Mercedes GLK — Really the "Mercedes-Benz" of small luxury crossovers

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Mercedes-Benz has brought its class act to the compact luxury crossover segment. The German automaker is late to the party, but its entry — the 2010 GLK350 — is enticing from styling to build quality to abundant features, and that’s good.

Not so good are reports that shoppers have been put off by its price. Base is $34,775 for the rear-wheel drive model and $36,775 for the all- wheel drive (known in M-B parlance as 4Matic). These prices are competitive with the likes of the BMW X3, Acura RDX and the Volvo XC60.

The problem seems to have been a misjudgment by Mercedes months ago when it decided to bring many option-loaded high-end vehicles into dealer showrooms. Would-be buyers jumped when they saw a 35 grand GLK advertised. But once in the showroom, they were faced with prices ranging from 40 grand upward toward 50 big ones.

A prime example was our 4Matic test vehicle, which carried a bottom line of $46,345. Options included a premium package and a multimedia package together totaling $6,500.

To combat this unexpected buyer pushback, Mercedes has advertised a low interest rate, and has unbundled some popular options such as a sunroof, which can now be had for $1,450.

All this being said the GLK has started its first year of existence like gangbusters. Sales, according to Automotive News statistics, are through the roof when compared to its chief competitors. During the first eight months of 2009, GLK had 14,457 units sold. This is an impressive number when compared to the established Acura RDX at 6,223 sales and the BMW X3 at 4,098. The Mercedes also outsold the new Audi Q5 (8,220) and the Infiniti EX35 (5,296).

Perhaps people have gotten the same impression we got after a week behind the wheel — despite the price (however high) you get what you pay for. 

The GLK feels and drives like its worth every cent spent at the time of purchase.
This is one Mercedes-Benz that lives up to the brand’s reputation.

Since smaller seems to be in vogue these days, Mercedes has captured the small luxury crossover sweet spot. Small, in this case, does not mean uncomfortable although the GLK is actually four inches shorter than its C-Class platform mate, and a far cry from its large, boxy GL sport utility namesake. While the GL and the GLK are both sporty and utilities they are thankfully nothing alike.

Those in the front seats have ample stretch-out room, and the driver will have no problem finding the right position through the use of the door-mounted power seat controls. (We have for two decades thought the Mercedes controls — which mimic the shape of a seat — were the best in the business. Unfortunately, in most vehicles the controls are out of sight on the side of the seat).
Rear-seat passengers have ample leg room and decent head room. But like most small vehicles three across is extremely tight.

With such a crowded field of players, we believe that for many buyers not wedded to one brand, styling plays an important role. The huge Mercedes tri-star emblem on the grille leaves no mistake in anyone’s rear view mirror that they are being followed by a Mercedes- Benz. The huge Mercedes tri-star emblem on the grille leaves no mistake in anyone’s rear view mirror that they are being followed by a Mercedes- Benz. And the Mercedes features a more SUV-like appearance than some. It avoids the swoopy look with a more upright demeanor, an indestructible solid-as-a- rock kind of appearance people will associate with a sports utility. The standard 19-inch wheels help with the muscular go-anywhere- including-far-off-road image.

While we weren’t wowed by the exterior styling, we could certainly live with it considering the vehicle’s many standout attributes.

One of those is solid performance thanks to the only engine available to North American customers, a 3.5-liter V-6 making 268 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. If you want to be entertained, the V-6 will oblige with 0-to-60 times less than seven seconds. And the GLK proved quite adept at merging and passing. We can attribute some of this performance to M-B’s seven-speed automatic transmission.

There is a downside that even the sophisticated, modern transmission can’t cure; mileage is measured in a disappointing 16 mpg city and 21 highway with 4Matic. Rear-wheel drive only improves highway mileage by a single mpg.

We would like to see Mercedes bring its outstanding Bluetec diesel engine to these shores, giving buyers the same fuel-efficient option as afforded the Europeans.

Beyond speed, the GLK will tow up to 3,500 pounds, enough for jet skis or a small boat.
And we understand the GLK can quite adequately conquer minor off-road excursions, but there is no low range gearing. Torque is continually split 45/55 making the GLK more of a bad-weather friend than a serious off-road companion.

We found the ride very much to our liking. Mercedes employs something it calls “agility control” suspension, which uses dampers to firm up the suspension at high speeds for less body roll and softens the ride at lower speeds to make around-town cruising more comfortable.

Some of the GLK’s luxury feel comes courtesy of a quiet interior. The sound of silence lends to the sound of luxury. It doesn’t hurt that the cabin is well crafted with high-quality materials and a high level of fit and finish not seen in many vehicles.

Switchgear is generally easy to use, gauges are neatly designed. And — at least in the case of the GLK — Mercedes has simplified the optional COMMAND system so that most functions can be utilized without studying the owner’s manual.
We were impressed by the standard M-B Tex vinyl upholstery, which has a nice feel and looks startlingly like leather. It’s good enough to avoid purchasing the $1,750 optional leather package.

Pricey options can mount up. Another option on our test car that we could do without is the $660 brushed aluminum running boards. They seemed to be more in the way than they helped.

We would probably go with the $3,350 multimedia package, also found on our test car, because we are suckers for the listening quality that a good surround sound system brings to the cabin. The package also includes navigation, a six gigabit hard drive, and a back-up camera. Navigation can be purchased as stand alone for $1,800, but the Harman/ Kardon audio system comes only as part of the bundle.

Our all-wheel drive test vehicle carried a base price of $36,775 and a bottom line with options of $46,345.

If you’ve got the disposable income and don’t mind the gas mileage, the new Mercedes might just be your ticket when shopping smaller luxury sport crossover/utilities.

Base price: $34,775; as driven, $46,345
Engine: 3.5-liter V-6
Horsepower: 268 @ 6,000 rpm
Torque: 258 foot-pounds @ 2,400 rpm
Drive: all-wheel
Transmission: 7-speed automatic
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 108.5 inches
Length: 178.2 inches
Curb weight: 4,036 pounds
Turning circle: 37.7 feet
Luggage capacity: 23.3 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: 55 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 17.4 gallons (premium)
EPA rating: 21 mpg highway, 16 mpg city
0-60: 6.5 seconds (manufacturer)
Also consider: BMW X3, Acura RDX, Volvo XC60, Infiniti EX35

The Good:
• Solid, luxury feel
• Well-crafted cabin
• Solid SUV performance

The Bad:
• Gas mileage is disappointing

The Ugly:
• Pricier than many competitors