Johannesburg - Prefixes and suffixes to car titles often remain a mystery to the average driver, who is not really sure about either when visiting a showroom.
I mean, in the old days, a figure normally meant engine capacity and letters stood for things like Grand Tourer, Limited and so on, but not so much any more.
At least Mercedes-Benz has cleared the clutter somewhat among its impressive list of vehicles by putting a G in the title of any vehicle classified as a sport utility vehicle.
That stems from the original G Class or “G wagon” as it’s affectionately called with its legendary off-road capability and go-anywhere attitude. Now at least you know what to expect when people talk about letters that begin with G when referring to Mercedes-Benz.
Which is very much what the new GLE launched locally last week is about. With a smoother design and a number of significant changes – including Merc’s MBUX multi- media system, increased interior size and active suspension system – the GLE is not only capable off road but does so in style.
There are three engine variations, two diesel versions and a petrol option.
The four-pot GLE 300d 4MATIC pushes out 180kW and 500Nm while the six-cylinder OM 656 diesel unit in the GLE 400d 4MATIC gives you an impressive 243kW and 700Nm.
The petrol engine is their new 3.0 litre turbo-charged six-cylinder which is systematically electrified with 48-volt technology. It’s got 270kW and 500Nm of torque with an extra 250Nm available with EQ Boost over short periods, achieved via the 48-volt mild hybrid system featuring an integrated starter/alternator.
They’re all attached to Merc’s 9G-Tronic automatic transmission which in the 300d powers all four wheels in a fixed ratio of 50:50.
The six-cylinder versions are fitted with a transfer case with an electronically controlled multidisk clutch that allows torque to be split from 0% to 100% between the axles as needed.
There’s also an optional transfer case configured especially for off-road driving should you wish to push the boundaries in serious dirt and rocks. To this end, the vehicles were driven from the new and impressive Mercedes-Benz experience building in Sandton to a specially designed 4x4 course at Zwartkops Raceway, on the outskirts of Pretoria, and also home to its AMG Driving Academy.
Getting to grips with MBUX
We hopped behind the wheel of the 400d and immediately started playing with the MBUX system, asking it to perform various tasks or to point out where things could be found in the menus, such as the ambient light or comfort settings. Voice activation still has a way to go and we had to cancel a few times and use the touch-screen or swipe option.
The two 31.2cm screens, though, have an impressive appearance but with the windows open on the dirt while off-road they tended to become a dust magnet.
Noticeable, too, is the extra space versus its predecessor, with rear passengers getting 69mm extra legroom and 35mm more headroom.
There’s an optional second row seat that has six electrical adjustment options while a third row of seats is optional as well.
A new feature called Active Tailback Assist uses live traffic data to warn you of a traffic stoppage on the highway before you see it. Once in the jam, the vehicle can drive autonomously at up to 60km/h and then accelerate back up to the original chosen cruising speed after the road clears again.
On our return, my driving partner and I agreed that the 400d would be the one to go for. It feels a lot more powerful and quicker than the 300d and has a delightful non-intrusive exhaust note, the only give-away that it’s a diesel being the red line on the rev counter.