Tested: Mercedes GLE 400d is perfect for post-lockdown road tripping
Pretoria - While South Africa and many other countries around the globe are in lockdown and counting the cost of the Covid-19 virus it's a pleasant pastime to reminisce about times spent in more comfortable circumstances.
That was indeed the case recently when we got to drive the Mercedes-Benz GLE 400d.
It's the kind of SUV (yes, I know, another SUV) that you really want to take on an extended drive all over the country once the madness has subsided.
Previously sold under the ML prefix, Mercedes has now given all their SUVs the G mark in reverence to the legendary Geländewagen.
Fitted with Merc's six pod diesel engine that's good for 244kW of power and 700Nm of torque mated to a nine speed 9G-TRONIC automatic transmission powering all four corners via the 4MATIC drive system this is very much a premium car that's perfect for home, work, home and piling in the family for that far off trip.
It's the kind of engine that you want to give a bit of stick and head to the wide open spaces to shake off a couple of weeks of cabin fever. Mercedes has really been talking the engine up and after a couple of days it's easy to see why, even in comfort mode.
Once it's fired up there's no indication from the inside that it's an oil burner and to be honest not when you are standing outside either.
Give it a hard right foot and the big luxury van lunges forward without any hesitation, sweetly moving through gearbox happy to redline without too much fuss.
Passing slower traffic is a breeze with the auto box changing down effortlessly as you zip past. I also got the impression that towing a caravan, large trailer or boat would be just as easy and if you have the means this should probably be your go to tow car.
It takes a bit of time to get used to the new body shape with Merc having designed a far less angled exterior which with the LED headlights and tailights still gives it an understated yet a you-can't-miss-me appeal.
Considering its size the clever people at Mercedes-Benz have managed to design an SUV that is one of the most aerodynamic cars ever made, including those low slung supercars.
With a coefficient drag of 0,29Cd and that engine the GLE 400d must rate as one of the more desirable SUVs out there keeping in mind that the BMW X5, Audi Q7 and Porsche Cayenne are also vying for buyers' attention.
Inside it's all Mercedes with leather and soft touch surfaces which is to be expected in this category as are top notch finishes and comfort. When you slide in behind the wheel you're immediately greeted by the dual 12.3 inch screens mounted next to each other for the infotainment system and instrument cluster, obviously high definition and even with bright sunlight they were still easy to see.
It was fitted with the optional MBUX Interior Assist that allows intuitive, natural operation of different comfort and MBUX functions by movement recognition.
So if your hand approaches the touchscreen or the touchpad on the centre console, the media display changes and individual elements are highlighted.
They are however a magnet for dust, especially if you're going to be driving dirt roads and like we currently have to do, you'll need to sanitize your hands if you don't want fatty finger marks on the screens.
It needs to be done when they're off though because I tried to wipe them which swiped me into one of the many menus and options which I did manage to sort by asking the system to take me to the mood lighting option so that I could at least figure it out from there.
There's a lot of information and options to select from and it will take longer than the week I had it to completely get to grips with it.
The screen's handy to when you decide to do a bit of offroading fun for which the GLE 400 is imminently equipped. Not rock crawling or anything more than level two or perhaps three but enough to challenge yourself and the car also.
While you're driving around the screen shows you the incline and roll of the vehicle or how the all wheel drive drivetrain changes and adapts as you go over obstacles.
The GLE 400d is fitted with a transfer case with an electronically controlled multi -disc clutch allowing the transfer of power between the two axles as needed. There's an optional transfer case specially configured for offroad driving with a reduction gear and an automatic locking effect from 0–100 percent.
It's a nice to have I reckon, because the average owner is unlikely to do anything worse than a well graded road in our national parks.
We were late for an appointment that couldn't be moved so I had to take a quick drive over one of the twisty roads through Waterkloof, very much the kind of place where the GLE would be parked in the driveway.
It held steady around the tight bends without too much body roll or any tyre squealing with the chunky steering wheel comfortable in my grip and a pair of very large eyes seated next to me.
With a number of speed bumps, as you would expect in this type of suburb, the suspension treated them with the kind of disdain that some cyclists did the initial lockdown.
With 825 litres luggage capacity behind the 40:20:40 split rear seats and a massive 2055 litres with them folded down the GLE 400d is the perfect companion whether you're on your way to a board meeting, holiday with the kids and their friends or a black tie dinner.
Add in an ability to play a bit off the beaten track and you can see why it's such a popular option in the Mercedes-Benz stable.