DRIVEN: New Mercedes-Benz CLE and E-Class are superb road trip companions

Published Jun 19, 2024


Waking up early on a public holiday Monday morning at the end of a long weekend isn’t exactly when most people would decide to embark on a road trip, but the idea of driving the new Mercedes-Benz CLE and E-Class models down to KZN would certainly make it worthwhile.

Arriving at Mercedes-Benz’s Bedfordview dealership, a selection of perfectly prepared cars stood on the shop floor, as though they were awaiting collection by customers.

The CLE and E-Class share similarities, in that the sleek and stylish CLE replaces what was previously the C-Class and E-Class coupé models. As a result, the CLE aims to be more luxurious than the C-Class, while remaining sportier than the E-Class.

Size apparently does matter, and in this case, the CLE’s wheelbase measures 4,850mm, making it identical to its current C-Class sedan sibling. The CLE also benefits from 100mm more head room, 19mm more shoulder and elbow room, and 72mm more knee room for rear passengers.

These figures wouldn’t matter much in our case, however as we’d be in pairs, but what would be important is the boot capacity, and although we don’t have an actual measurement in litres, luggage for two for an overnight shot’ left to the warm and buzzing Umhlanga would be swallowed quite comfortably by the CLE’s boot.

Being an early public holiday morning in Johannesburg, there was hardly any traffic as we set off on the N3.

Mercedes-Benz E-Class Sedan. Picture: Mpho Mahlangu.

I opted to begin my first stint in the executive E-Class in E 220d guise, which I believe is a superb recipe for a long trek. Under the bonnet is a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged oil-burner with 48V mild-hybrid technology providing 145kW and 440Nm of torque, with a buttery smooth 9-speed automatic.

The journey was made more relaxing thanks to the suite of advanced driver assistance systems, which include adaptive cruise control, essentially removing a great deal of driving strain out of a long trek.

Jumping into the rear seats proved to be quite impressive thanks to the levels of leg, knee and head room. Rear passengers are also treated to two-zone climate control, and USB C ports for added comfort and convenience.

Entertainment in the E-Class was made possible thanks to Mercedes’ trio of large digital screens, with the optional Super screen being the party piece, adding the third digital screen in front of the front passenger on the dashboard.

Passengers can control various vehicle functions from this screen, however, interestingly, this screen is not dimmed for viewing by the driver and proved to be quite distracting from the driver’s seat.

The E-Class cabin has no shortage of screen real estate. Picture: Mpho Mahlangu

Our road trip would take us along the N3 for a rather uneventful almost two hours before taking an off-ramp, which would see us heading into the small town of Frankfort.

The lengthy (and pricey) convoy of vehicles could easily have fooled locals in the small town into believing that very important state officials were due for an important caucus in their town.

Speaking of pricing, the E-Class is available in South Africa in two flavours: an E 200 starting from R1,344,750 and an E 220d priced from R1,430,550, whereas the CLE coupé is on offer in CLE 200 guise, priced from R1,355,350 and the CLE 300 4MATIC is priced from R1,430,650.

After a coffee and cheesecake pitstop, we set off again but this time detouring towards Clarens. The E 220d, even riding on large alloy wheels and low-profile tyres, offered a great deal of comfort on not so savoury road conditions as we drove to the picturesque town of Clarens for lunch.

It's breathtaking driving through the Golden Gate Highlands National Park, which is surrounded by the most stunning views of mountains all around. Road trips such as these remind one of how gorgeous our country’s landscape really is.

After a short comfort break and photo opportunity, it was time to swap vehicles and hop into the sleek and sporty CLE 300.

New Mercedes-Benz CLE Coupe. Picture: Mpho Mahlangu.

On offer here is a turbocharged 2.0-litre petrol engine which produces 190kW and 400Nm of torque, whereas the CLE 200 offers 150kW and 320Nm of torque. Both models offer an additional electric boost of 17kW and 205Nm of torque.

The route we’d be taking would be quite engaging and perfect for the CLE as it offered several twists and turns, making for an ideal opportunity to see how it handles spirited driving and it certainly exceeded expectations.

The power on offer was ideal to make for an engaging driving experience, and with the added safety element of the 4MATIC system, driver confidence was at a high.

The new seats designed exclusively for the CLE also offered good support for spirited driving. However, the meatier AMG derivatives of the CLE are certainly something to look forward to if their power figures and technology are anything to go by.

The rest of the trek down South would see us eventually returning onto the N3 where my driving partner and I chuckled at the heavy visible congestion heading back to Gauteng. Add a string of trucks to the mix, and it’s safe to say that many people may not have been too happy to be driving in that direction.

Having done a fair bit of driving, I hopped out of the driver’s seat and afforded my driving partner an opportunity to take over driving duties while I took to the passenger seat to ensure that the road trip tunes kept banging, with the occasional power nap in between.

As we munched the miles, progress was looking good and we were well on track to make it to King Shaka International Airport for my flight, with time to spare, despite heavy congestion in Pietermaritzburg thanks to you guessed it ... roadworks.

After almost 12 hours after the day began in Joburg, I arrived at the airport, and was rather pleased at the chariot that was the CLE 300.

It, along with the E-Class, were superb road trip companions and if you were to ask me which would be my pick, I’d have a hard time selecting which one.

We’ll be extensively testing both models in the months to follow though so stick around to read which our overall choice would be.

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