Tested: 2023 Mercedes-Benz GLE400d 4Matic

I may have mentioned this before but we at NamWheels are on an extremely good wicket with Mercedes-Benz. The German luxury brand is very generous to us, probably due to my dealings with their classic club, certainly because M+Z Motors are our friends, and perhaps even because they love Namibia…

How did I assume that? Well, when it was time for another mixed business-and-pleasure return road trip from the Western Cape to Windhoek, my request to test-drive a new Mercedes-Benz was answered almost immediately. Although we had initial problems with their press fleet offerings, I was absolutely thrilled to receive the keys to this white GLE 400d.

With mid-journey overnight stops in the sleepy hamlet of Kamieskroon, my wee family and I took our sweet time to get going, revelling in the generous amount of space and luxuries that come with the Mercedes GLE. As a direct descent of my wife’s first-generation ML (read my comparison here) we noted similar interior but stretched exterior dimensions.

The first negative I need to point out for my fellow Namibians is that this luxury SUV may have stylish and enormous alloy wheels, but no spare. Nope, not even a “Marie Biscuit”, as we found plenty of extra packing space (and a tyre repair kit) under the 630L boot floor. Drop the 40/20/40 split rear backrests and that grows to over 2000L.

It’s also quite vital that I inform you of our car’s out-dated spec: by the time this article goes live, the new and improved (face-lifted) 167 range will have made its debut; and this 400d model becomes the 450d. It still uses a 3-litre turbo-diesel straight six engine like this one, but its power and torque figures are significantly higher: 285 e-kW versus this one’s 243kW.

That doesn’t mean you should shy away from demo or used stock of this GLE400d, because I quickly got addicted to its hilarious amount of torque and gears: 700Nm and nine butter-smooth automatic ratios. These drive an intelligent 4Matic all-wheel drive system with multiple response modes and most modern driver aids.

My better half was also an instant convert as she took the helm for an early evening stint through the Northern Cape; at speeds which are unfit for publication. This big white Benz hugged the road with calm precision while its turbo-diesel rocket of an engine hummed along economically; or overtook slower vehicles as if they were going backwards!

Thanks to a parking-speed bounce and high-speed bump undulation, I initially thought that our white steed featured intelligent air suspension, but it turns out that even at this level it’s still an optional extra. That also goes, most unfortunately, for any yummy colours or bigger / fancier versions of the roof, seats, lights and media system.

Still, there are people out there who don’t want automatic opening and closing hot water everything, so the “base” version of this car offers a good platform to build your dream SUV. We found the standard sound system more than pleasant, same for media and phone connectivity as well as charging and storage options.

A personal highlight for me was the physical row of climate controls paired with a horizontal media screen; instead of the often-challening vertical tablet in other MB’s. The digital gauge cluster offers an incredible amount of data and display options, while the touch-sensitive steering wheel… umm, needs extra care and practise to master.

As for its 4×4 credentials, I wouldn’t take this vehicle too far off-road – mostly due to the low-profile rubber and expensive paint – but a bit of dirt road driving or sandy adventures shouldn’t be a problem for a new GLE. And before you ask, no, unfortunately you need a GLS or Maybach to do that viral video sand recovery Phonk dance.

If you’re looking for the ultimate long-distance cruiser, I highly recommend a stint behind the wheel of the 4-cylinder GLE300d, as its smaller power plant trades this car’s extra performance for improved fuel efficiency. The 300d’s claimed average consumption is just below 7L/100km, while this 400d/450d alleges 7.6L/100km.

The fuel tank holds a country-crossing 80L.

And as for the overall consumption of our pre-facelift GLE400d, we travelled a total of 3,160km at an average of 10.8L/100km. Before you dismiss that as mediocre, it’s worth noting that the car weighs at least 2.2 tons, we stayed in rather hilly areas of Windhoek (where any car will eat 15 to 20L/100km) and easily averaged 7.5L/100km during steady cruising in the South.

For most people, the worst thing about this powerful and efficient luxury bomber is the starting price of around two million bucks. Interestingly, the smaller GLE300d is not much cheaper, and the new GLE450d is roughly the same price at the moment; in late 2023.

We returned this imposing SUV to the Cape Town press fleet feeling fairly fresh; despite early meetings, hectic social schedules and long distances crammed into roughly a week. But more than that, we felt incredibly grateful for the opportunity – nay, the utter privilege – of using someone else’s luxury vehicle for our trip.

Last but certainly not least, all my Namibian peeps loved this Mercedes-Benz… and it appears that the feeling is mutual.

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