I went off-road in the new Mercedes-Benz GLE at the media launch and drove it around Maropeng in peak traffic. If you’re not familiar with this range, it was the M-Class back in the day.

The new models include the 300d, 400d, and 450 (petrol), which we got to drive. The 450 petrol really moves because it has EQ Boost, with 48V of electric power, despite the engine not being hybrid. This means the driver has 250Nm of torque on demand. I wont lie, I loved overtaking trucks on the 450 4Matic. I drove the 400d first which was great, and then going back to 300d, it felt like a ‘downgrade’. 

The new GLE is ideally suited for families and comes in either a five-seater or seven-seater option. The back seats fold down electronically to form a seven-seater, but you’re giving up the spare wheel for it.

Space aside, the new GLE looks good and has more tech inside than the previous-gen with the introduction of MBUX as standard on the range. You might recall it was first seen on the A-Class (my write-up is here: https://techcentral.co.za/hey-mercedes-we-have-questions/83496/). We asked it a few questions like to turn the climate control up or down; open and close the sun roof blinds, but using it extensively is distracting from driving so we didn’t play around too much.

But, if you’re looking for a modern SUV with a voice assistant like Google or Apple, this is the one. It has a dashboard characterised by a 12.3-inch wide screen that is really simple to use. It only kinda gets tricky because there are three ways to control it: touchscreen, centre console, and via the tiny touch pad on the steering wheel. The digital cockpit is also very modern and lets you customise it easily via the tiny touch pad on the wheel. When I chose map view, all I got was arrows though, I much prefer the actual map being projected. You can also get cameras to help with going forward or reversing in tight corners, etc, and providing a 360-degree view of the car from the top.

At the launch event, we went through the new 4×4 course at Zwartkops that was comprehensive, covering so many different off-road ‘tracks’, including wading through water. It got fairly technical but the GLE proved capable. We also went through a dynamic range, although it could have been for a longer stretch (LOL), but the vehicle was so comfortable to drive on the uneven paths, and smooth on tar. Thereafter, we hit the roads around Gauteng in the afternoon, sitting in a little bit of traffic, which wasn’t too bad inside a GLE.

From a lifestyle point of view, it’s got some nifty features, though I did wish I could have played with it for longer, such as cooling your water while it’s in the cup holder (or, heat them); and the ability to choose your height and the car seat adjusts to suit your body for maximum levels of comfort. The USB ports are all the new USB-C ones, which I don’t understand because that’s the port we need going INTO our devices, so I couldn’t charge my phone with my regular cable. Boo. There are several USB-C ports but you’d need an adapter to use it.

I drove with Marcé from Stuff magazine and she has edited a video from the launch event, which features me doing the driving. 

The thing about driving a Mercedes is that you know it’s the same luxurious experience throughout. All the models look almost the same inside, ie. the dashboard etc. It’s just that the ones that go up have different trims etc. Driving an entry level version doesn’t necessarily feel like the one with the cheapest parts. I enjoyed driving the 400d and 450 petrol 4Matic the most, with the latter being my favourite. If you have a big family, this is definitely a car to consider. I know my sister is reading this too, as she drives a previous-gen GLE and who knows, this could very well be an upgrade.

GLE 300d – R1 210 500
GLE 400d – R1 351 200
GLE 450 – R1 329 400