.
Jaguar iPace, from £64,495
Brilliant debut for this 4.68m long, 2.13-tonne SUV. It's 90kWh lithium-ion battery pack gives this 394bhp/513lb ft machine a top speed of 124mph and a 0-62mph of 4.8sec. Good looking, comfortable and fine handling, I-Pace is a credit to its makers.
Audi eTron, from £71,490
Spectacularly ordinary to drive, with barely a sense of occasion, but no one could accuse this big battery SUV of not doing the job. It's 248-mile WLTP range is good for the class and the 402bhp 4x4 driveline gives strong performance, although the traction control system is crude.
BMW i3, from £35,180
One of the nicest EVs around especially in £37,670 120Ah form. Rides a little stiffly and weird looking, but drives well and its carbon-fibre construction and light weight mean that driven gently decent ranges are possible between recharging.