While this hip-hop edition is unlikely to drive Merc's market share, the SUV exemplifies what the German automaker is best known for: Innovative engineering and, in this particular case, putting a smile on the face, discovers Pavan Lall.
An SUV that dances? What were the engineers at Mercedes-Benz thinking when they conjured up the GLE 400d and infused it with hydraulics that enable the driver to get the whole vehicle to “bounce” as its front and rear wheels move up and down in syncopation?
Turns out that even though the GLE 400d Long Wheelbase is called the “Hip Hop SUV” as an ode to rappers who cruise around in rigs that bob up and down, the underlying reason for the feature is function not form.
Made as a CBU (completely built-up unit) in Arizona, USA, the GLE 400d is styled like most Merc SUVs but with nifty new touches.
The large, three-pointed star on the front grill, multi-beam new headlamps, oversized 20-inch tires and a tall stance give you that I'm-looking-down-at-all-the-cars-around-me feeling.
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 sanitisers 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.
Photographs: Kind Courtesy Mercedes-Benz.
Feature Production: Rajesh Alva/Rediff.com