It’s easy for a fanciful concept car to look interesting under the dramatic lighting of an auto show display or corporate video clip—a brand’s future, in the now. But few concepts ever go beyond that stage, and even fewer get to ply real roads with other motorists, let alone with scrappy journalists behind the wheel. That’s what makes the Mercedes-Benz Vision EQXX special: For all its futuristic EV design, it is at its core a demonstration of advanced engineering that’s meant to be driven.

After debuting the EQXX earlier this year at the CES technology show, Mercedes was quick to prove the car’s real-world bona fides on two long-distance treks across Europe, the longest of which—from Stuttgart, Germany, to Silverstone, England, where it hot-lapped the famous race circuit—saw the EQXX go 747 miles on a single charge of its battery, which stores slightly under 100.0 kWh. That feat is impressive enough for a vehicle developed in just 18 months, but it also bodes well for a range of near-future Mercedes EVs that will draw on the EQXX’s suite of advancements.

Parked on the tarmac of the company’s proving grounds in Immendingen, Germany, the EQXX looks appropriately otherworldly. About the size of a low-slung compact sedan and shaped like a windswept teardrop, its tiny, bubble-like frontal area contrasts with a substantial side profile that stretches over a 110.2-inch wheelbase. Its exaggerated Kamm tail adds significant length, especially when the active rear diffuser juts out 7.8 inches at 37 mph. Interesting details abound, such as the sidewalls of the specially developed Bridgestone tires that, when viewed from above, sit flush with both the 20-inch magnesium wheels and the carbon-fiber body, greatly contributing to the car’s slippery drag coefficient of 0.17. Conventional yet carefully sculpted side mirrors adorn the doors, their minimal drag penalty ultimately deemed more efficient than the power draw that would be required by a lower-profile camera-based setup.

A tug of the EQXX’s motorized door handle reveals the no-holds-barred interior of a show car, though a surprisingly comfortable and functional one. From the driver’s seat, the spaciousness of the cabin is at odds with how little of the car’s front end you can see through the windshield. While there are a few 3-D-printed pieces that we’re told to be gentle with, the steering wheel and basic controls are familiar Mercedes stuff, making it easy to get situated in what is a near-priceless one-off. Ignore the judicious use of brightwork and ambient lighting, and the smattering of environmentally friendly materials—trim panels derived from cacti, mushroom-based seat inserts, and bamboo-fiber shag-carpet floor mats—are both attractive and a harbinger of what could filter down to future production models.

Set off and the EQXX’s feathery (for an EV) claimed curb weight of 3900 pounds is immediately apparent. Although the rear-mounted radial-flux motor produces a mere 241 horsepower, thrust is plentiful, and the light, almost delicate steering is impressively tactile even at pedestrian speeds. With little powertrain hum or air turbulence to ruffle the ambiance, the main distraction is tire noise brought on by the car’s modest amount of sound deadening. The overall vibes are responsiveness and good integration , despite the EQXX—with its quoted 7.0-second 60-mph time and electronically limited 87-mph top speed—being in no way tuned for spirited driving.

Besides the slippery shape and relatively trim weight, the car’s claimed powertrain efficiency of 95 percent (up from 90-or-so percent for Benz’s EQS production sedan) also contributes to its impressive range. Although the EQXX doesn’t charge as quickly as its 900-volt architecture suggests, it’s so frugal with electrons that only a few minutes on a plug net it significant additional range. Likewise, the handful of kilowatts harvested by the 117 solar cells on its roof, which only go toward powering the accessories, result in meaningful gains in mileage. With minimal mechanical and aerodynamic drag, the EQXX effortlessly coasts on flat ground without losing speed. Thanks to the effectiveness of the active air cooling for the battery and its electronics, Mercedes engineers faced the unusual challenge of coaxing the EQXX’s motor to produce enough heat to reach its optimal operating temperature.

While our drive was brief on the undulating roads that snake around Immendingen’s facilities, we soon learned the fun of controlling the EQXX’s momentum via regenerative braking. Gather some speed and it can glide around corners with ease, the mass of the floor-mounted battery nicely anchoring its body motions. Toggling the steering-wheel paddles through the four stages of regen, from none to full one-pedal operation, can quickly slow the car for tight turns and intersections. This is one of the reasons the EQXX can get away with ultralightweight aluminum brake rotors, rather than conventional cast-iron or even carbon-ceramic discs. Once we got acclimated, we hardly touched the left pedal at all. At the end of the day, our overall energy consumption—in air-conditioned comfort—worked out to the equivalent of 262 mpg in a gas car.

Mercedes being the engineering behemoth it is, we were provided with all sorts of telemetry from our drive that showed where we could have been more efficient still. But much of that data, from energy recuperation to air flow over the car’s body, also was available in real time through the EQXX’s pillar-to-pillar 47.5-inch touchscreen, which is rendered in 8K resolution by a video-game engine. Though borderline distracting with its brilliant graphics and deep well of information, this display also features wonderfully interactive navigation data and is easily configurable for uncluttered reading at a glance. It even is stingy on power, actively dimming sections of LEDs that aren’t in use. While we didn’t acquaint ourselves with its artificial intelligence that acts as a personal assistant, the system offers a glimpse of the next generation of Mercedes’s user interface.

But the EQXX’s importance goes beyond being a platform for a futuristic widescreen TV. Mercedes has already confirmed that the car’s powertrain—interestingly, developed in a modified rear-drive version of the new EQB SUV—will reach production in some form by 2024. Also key are lessons in rapid (and novel) development gleaned from working with the company’s Formula 1 specialists, who were able to engineer the concept’s battery to be 50 percent smaller and 30 percent lighter than the similarly powerful pack in the EQS. And from the fungi upholstery to the chassis’s unique skeletal-like aluminum rear subframe, the EQXX’s advancements in material sciences surely will extend to numerous future Benzes and AMGs. In short, the EQXX’s influence will be far-reaching, which is more than you can say about most concept cars.

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