DRIVEN: Mercedes GLE gobbles up the miles in great comfort

Published Feb 17, 2024


A couple of weeks ago we drove the updated Mercedes-Benz GLC Coupe and came away quite impressed with the overall package.

Trouble is it was in and around Cape Town and all the traffic issues associated with a city that’s bursting out of its seams as those lucky enough to be able to move there away from the rest of the country’s failing and dysfunctional municipalities, clog the streets.

We hardly had an opportunity to stretch the legs of the GLC as we threaded our way around the peninsula mostly between third and fourth gear.

This was in stark contrast to our experience in George where we climbed in behind the wheel of its bigger sibling, the Mercedes-Benz GLE and GLE Coupe.

The GLE started the SUV craze in 1997 with what they then called the ML, seen for the first time in the film Jurassic Park.

Merc changed the M prefix to G in deference to the iconic G-Wagon to distinguish it as their SUV offering and the rest is history.

The GLE has now received a bit of an update both on the exterior and the interior as well as under the hood.

The front end receives a new bumper, two horizontal louvres with chrome inserts run through the radiator grille, new Mercedes-Benz daytime running light signets and the grille of the outer air intake gets a horizontal chrome finish.

The front changes make it quite a looker and although large and imposing, I found the rear of the GLE looks a bit clumsy compared to its Coupe sibling that gets the AMG Line exterior as standard.

Merc’s new steering wheel with sensor surfaces on the horizontal spokes adorns the interior. It’s still a bit finicky but the touchpad is still there as well as a volume control button.

The second generation of the MBUX infotainment system has been installed, completing the almost fully digital cockpit.

In the GLC I found the front space a bit claustrophobic, especially on the passenger side but there’s none of that in the GLE with lots of space for me as well as my driving partner who stands a good head taller than me.

Its trump card however, especially in 450 guise, is the inline six-cylinder turbocharged diesel engine combined with mild hybrid 48-volt technology with an Integrated Starter Generator.

It gets a bit complicated when it comes to the different engine options, but bear with us.

The 450d 4MATIC and the Coupe are good for 270kW and 750Nm while the 450 4MATIC has 280kW and 500Nm.

There’s also a GLE 300d with a 2.0-litre four cylinder turbo-diesel pushing out 198kW and 550Nm.

The hybrid technology adds 15kW and 200Nm in all engine variations.

All of them are paired to an automatic nine-speed gearbox driving the rubber on all four corners.

Heading out of George towards Hartenbos on the N2 in the 450 4MATIC I was immediately struck by how comfortable the interior was with super-supportive seats, large swathes of leather and soft touch surfaces.

Once you’ve adjusted the seats and steering wheel to your liking it certainly feels as though you could spend many hours there without having to move around to find a comfortable position after a few hours.

It’s not shy to hussle along either and you’ll quickly have to back down if your right foot becomes a bit heavy.

It was on the Robinson Pass between Hartenbos and Oudtshoorn that the GLE really impressed with its ability to tackle sharp corners with minimal fuss. My driving partner who is more used to 4x4s and double cabs was a bit nervous at first but the big SUV held its line well.

There’s virtually no body roll and the suspension, chassis and gearbox combine well to provide an even keel throughout.

From Oudtshoorn to our lunch venue and then back to George Airport we drove the GLE 300d.

The engine sounds a little harsher than the smooth six on start up but the interior is just as premium and comfortable.

Once we had left the confines of the town and hit the open road, the handling characteristics felt completely different.

It didn’t have the same poise as its bigger sibling and didn’t feel as solidly planted either.

Perhaps the lighter engine could have had something to do with it but I wasn’t completely convinced because I’ve driven a couple of Merc’s products with smaller engines and didn’t have a similar issue.

When we stopped and had a closer look it turns out that it was fitted with Continental tyres and the 450 with Michelin rubber.

After some consultation with colleagues we surmised that it was likely the reason and that tyre pressure also played a part.

I’d like to relook at it when we get a test unit later to see if we reach a different conclusion.

As you would expect there’s a list as long as your forearm when it comes to safety features ensuring that you’re well cocooned when things go awry.

Here’s the thing though.

Starting at very close to R2-million it’s a lot of money and when you’re shopping in that market there are many alternatives vying for your attention.

Still, the Mercedes-Benz GLE line provides a very decent package with everything you expect and then some from a premium SUV.

It comes with a two year unlimited kilometre warranty and a five year 100 000km maintenance plan.

Mercedes-Benz GLE Pricing (February 2024)

GLE 300 d 4MATIC: R1,964,600

GLE 300 d 4MATIC 7 seater: R1,984,000

GLE 450 4MATIC: R2,075,400

GLE 450 4MATIC 7 seater: R2,094,800

GLE 450 d 4MATIC: R2,041,500

GLE 450 d 4MATIC 7 seater: R2,060,900

GLE 450d 4MATIC Sports Coupe: R2,340,500