2013 Mercedes-Benz GLK350

MEADOWS OF DAN, Va. —  For 2013, Mercedes-Benz has restyled its GLK350, a luxury sport utility vehicle it brought to the United States when it debuted in 2009 as a 2010 model. Labeled a mid-size SUV, the GLK joined other members of the Mercedes SUV family like the full-size M-Class and the larger GL-Class.

It’s about 10-inches shorter than the M-Class and a few inches shorter than it’s primarily competition in this segment, the Acura RDX, Infiniti EX, Lexus RX, BMW X3, Audi Q5 and the Land Rover LR2. It might be the smallest among the crowd but just like Texas, don’t mess with it.

The 2013 model is not just some slap-dash upgrade — unless one considers nearly 1,000 new parts just a redesign. It sports bolder front and rear bumpers and new headlights. There is no mistaking this as it heads towards you; the iconic Mercedes-Benz star is prominently centered amid the more graceful front grille.  It’s about a half-inch longer and almost an inch lower emphasizing it’s width. An angular hood differentiates it from the softer, more rounded lines of others in its segment.

GLK350’s estimated fuel economy is expected to be improved over the previous model.

Several factors account for the increased fuel-efficiency including a new 3.5-liter V6 engine with direct fuel injection and multi-spark ignition.  It has 302 horsepower, giving it the ability to tow 3,500 pounds. It also produces 273 pound-feet of torque.

During several opportunities to pass on shortened straightaways on mountainous Virginia and West Virginia roads it performed admirably and didn’t cause the angst one might have from performing the same scenario in a less-powerful vehicle. 0-60 time is estimated at 6.4 seconds. Not bad for a 4,079-pound vehicle.

The transmission is a seamless and smooth-shifting seven-speed automatic. In the information booklet Mercedes handed out to the journalists there are about six or more pages dedicated to describing the technical and mechanical facts of the new 3.5L engine. I understood this as much as the average man-on-the-street fully-absorbs the nuances of astrophysics. In other words if there are six pages of minute technology detail…turn your hymnal to page seven.

One fuel-economy enhancement I did understand was the innovative ECO Start/Stop system. When the car stops with the brake pedal depressed, almost without exception the engine is automatically turned off to save fuel. As soon as the driver touches the gas pedal the engine computer decides which piston is in the best position for first ignition and restarts the engine almost instantly.

I’ve driven some of these systems that produce a noticeable jolt when the engine restarts. Though not non-existent, the system Mercedes-Benz uses is barely felt.  (The GLK250 BlueTEC 4MATIC version that is powered by an inline 4-cylinder turbo diesel will be introduced sometime in 2013.)

What I do understand is driving performance, and the 2013 GLK350 strutted its stuff for me at every opportunity. It’s a tremendously comfortable vehicle to drive for long distances and no matter the driving environment it’s solid as a rock. I’m the first to notice body sway and its resultant head toss because of my world-class motion sickness disabilities; in driving around some of the twistiest mountain roads this side of California’s San Gabriel Mountains the new GLK350 takes great pity on sissies like me.

The GLK350 comes standard with Mercedes-Benz’ award-winning 4MATIC permanent all-wheel-drive system. It sits on 19-inch 5-triple-spoke alloy wheels (on all-season tires), and 20-inch tires and wheels are available as part of a $990 appearance package that will also get you aluminum roof rails. 

The ride is solid with no mushy feeling when traversing hilly highways. Front and rear independent suspension help with this and the electromechanical steering enhances road control.

All this technology would be the coolest equipment in the junkyard without the protection of afforded by M-B’s safety and security devices. Standard items include: adaptive brakes featuring HOLD, brake drying, hill start assist and pre-charging; a plethora of airbags; NECK-PRO active front head restraints; Electronic Stability Program w/Trailer-Stability Assist; Brake Assist System; 4-wheel Electronic Traction System (4MATIC); 4-year/50,000 mile warranty; 24-hour roadside assistance; and a host of other features. There’s a Lane Tracking Package ($850) that includes in my opinion the greatest innovation in automobile safety, Blind Sport Assist. It also includes a Lane Keeping Assist which helped my co-driver and I repeatedly and often.

What a Mercedes-Benz is really noted for is luxury interior and the 2013 GLK350 carries the torch. It has an elegant-looking stitched instrument panel, burl walnut wood trim, 8-way power adjustable front seats, new, round air vents, a sturdy, high-quality synthetic leather called M-B Tex (full leather is optional), AM/FM radio with weather band, 6-speaker sound system with auxiliary input, dual-zone automatic climate control with dust filter, a 4.5” color instrument cluster display and host of others too numerous to mention in this review.

There’s a Multimedia Package ($2,790) that includes M-B’s navigation system. Nav systems are one of the most coveted items in a vehicle but I was frankly disappointment in the one found in the GLK350. It didn’t have the amenities and attention to detail like street names and closer-in overview like those found on even lesser-priced vehicles. There are some aspects of it I really found great, like the easily-found repeat function. But basically I think Mercedes engineers should go back to the drawing board and improve this thing considerably.

There’s plenty of room in the front. Even the center-console placement of the shorter-stalk gearshift lever has been returned to the steering column. This opens up the space between the driver and passenger seats immensely. It’s a very comfortable vehicle – unless you’re 6-foot-4 like a colleague who sat in the back seat on the way to the airport. When we stopped half-way back he almost had to be helped out and unfolded.

Base price of a 2013 GLK350 4MATIC is $39,090. But the GLK can be loaded up with options and packages. For instance, the test vehicle we drove (including $875 destination and delivery charges) topped out at $55,440.

I always ask myself whenever I test-drive a vehicle if money were no object would I purchase it. In the case of the GLK350 I would give it a definite “Yes.” Sure, there are things that I wasn’t particularly enamored with. Sometimes I feel the same about myself. But the elephant in the room that must be considered when answering this question is, “It’s a Mercedes-Benz; the best press agent anyone could have.”

— Al Vinikour