Mercedes-Benz EQC vs. Audi e-tron and Jaguar I-Pace: Which Is the Best EV SUV?

Twelve months after the launch of the I-Pace, the e-tron and EQC are taking up the electrified crossover fight.

MUNICH, Germany—Conceived by a small team of top managers who had previously called the shots in Munich and assembled by Magna in Graz, Austria, the Jaguar I-Pace was not only more radical in concept than the first all-electrified efforts from Ingolstadt and Stuttgart—the Audi e-tron and the Mercedes-Benz EQC—it also beat them to market by a full year.

The Jaguar was also an out-of-the-box, ground-up effort, as opposed the approaches taken by Audi and Mercedes, who scanned their corrals for suitable donor vehicles, allegedly in an attempt to save time and money. In reality, however, their learning curves were just as steep, and what may have been initially saved in outright costs was later reinvested to address the resulting multiple packaging and weight issues. Known internally as C-BEV, the Audi e-tron is in essence a re-bodied and reengineered Audi Q5 that put on more than half a ton of lithium-ion fat in the process. At roughly 5,500 pounds, the Mercedes EQC is some 254 pounds less portly than the e-tron. The I-Pace isn't exactly an elf either, but the garage scale shows a 440-pound advantage over the Benz, which does matter in terms of acceleration, consumption, and range. Although the Jaguar is the shortest car by far, the five-seat Brexiteer sports the longest wheelbase, which in turn warrants the largest floor space.

Power and torque are definitely not the deciders in this fight for the electric crown. While the two e-motors fitted to the German entrants are rated at a combined 402 horsepower (the e-tron needs a boost mode to get to that number, most of the time it's 355 horsepower), the buzzworks inside the Jaguar are good for 394 horsepower. The ranking in the torque sweepstakes puts the EQC (564 lb-ft) ahead of the I-Pace (512) and the e-tron (490). Mileage between pit stops largely depends on individual driving styles and conditions, but according to EPA ratings, at 234 miles to a charge the Jaguar leads the pack over the Audi (204) and presumably the Benz, which has not yet been EPA rated but is expected to fall somewhere between the two when it finally arrives in the U.S. in the first half of 2020.

The Audi comes equipped with a 95-kWh battery pack, which the automaker says can charge to 163 miles in a brisk 30 minutes when plugged into a 150-kW DC unit. Mercedes has yet to announce any U.S.-market specific charge times, though it says it will take on the order of 40 minutes to replenish its 80-kWh battery to 80 percent full when charging at its max capacity of 110 kW. As for the I-Pace, it carries a 90 kW-hr accumulator in its well protected tummy, but unlike the Audi, it is rated at an 100kW max charge rate. Like the Benz, the I-Pace takes at least 40 minutes to reach 80 percent charge when hooked to a charger capable of pushing 100 kW to its battery pack.

Fanciful overkill is the evident motto of all three cockpit designs. They cannot fry eggs or tie the driver's shoelaces (yet), but in every other significant and incidental respect these interface labyrinths demonstrate what can happen when you give carte blanche to designers, engineers, digital junkies, and specialist suppliers. The outcome is chaos (admittedly to a varying degree) depending on the chariot of choice.

Thanks to the most conservative dashboard layout and Benz's clever MBUX interface, the Mercedes EQC is the easiest to befriend, even though there are still too many displays, bar graphs, and digits battling for attention. Like all high-end EVs, the EQC never ceases to advertise its talents. Would I like to select one of five recuperation modes from pacifist Eco to hectic Sport, precondition the vehicle in every detail for the next journey, keep an eye on the apple-shaped circular range indicator as it shrinks to a plum and then to a strawberry, pre-book the next charge point, select a different drive mode, or tap the navigation for energy-saving route guidance? Almost anything is possible, and when you no longer feel like touching, swiping, and zooming, just say "Hey, Mercedes!" and the car will obey your commands.

The instrument panel of the Audi e-tron is an initially shiny but progressively grease-marked monitor-laden micro-architecture embedded in the finest materials and assembled to top-notch quality standards. Redundancy is the name of the game, set in scene by the four displays which are supported by a random array of hard keys, and by the multifunctional steering wheel that looks as if it had been co-designed by a virtuoso piano player. The master control panel and its sidekick below are an attractive mess, a tricky-to-operate haptic Sudoku prepared by a three-star sous chef—an arrangement as distracting as it is assisting. Thanks to the predicative efficiency feature, adaptive recuperation can be programmed for maximum range. The controversial one-pedal driving feel that EVs make possible translates lift-off into instant deceleration. It's fun for a while, but strangling the momentum feels less effective than letting those 2.5 tons of mass generate their own.

