Eric Tipan / Eric Tipan | November 03, 2017 10:25
An SUV endurance road trip with the Mercedes-Benz SUV lineup
Rappelling face down off a cliff or joining American Ninja Warrior qualifies as an adventure to many, but so is sipping mojitos on a beach all Saturday for someone chained to a desk for 50 hours a week.
We’ll all take it however we can get it – during the course of a weekend, maybe in an overnight jaunt or even while going for a drive.
Mercedes-Benz reveals its adventurous personality with a year-old series of mind-blowingly enjoyable pocket events called the SUV Endurance Road Trip that wraps all of the above – everything from simple food tripping, road biking and even jogging to edgy stuff like rock climbing and whitewater rafting – in one insanely fun package.
It’s never ‘one size fits all’ but more ‘different folks, different strokes’ and nothing exemplifies it more than the automaker’s inimitable lineup of SUVs.
For those who don’t speak Mercedes, the GL-Class takes after the marque’s granddaddy of trucks, the G-Class (G stands for Geländewagen, which is German for off-road vehicle).
A total of 29 test units, from the GLA, GLC, GLE, GLS (the last letter represents its equivalent in the sedan range) and even the G, were made available to members of the media from across the region during the two-day event in Kota Kinabalu (KK), Malaysia.
Day 1 involved picking up the unit from the Mercedes-Benz showroom in Kota Kinabalu right after the presentation of the locally assembled GLC-200 by Mark Raine, Vice-President of Sales and Marketing for Passenger Cars, Mercedes-Benz Malaysia.
During the launch, Mark highlighted the three key qualities found in the DNA of all GL-Class models – Endurance, Precision and Adrenaline – offered in various levels of appointment and performance, from the newly launched compact crossover GLA to the compact SUV GLC, the mid-size SUV GLE, all the way to the full-size luxury SUV GLS.
“The premium Mercedes-Benz SUV line-up redefines the standard of the luxury SUV segment. With our SUVs, we offer our customers the comfort and luxury you would expect from any Mercedes-Benz by providing unrivalled interior value perception. This is coupled with not only striking and exciting exterior design, but also the spirit of endurance, precision and adrenalin. Combining ultimate driving comfort, dynamic handling and great agility, our SUVs are here to allow our customers to conquer every ground,” said Mark.
To Shangri-la Rasa Ria
Our first drive was in the GLE 400 4matic from the showroom in Kota Kinabalu to Shangri-La's Rasa Ria Resort & Spa, some 33 kilometers north of Sabah State in Borneo island.
We ran right smack into Monday afternoon rush hour traffic, which made the first part somewhat uneventful considering we had a 3.0L V6 with 245 HP and 480 Nm of torque at our disposal.
Good thing Waze found us a less congested and longer way for some real-feel of all that power via its 7G-tronic Plus transmission.
As a four-wheel drive unit, the GLE isn’t as hyper as its compact siblings but makes up for it with a stately drive and high level of comfort even in KK’s twisty provincial roads, some of which were in less than perfect condition.
Testing the Dynamic Select drive system would have been awesome but since we were driving on plain old asphalt, it would be overkill to switch between the five other settings to tweak the suspension and engine output.
Seats are luxuriously bolstered and come with a generous number of buttons to electronically adjust the seat and even the headrest.
Plus, it comes with E-Class worthy cabin space that will make you feel absolutely pampered, no matter the trip.
To Mount Kinabalu
Drawing lots landed us the AMG GLC 43 the next day and the weather, which they say was highly unpredictable in Mount Kinabalu, was nothing but sunny.
The first part of the 69-kilometer drive to the Mount Kinabalu National Park was at sea level and with an early start, it gave me a chance to get ahead of traffic and stretch our steed’s proverbial legs.
To be in control of a 3.0L twin-turbo V6 (367 HP and 520 Nm of torque) with a four-wheel drive layout (4matic) that deliver engine notes like an orchestra is absolutely downright thrilling.
Left to its own devices, the 9G-Tronic transmission takes a split second longer to downshift during overtaking, which was okay on the flat straightaways.
There’s less time to pass on the drive up the mountain with all the blind curves and oncoming traffic so I had to do it manually via the paddle shifters, which was actually more satisfying.
The adaptive suspension can be tuned for either Sports or Sports+ and although it adapts to further enhance its already superb mechanical grip, the heft and height of the unit still gives it a hint of body roll around tight and twisty curves.
Interior appointments work on a C-Class foundation but with an intense AMG implementation starting with the dark red contrast stitching, heavily bolstered seats, sporty steering wheel and the AMG badge on the instrumentation panel. I may have just stated it all too plainly but, these enhancements serve to heighten the excitement level even before you press the Start/Stop button.
Insulation from Noise, Vibration and Harshness is very impressive. It does reduce beautiful music from the AMG sports exhaust system but better that than hearing and feeling outside elements from traffic and bumps on the road.
Our destination was at some 1,500 meters above sea level and with the temperature was already at a brisk 18-degrees Celsius, conditions were perfect for the 2-kilometer trek up and around the national park.
At this elevation, oxygen in the air is thinner and the first 200-meter climb composed of tall, steep steps will definitely change the way you inhale and exhale.
The mountain teemed with all manner of flora but best to watch your step as the pure dirt trail was uneven and peppered with roots, moss, pebbles and rocks, and the other side, in some parts, were steep cliffs.
Bridges over several mountain streams along the path certainly livened up the scenery along the way and it somehow helped in acclimating me for the altitude trek.
Local tour guides jokingly warned us of the local fauna – snakes, etc – but it seemed like the only thing to be worried about was losing your way as it was easy to lose voices in the thick forest if you go too far ahead or get left behind.
Soon, we were doing as the event intended, trail running and exploring various routes, in groups of course just to be on the safe side.
Adventure comes in many forms, shapes and sizes but the best ones are the type that come when you least expect it.
Mark was on the ball about the three qualities of Mercedes-Benz SUVs and driving a couple of units over three days showed me why.
From the 1.6L turbo of the GLA all the way to the 5.5L V8 Bi-turbo on the AMG GLS, the German automaker has something for everyone. Just find out what your heart desires and choose your own adventure.
Muddy and exhausted after trekking for several hours, the otherwise dull and sleepy downhill drive became another rousing experience with the pouring rain bringing visibility down to almost zero and washing top soil off the mountain face making the roads slick and slippery.
Another challenge-turned-adventure scenario thanks to driving dynamics and safety technology that gave me confidence behind the wheel.
The adrenaline rush guarantees you’ll be on your toes, endurance for those uncertain driving conditions and precision, in handling keeps you safe, in craftsmanship leaves you satisfied.