Mercedes-Benz GLE 250d & CLA45 AMG: Contrasting Experiences

By Lee Pang Seng

TO CELEBRATE Mercedes-Benz 130 Years of Innovation at Cycle & Carriage Bintang Berhad’s Georgetown Autohaus, Mercedes-Benz Malaysia provided the media a variety of vehicles to drive between KL and Penang over two days. We had the opportunity to do the KL-Penang leg in the newly launched GLE 250d and the return leg in the CLA45 4Matic, and it was a world of contrast in experience.

It must be noted that the drive experience was mostly done along the E1, the highway from the Klang Valley to Penang and back, with some short detours for lunch and rest stops. There were hardly any winding stretches and a few tight curves, but they were more sweepers that could be taken at good speeds.

Getting into the GLE 250d reminded us a fair bit of the previous ML 350 that we drove more than five years ago; perhaps the GLE was a tad lower but the commanding view was something right up our alley. The GLE is a more contemporary vehicle in body styling with improved aerodynamics and signature design touches to be immediately recognised as a member of the current Mercedes-Benz family.

Using the column shift was fine by us, although this gear shift selection wasn’t quite everyone’s cup of tea in the company that we were with. We liked the simplicity in use; just move the shift up or down as per the drive mode required. The lack of a manual shift option is probably the item that some misses and which the more conventional gearshift on central console is provided with.

It was agreed with all on board to select the Sport option that stiffened the suspension damping; this led to some firm thumps over bumps, though not the jolting kind and the harshness of the impact was nicely ironed out to make the ride comfortable for everyone, especially those in the rear.

Powering the GLE 250d is a 2143cc diesel four-cylinder engine with direct injection and turbocharger. It delivers 150kW (204hp) at 3800rpm and humongous torque of 500Nm from 1600rpm to 1800rpm. The transmission is a nine-speed 9G-Tronic automatic transmission. Mercedes-Benz says it will accelerate to 100km/h in 8.6 seconds and a top speed of 212km/h if given the road. The average fuel consumption is given as 5.9-5.7 l/100km (16.9-17.5km/l).

When we took off from KL, the fuel mileage range was more than 600km from what was in the tank and we could easily cover the distance to Penang with more than enough fuel to explore the island if we wished to. At the legal highway speed of 110-120km/h (we were wary about the increased police action against speeding), the engine was running lazily at below 2000rpm, which improved the fuel mileage distance.

One of our members decided to push his luck a little along what he thought were ‘safe’ stretches and the GLE 250d easily picked up the pace to a tad above 160km/h. The engine was hardly stressed at that speed as it was only turning over at 2500rpm. During kickdowns to pass slower vehicles, the higher engine speed was muted, thanks to the good firewall insulation.

Its aerodynamically efficient body was highlighted in the quiet ride as we could hardly hear any wind noise or rustle. The only intrusion was the road roar and its varying pitch over the different road surfaces; this was made all the more noticeable because the interior was so quiet. This appears to be the biggest problem facing car makers in designing their respective vehicles; keeping this road roar to a manageable level.

The rear passengers could even take naps for most of the journey because they were adequately pampered in seat support and the cool air from the vents on the centre console. The window screen that was pulled from the B-pillar helped too as it cut out the glare from the morning sun, adding to the overall comfort. And despite the Sports mode and the harder ride, the GLE 250d gave us a comfortable ride to Penang. The GLE 250d came with Pirelli Scorpion 265/45 R20 tyres on five-spoke alloy wheels.

For the drive to KL the following day, we were allocated the CLA 45 AMG. It was a sportier model with a lot more power packed into a compact frame. This model was introduced in May 2014 and is said to have garnered quite a following here. It is powered by a 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine that is undersquarely configured with 83.0mm bore and 92.0mm stroke to displace 1991cc.

With a high pressure turbocharger system complementing the direct injection fuel feed, the engine churns out 265kW (360hp) of power at 6000rpm and equally beefy torque of 450Nm that develops early at 2250rpm and holds till 5000rpm. It comes with the AMG Speedshift DCT (dual clutch) seven-speed automatic with manual shift mode (steering wheel paddle shifters).

It sprints to 100km/h in 4.6 seconds and its top speed is electronically limited at 250km/h. Fuel-wise, it is said to average 6.9-7.1 1/100km (14-14.4km/l). It must be considered that the CLA 45 AMG is an all-wheel drive and the car is happiest at a gallop, say between 160-200km/h and beyond. There was a bit of turbo lag when we hit the pedal but once it was on song, we were pretty much catching the wind.

It is difficult not to get drunk on power when so much is available via your right foot. And when we selected Sports mode and used the steering wheel paddles to downshift and upshift, we just loved the ‘exploding’ note of the exhaust. It was quite additive but wasn’t too loud as in some cars that have this feature; the decibel was about right and not tiring on the ears.
Not surprisingly, with the gung-ho driving for a large part of the journey, the fuel needle drop quickly. It was at the last quarter mark when we hit Jalan Duta, but there was more than enough fuel in the tank to drive this hot AMG to the Mercedes-Benz headquarters in Menara TM.

The CLA 45 AMG might have run on ‘smaller’ but lower profile tyres, being the Dunlop Sport Maxx 235/35 R19 rubbers, and the ride was understandably firm to measure up to the car’s performance status. During the section of the drive that we were seated at the rear, it was almost quite impossible to catch a nap and we barely caught up with the daily tidings via reading the newspaper.

The AMG Sports suspension means business; the MacPherson strut front suspension is bolstered with stiffer steering knuckles and new elastokinetics, while the four-link rear axle is said to be a new development. Adding to that the specifically tuned spring and damper units and thicker anti-roll bars, the CLA 45 AMG was pretty flat taking the fast and slow sweepers at good speeds.

That means ride had to be sacrificed some and this was felt more at the rear as we virtually felt every road ripple that the car ran over. It could ride the speed bumps quite nicely by absorbing a bit of the harshness but it would be a jolting one because of the stiffness. We were definitely happier sitting in front.

Although the CLA 45 AMG is a smaller car than the GLE 250d in body dimensions, the good aerodynamics and body insulation continued to play a part in keeping the ride on the highway reasonably quiet, even when tearing along at 220km/h. We heard a bit more of the air turbulence but we still didn’t need to raise our voice to communicate. Again, it was the road roar that was most noticeable in the varying pitches over the different road surfaces. However, the noise level was low enough for us to enjoy the music.

The experience may be a contrast somewhat in the thrill of driving these two Mercedes-Benz models and it was just as well as the market clientele for both would differ significantly. Although we consider ourselves to be in the category for the GLE 250d, the CLA 45 AMG certainly gave us that brief moment of reliving our younger days to the fullest, not that we have slowed down much. It’s just that we are more inclined now to slow down and smell the roses along the way.

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