Road Trip in a Mercedes GLE: Boys will be boys
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ROB COX HAS A HEART TO HEART WITH A MERCEDES GLE 450 COUPE
My first Mercedes crush was the 1979 Mercedes-Benz SL roadster. I was about 5 or 6 and would watch the TV series Hart to Hart. I loved the show’s intro which showed the couple cruising the coastline in Mrs Hart’s convertible. Over the past 30-something years, that was the closest I got to a Mercedes ... until now.
Picking up a new Mercedes-Benz for a road trip, I was surprised when I saw my loan vehicle was the GLE 450 Coupe. I had an image of what a Merc looks like — long, low and statesman-like. The GLE 450 Coupe didn’t match any of that.
My first thought: This doesn’t look like a Mercedes and bloody hell this car is big. My second thought: Can I have the keys please?
As Mercedes-Benz New Zealand’s Matt Bruce explained the ins and outs of the vehicle, I have to admit I was distracted ... all I wanted to do was admire the car. Its side-on profile was sensational, looking more like an American muscle car the more I looked at it. My 12-year-old boys were going to be super impressed.
Priced from $153,000, my GLE 450 had a 3-litre, V6 engine, plus 4Matic (Mercedes’ term for four-wheel-drive) and a huge host of standard features.
With the engine producing 270kW of power and 520Nm of torque, it went from 0-100km/h in 5.7 seconds.
I eased it out of the yard, slowly turned into the traffic and then cautiously headed on to the motorway on-ramp ... and then floored it!
The grin didn’t leave my face for about four days.
I parked the car at work, cursing the narrow spaces. In the dark underground carpark, the lights came on with a lit-up strip of typography across the foot rail saying “Mercedes”. Just a little thing ... but it looked fantastic.
I was keen to get this car home and take my boys and my father-in-law, Pat, for a spin. Pat is a keen car enthusiast and sat in the passenger seat poring over the media sheet data about the vehicle. My boys loved it, saying it felt like being on a Top Gear show.
Pat and the boys stayed in the carpark while I went to buy groceries. This is what they discovered:
1) You can stick your head out the roof.
2) The passenger seat belt tightens slightly when you turn the car on.
3) It smells nice.
4) The boot pops up and down by pressing a button which is apparently awesome.
Next morning I took the boys to school. The kids thought it would be a good idea to put the car in sport plus mode. What happened next was remarkable. The giant computer screen on the dash popped up a 3D model of the car showing the mechanics reshape from cruise to sport plus, kind of like a transformer. Then the car began to roar. I’m not joking, we felt like we were in a V8 supercar. Driving became super fun and, as I took my foot off the brake nearing a roundabout, the beast started backfiring, much to the joy of Johnny and Flynn. Needless to say, the boys thought it was the best all-time school drop-off.
But the point of this test drive was to take the car up north for a weekend retreat without the kids. (There was even room for my golf clubs in the boot.)
We headed away from Auckland, using cruise mode which sounded incredibly quiet compared with what the boys and I had experienced. It was like a different vehicle.
Now the new Mercs have a heap of safety features, such as having a mouse and touch pad between the front seats to avoid having to move your body to touch the screen on the dash. These devices are there to save lives but what happened next was like something out of The Terminator.
My wife, Kate, asked where some options were so I momentarily leaned over to look across the dash and accidentally veered the car toward the white lane lines on the tarmac. The car nudged the steering wheel back on course while I was still holding it ... It saved me, basically. Spooky.
And then there was cruise control ... not only does the car automatically slow to the speed of the car in front at the distance you set but if you take your hand off the steering wheel it will steer the car for you, following the line and curves of the road ahead, so basically I was sitting there hands off the wheel, feet off the pedals, letting the car drive itself. I remember the Hoff had a similar experience driving KITT.
We took some great photos but I noticed the car didn’t look as big in them as it was in reality. I think that’s because everything is in proportion. So when you look at the photos, remember those are 22-inch wheels and it may give you a better perspective of size.
The design was impressive. It felt like a sports car inside, but sprinkled in Merc glitter. When I hopped back in my car I realised how tinny and plastic my interior felt and sounded compared with the GLE 450, plus how much less safe my car felt.
One thing that caught me by surprise was my wife’s comment. I had switched to sport plus mode and was racing round the countryside explaining loudly over the roar of the engine to Kate why she was experiencing a similar feel to off-road rallying.
“This car is changing you.” she said.
How embarrassing, I was having a Hart to Hart moment.