The Jaguar, too, leaves no chip unturned and ticks every box the software squad could dream up. It's the same story all over again with minor additional obstacles in terms of graphics, menus, and functions. Since the voice control system still needs work, access is primarily touch and go, or not go in case you hit the wrong icon. On the credit side, the I-Pace collects brownie points for the straightforward push-button transmission controls, the easy to use heating and ventilation elements, and the dynamically relevant instant-access keys in the center stack. But the Jag's biggest cabin-related asset is without a doubt the extra floor space it boasts vis-à-vis the GLC-based Mercedes and the Q5-derived Audi. While e-tron and I-Pace are close in cargo capacity, the EQC is compromised due to a mushrooming conflict of interest between batteries and baggage.

Though there are differences between the three, they have similar power, torque, range, and consumption, as well as all have a single-speed, fixed-rate transmission with three different positions: drive, neutral, and reverse. Surely, similar dynamic performance can be taken for granted, too? Wrong. Because as soon as weight and drag enter the equation, the Jaguar opens up a small but quantifiable gap. At 124 mph, the I-Pace merely matches the e-tron for Vmax, but it feels notably livelier off the mark and, more important, when the hammer drops mid-range at 50 or 60 mph. The Jag's run from zero to 60 mph takes 4.5 seconds—that's 0.4 tick quicker than the Merc and a full second swifter than the e-tron. Press on, and the I-Pace will continue to distance the Audi while progressively pulling away from the EQC. In Dynamic mode, the Jag also feels fractionally more switched on, it maintains its urge all the way to the limiter, and if you so desire it will even computer-generate matching noises. The price you pay for letting the pig out is a 100 percent increase in energy consumption, which typically rockets from 22 kWh to 50 kWh, where the readout ends in all three cars.

When almost every component is battery-driven, not only gearheads are bound to wonder whether the silent new mobility has enough feedback and response. As far as the chassis goes, the main assets are in principle more evenly balanced weight distributions and lower centers of gravity. In combination with the standard air suspension (only the Benz has steel springs up front), the 19-inch tires fitted to all three test cars were not extreme enough to spoil the ride. Lacking the vocal presence that comes free of charge with every combustion engine, EVs depend on artificially created street music that's typically drowned out by wind and road noise above 40 mph.

Mercedes created an advanced low-drag front end for its EQ family of cars. The star-centered theme mates the generic Benz grille to a contrasting, full-width support bracket which accommodates the headlight/daytime-running-light/indicator binnacles. Audi couldn't resist reusing the trademark "singleframe" radiator cover, which sports 17 horizontal louvers, though only five actually let through cooling air. The signature grille of the I-Pace is a fully closed and thus a functionless iteration of a familiar theme. Dimensionally, the Jaguar turns out to be the widest and lowest vehicle in this group. It looks more coupe-like and sportier overall, but the visibility to the rear is compromised, and so are entry and exit to the second row where headroom is substantially less generous than in the best-in-class e-tron. Trailing its playmates is the Mercedes EQC. Since the low-slung silhouette was a must, R&D had no choice but to position the rear bench too low for comfort—despite that awkward bubble in the headliner.

In the city, where easily accessible charge points abound, the three plug-in behemoths are a hoot to drive. They always leap ahead of the crowd as soon as the lights turn green, their batteries produce oodles of instant zero- to infinite-rpm torque, their ability to coast between stops extends the range by up to 20 percent, their zero emission status does together with the very low noise level enhance the social acceptance. But since earphones, headsets, and physical hearing impairment are numbing the attention of modern urbanites, EV drivers must take extra care and hold back when in doubt.

Discipline is also a prerequisite when joining the autobahn, where the range of our zero-emission threesome quickly shrinks to 100 miles in pedal-to-the-metal mode. An average speed of 80 mph is the absolute limit if a 200-mile radius is your goal. Anything faster than that invariably ends in frustration. In a nutshell, electric energy is not yet the propellant of choice for rapid long-distance journeys through thinly populated areas—and that's even before we talk battery degradation, the effect of fast charging and discharging cycles, and possible temperature-related pitfalls.

The Audi is the biggest and heaviest ship in this fleet, and it feels like it. Although the 165-kW full-time rear motor invariably outperforms its part-time 135-kW counterpart up front, the cornering attitude is predominantly neutral, the handling is safe, and the roadholding is well connected. Thanks to the e-Quattro system's adaptive torque delivery, the mighty mauler feels almost instantly like putty in the hands of its driver. With all adjustable parameters set in Dynamic, there is even an odd trace of rowdiness shining through as the wizard of ohm occasionally shrieks for grip. The brakes are strong and virtually immune to repeated calls of duty, and the transition from electric to hydraulic deceleration is quite seamless. But pedal pressure and travel could be more linear, and the initial response should be less blunt. What spoils the fun to a worrying extent is e-tron's variable-rate, yet disappointingly lifeless steering. It does change the direction of travel, but that's about its only forte. The feedback is annoyingly casual, power assistance and steering angle play their own game, and in the wake of a sudden left-right-left emergency maneuver the action hardens momentarily in a disconcerting manner. Please take another look at that source code ASAP.

