Inside the leather-wrapped GLE, which comes only in diesel in India, the large touchscreen infotainment and trackpad-operated instrument clusters greet you. The seats are temperature controlled and come with massage features. The car is equipped with premium Burmester sound speakers and offers plenty of compartment space for coins, dark glasses, wallets, chargers and, yes, masks and sanitizers too. The gearshift control and dashboard are visibly different from the ones you see in Merc SUVs assembled in Chakan, Pune. The GLE 400d gets a slim, stylish dash trim in wood and chrome that is more tuxedo than cowboy.
The rear seating is spacious with ample legroom, and has full functionality for reclining and air conditioning. And if you get bored looking at the road, punch a button and the sunroof will slide open, allowing for a little blue-sky dreaming.
Once in motion, the GLE 400d picks up speed effortlessly, and in a few seconds I am reminded that I have exceeded the preset 120-km limit. So I slow down and sink into the soft, cushy ride that floats along the road like a mattress on wheels — a perfect car for long drives, family trips and expeditions.
About the SUV’s hip-hop tag. It’s actually a function designed for getting drivers out of sticky situations — slush, sand and such — when off-roading. It’s not exactly the easiest feature to use, which is a good thing because God forbid you have hot coffee or, worse, a baby in the car in the event that you accidentally press the “bounce” button.
Firstly, the car has to be in motion and going no faster than 15 kmph. And then you have to activate the drive system through the drive mode to get the “bounce” going.
Once started, the 48-volt active suspension system lifts and lowers the suspension struts individually — what the company calls Active Body Control. While it feels a little like an aircraft experiencing mild turbulence, the moves attract quite an attention. A guy at the tollway asked me to keep doing it as he started a little jig.
Beyond the nifty party trick, the GLE is powered by a six-cylinder generator that churns out over 300 hp and 700 Nm of torque, which is needed in a car that weighs over 3,000 kg.
While this hip-hop edition is unlikely to drive Merc’s market share, given its price and limited units, the SUV exemplifies what the German automaker is best known for: innovative engineering and, in this particular case, putting a smile on the face. That’s priceless, especially in these times.