12 Passes, 8 Hours and 400 Kilometres | Inspire
12 Passes, 8 Hours and 400 Kilometres
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12 Passes, 8 Hours and 400 Kilometres

If you doubt that the Mercedes-AMG GLE 43 Coupé was engineered for a rough Mpumalanga adventure over gravel, asphalt and potholed tarmac, think again.

At the helm of an SUV shod with 20-inch on-road rubber, no low-range transfer case or even a crawler first gear, it may seem I'm ill-prepared for this off-road baptism of fire. The good news is I'm behind the wheel of Mercedes-AMG's latest 270kW/520Nm twin-turbo V6, with permanent 4MATIC all-wheel drive (AWD) and optional air suspension that adds invaluable ground clearance. In short, I'm about to go as far off the beaten track as you can with a standard-issue, suit-and-tie Mercedes-AMG. The challenge? Twelve of Mpumalanga's most demanding passes in one day – or eight hours, to be precise.

With a sonorous V6 bark every bit as enticing as the Mercedes-AMG C 63's V8, my ride quaffs a mere 8.5L/100km from Johannesburg to the Lowveld starting line of my test – the R539 Sudwala Pass. This is a leisurely stretch of tarmac that resists the urge to push performance thresholds. Soon, however, beyond Mount Carmel Pass, the asphalt turns to smooth dirt – the first test of the fully adjustable air suspension. Even on massive rims, gravel travel is exemplary, but before I can settle in I'm on-road again, this time Montrose Pass heading back towards the N4 highway. 

Past Weltevreden it's time to jump off the thoroughfare and back onto gravel and the rough Wonderkloof Pass. This barren, beige-brown dust-bowl road is strewn with sharp-edged stones posing a constant risk to our low-profile rubber. I have to reduce speed immediately, until Makobulaan Pass that is, which cuts me down to near crawling pace with its washed-out ruts and crevices now threatening the low front spoiler and underbody. I realise that 300km in the remaining time is beginning to look ambitious.

Mercifully, some 3o kays later, a right turn onto the R37 brings me back to glistening tarmac, pushing the GLE 43's nose up-up-up Masjiennek Pass, Koffiehoogte Pass and then the magnificent Long Tom Pass is in the Mercedes-AMG crosshairs. There's time to be made up here... Wooaahhh! The Mercedes-AMG GLE 43 plays it fast and loose with the rules on how a two-ton behemoth should behave at speed. Deliciously oiled steering, the V6's willingness to rev, and the superb nine-speed auto combine to deliver an exemplary on-road drive, while self-levelling, anti-squat and -roll air suspension ensure composed cornering. It's almost a shame to stop at the summit of Long Tom Pass, the highest point of the Great Escarpment, for a photographic moment.

With four hours left and four passes to go, I leave Sabie en route to Graskop, turning right at Wilgerboom onto Klipkraal Pass – a plantation road beaten into submission by logging trucks, and full of malice for the impatient. It's back down to crawling pace, even over the concrete sections with treacherous drop-offs on either side of the narrow tyre tracks. That's before a brief reprieve on the other side of Hazyview in the form of Kiepersol Pass and Bergvlei Pass – both tarmac, both playing to the GLE 43's strengths. Then, with the sun dipping and only an hour to go, it's onto the final test: Bakenkop Pass. Talk about a finale, with steep uphill rutted sections leaving the big AMG's 520Nm in a two-way dogfight with traction and the traction control electronics. 

Made it! Seven and a half hours was cutting it fine, and the rougher sections did fray the nerves a little bit but it was worth every minute – all 450 of them!

Want to take the 12 Passes Mpumalanga Challenge yourself?
Tarmac: Sudwala Pass, Montrose Pass, Masjiennek Pass, Long Tom Pass, Koffiehoogte Pass, Kiepersol Pass and Bergvlei Pass 
Gravel: Mount Carmel Pass, Wonderkloof Pass, Makobulaan Pass, Klipkraal Pass & Bakenkop Pass

Inspired? Book your test drive of the Mercedes-AMG GLE 43 today!

Turn your dream of driving a Mercedes-AMG GLE 43 into reality with Agility Finance from Mercedes-Benz financial services.

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