The EQC has clear GLC-Class coupe overtones inside and out, but it feels significantly heavier and thus more firmly planted. The extra weight works wonders for the ride comfort, which is almost as supple as in the air-sprung Audi. True to the character of this species, Benz's very first fully electric starship is reassuringly unperturbed and almost lasciviously laid back. The steering acts in an unhurried fashion, fuses swift feedback and tactile communication, returns the tightest turning circle in this group, and is an integral part of the experience. In maximum recuperation mode, 0.25 g of negative deceleration is charging the batteries on the go. Most of the time, front-wheel drive is the preferred mode of propulsion, but as soon as you floor the throttle the rear wheels will duly join the show and keep pushing. Without a side glance at the energy flow display, one would struggle to register any change in the state of affairs. While the Mercedes is less enthusiastic in delivering the goods than e-tron and I-Pace, it impresses with a flowing sequence of motions which cover the ground efficiently and effortlessly.

At the other end of the spectrum crouches the Jaguar I-Pace. It is the predator, not the prey. True, its ergonomics were defined by aliens, its range and state-of-charge predictions can be hilariously optimistic, the ride is firm even on the skinniest tires, and the fit and finish are not quite up to the high standards of the competition. But in terms of sheer driving pleasure, the I-Pace collects more smiles per mile. It hugs the road with even greater enthusiasm, even permits a trace of power oversteer once the overeager stability control is switched off. It has the quickest and most involving steering along with the most potent brakes by a narrow margin, even though a less indifferent pedal response would be a bonus. It is fastest through the cones, and it also wins the B-road challenge, the roundabout lotto, and the wet handling contest. It feels on boost even before you squeeze the accelerator. It is a slide-carver, radius-plotter, and apex-hugger par excellence—it's no wonder it has its own spec-EV racing series. If nimbleness can be an attribute of a 4,800-pound automobile, the Jaguar embodies it to an astonishing degree. If performance and environmental-friendliness were to find a common denominator, the I-Pace would come very close. It wins by a whisker, on ability and on charm.

2020 Mercedes-Benz EQC Specifications
ON SALE Spring 2020 (est)
PRICES $75,000 (est)
DRIVETRAIN 2 asynchronous electric motors; total system output, 402 hp, 564 lb-ft
BATTERY 80.0-kWh lithium-ion
TRANSMISSION 1-speed automatic
LAYOUT 4-door, 5-passenger, dual-motor, AWD SUV
EPA MILEAGE 76 MPGe (combined, est)
EPA MAX RANGE 210-220 miles (est)
L x W x H 187.4 x 82.5 x 63.9 in
WHEELBASE 113.1 in
WEIGHT 5,500 lb (est)
0-60 MPH: 4.9 sec (est)
TOP SPEED: 112 mph
2019 Jaguar I-Pace S Specifications
ON SALE Now
PRICES $70,495
DRIVETRAIN 2 permanent-magnet synchronous AC motors; total system output, 394 hp, 512 lb-ft
BATTERY 90.0-kWh lithium-ion
TRANSMISSION 1-speed direct drive
LAYOUT 4-door, 5-passenger, dual-motor, AWD SUV
EPA MILEAGE 76 MPGe (combined)
EPA MAX RANGE 234 miles
L x W x H 184.3 x 74.6 x 61.3 in
WHEELBASE 117.7 in
WEIGHT 4,800 lb
0-60 MPH: 4.5 sec
TOP SPEED: 124 mph
2019 Audi e-tron Specifications
ON SALE Now
PRICES $75,795
DRIVETRAIN 2 asynchronous electric motors; total system output, 402 hp, 490 lb-ft
BATTERY 95.0-kWh lithium-ion
TRANSMISSION 1-speed direct drive
LAYOUT 4-door, 5-passenger, dual-motor, AWD SUV
EPA MILEAGE 74 MPGe (combined)
EPA MAX RANGE 204 miles
L x W x H 193.0 x 86.3 x 65.5 in
WHEELBASE 115.3 in
WEIGHT 5,754 lb
0-60 MPH: 5.5 sec
TOP SPEED: 124 mph
Related Articles

First Drive: 2019 Audi E-Tron

Georg Kacher |

Owning an EV Isn’t Quite Carefree—Yet

Marc Noordeloos |