Thumbs Up: Stylish, comfortable and solidly built.
Thumbs Down: Quirky controls, unreadable 160 mph speedometer.
Buy This Car If: You’re shopping for a compact luxury crossover with a just-right blend of size and amenities.
The romantic notion of the SUV is this: buy one, and you and your family will be taking trips through the jungles of South America, or perhaps spending weekends exploring ghost towns in the Colorado Rockies. The reality, however, seldom plays out that way, with most SUVs reserved for hauling the kids to and from soccer practice, retrieving groceries or picking up dry cleaning. In fact, the harshest conditions most ever encounter are snow-packed roads or gravel parking lots.
That’s why a an SUV (or crossover) like the Mercedes-Benz GLK350 makes far more sense for modern life than one like the Mercedes-Benz G-Class. The GLK can get you where you need to go, in supreme comfort and with the expected Teutonic build quality, regardless of what Mother Nature is serving up. No, we wouldn’t attempt the Rubicon Trail in one, but few drivers will ever tackle this regardless of ride choice.
Launched in the United States in 2010, the 2013 Mercedes Benz GLK already sees a few key updates in the middle of its product cycle. In addition to slightly revised interior and exterior styling, GLK350 models (like our Mercedes-Benz-supplied example) get both more power and improved fuel efficiency from the 3.5-liter V-6. In early 2013, Mercedes-Benz will launch a 2.1-liter turbodiesel variant, the GLK250 Bluetec, which promises to deliver class-leading fuel economy.
Outside, the changes between the previous GLK’s styling and the new model are subtle but noticeable. Up front, reshaped headlights flow better into the front fenders, while the lower front fascia is slightly restyled, giving the new GLK a more distinctive look than the model it replaces.
Aside from the shape of the headlights, we’d be hard-pressed to call out any styling differences in profile between last year’s GLK and the current model. That’s fine by us, as the GLK serves up a rugged and contemporary look that makes it among the most attractive compact crossovers on the market today, especially when fitted with the 20-inch, five-spoke AMG wheels (part of the $1,990 AMG Styling Package).
Rear styling gets the biggest revision for 2013, most noticeable in the new tail lights, reflectors, and restyled rear fascia. Exhaust outlets are lager, too, and better integrated into the faux-rear-skid plate. For Mercedes, we suppose the styling updates were carefully chosen to progress the GLK’s lines without alienating buyers of 2012 and earlier models.
The biggest changes to the 2013 Mercedes-Benz GLK come inside the cable, where last year’s stark and angular wood and chrome trim are replaced by an expanse of high-gloss Burl Walnut trim. Last year’s bargain-bin HVAC vents are replaced by elegant, chrome-trimmed circular vents, giving the cabin a more upscale feel. The same goes for the new steering wheel and instrumentation, too.
Speaking of instruments, they’re our one complaint with the GLK. For some reason, Mercedes saw fit to give the crossover a 160 mile-per-hour speedometer, yet we’re fairly certain the GLK won’t come close to this velocity. As a result, it’s necessary to display the current speed on the driver information display, as the sweeping needle and cluttered numbers make acquiring an accurate speed reading difficult.
Then there’s the Mercedes-Benz gear selector, which isn’t exactly intuitive to those accustomed to other brands. In fact, we found ourselves shifting from Drive to Neutral when trying to activate the wipers on more than one occasion. Then there’s the cruise control, which (like Porsche) is located on a semi-hidden stalk, instead of on the steering wheel. None of these are deal-breakers, but bear in mind a GLK will take some getting used to if you’re stepping up from a competitive brand.
The front seats, on the other hand, take no getting used to whatsoever. As you’d expect, they’re comfortable for the long haul, and eight-way power adjustable. While the standard covering is synthetic MB Tex, our press-fleet loaner came with the Leather Package for added comfort and a seat memory setting for the passenger as well as the driver. Oddly enough, heated front seats are a $750 stand-alone option.
The rear seat delivers plenty of headroom and a reasonable amount of legroom, but shoulder room is somewhat limited. Two adults, even two large adults, will fit without issue, but three won’t be happy for very long. While the second row folds flat for added cargo-hauling flexibility, the GLK delivers less cargo room than others in the class, so take that into consideration when shopping.
Under the hood is an updated version of Mercedes-Benz’s 3.5-liter V-6, now tuned to produce 302 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque and mated to a seven-speed automatic transmission. That produces enthusiastic acceleration, with the run from 0-60 mph taking less than 6.5 seconds, with absolutely no wheelspin thanks to the sure-footed traction of Mercedes’ 4Matic all-wheel-drive system. In “Sport” mode, throttle response can be a bit harsh, especially just off-idle. If you’re hauling more sensitive passengers around, you’ll probably want to keep the throttle setting in “Economy” mode, which still delivers decent throttle response. The EPA says to expect 19 mpg city and 24 mpg highway on 4Matic models, while rear-drive GLKs deliver one more mpg on the highway. We saw an indicated 23.6 mpg in mostly-highway driving.
On the road, the GLK350 serves up all you’d expect from a Mercedes-Benz, with very few surprises. Ride quality is very good over any surface, yet the tall crossover never feels sloppy in corners. Sure, there’s understeer at the limit and body roll when pushed hard in corners, but less than you’d expect there to be. Shifts are quick, especially via the steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters, but the GLK is more about motoring in comfort than it is about strafing apexes. It’s got some entertainment value, to be sure, but never loses sight of it’s uber-safe grocery-getter role. If you’re in the market for a luxury two-row crossover, we say it’s definitely worth shopping as long as it’s big enough to meet your needs and expectations. Beware of piling on the options, however, as the least expensive crossover in the Mercedes-Benz lineup can still top the $55,000 price point if you go heavy on packages and add-ons.
Mercedes-Benz supplied the 2013 GLK350 for our evaluation. The base price on our 4Matic-equipped model was $39,965, including a destination charge of $875, and options included the $3,450 Premium 1 Package (auto dimming mirrors; driver’s seat memory; power adjustable steering column; power liftgate; iPod / MP3 player interface; Sirius XM satellite radio; panorama sunroof; 115v AC power outlet; garage door opener; rearview mirror compass), the $2,100 Leather Package (full leather seating; front passenger seat memory; comfort headrests; ambient lighting), the $2,790 Multimedia Package (rearview camera; enhanced voice control; COMAND infotainment system with hard-drive based navigation), the $1,990 AMG Styling Package (AMG body styling; AMG LED running lights; aluminum roof rails; 20-inch five-spoke AMG wheels), the $2,950 Driver Assistance Package (DISTRONIC PLUS adaptive cruise control; PRE-SAFE brakes; Brake Assist Plus; blind spot detection, lane keeping assist), the $750 Heated Front Seats and the $650 Keyless-Go, for a total sticker price of $54,645.
For comparison, a similarly-equipped BMW X3 xDrive35i would list for $55,895, while a comparable Lexus RX350 would sticker for $53,430.