The 2010 Mercedes-Benz GLK350 first appeared as a concept at the 2008 North American International Auto Show before debuting as a production vehicle at Auto China in Beijing. Then we were given a taste of the vehicle's off-road prowess during an off-road-only drive. We were excited to spend some time on-road behind the wheel of Mercedes' smallest SUV to see how it stacks up against competitors like the Acura RDX, Audi Q5, BMW X3, Land Rover LR2, and Volvo XC60 in the small luxury SUV/crossover segment.
First, let's take a minute to figure out the role of the GLK: Mercedes set out to build a small SUV that is more akin to a baby G-class than a slightly smaller M-class. The vehicle looks most like a smaller GL-class, but its ability off-road lends some credence to the baby G-class idea. It's a macho vehicle that hits the market just as competitors are trying to convince consumers that an SUV should drive just like a car. This execution is much more interesting than the competitors'.
On the outside, the GLK is very angular and quite masculine. That's a stark contrast to the Audi Q5 and BMW X3, which look more sporty and car-like. Mercedes even makes more of a design statement than Land Rover while boasting better off-road capability. The masculine look of the GLK isn't offensive, and we were told that it will appeal to male and female buyers equally. Exactly how much of the popularity with female buyers is due to the Sex and the City movie can't be determined, but there's no way that product placement will hurt sales of this SUV.
The 19-inch wheels (20-inchers are optional) add to the aggressive look of the GLK and help set it off from the sea of crossovers that the Mercedes will compete with in the showroom. When viewed on the street, the GLK is the perfect size for people who don't require a third row of seats. Bold looks suit the GLK especially well in Europe, where the available off-road package backs up the aggressive looks with incredible performance where the pavement ends.
While the exterior of the GLK is sharp and aggressive, the interior is very much a soft, contemporary Mercedes environment. All U.S.-bound GLKs will come with burl walnut trim to start, but the aluminum or pine brown wood trim offered in Europe might be available in the States after the SUV's launch in early 2009. Every GLK comes with a five-inch multimedia screen and a black upper dashboard, which prevents glare on the windshield. The lower section of the dashboard comes in grey, beige, or black to match the interior color.
Though the five-inch display is standard, buyers will not get a standard navigation unit in the GLK. Even after upgrading to the Comand system (and the 7.5-inch screen that comes with it) navigation won't be as exciting as the new 3D navigation system Audi is offering on the Q5. The GLK's nav system is easier to use than the BMW X3's, and it mirrors the experience of all other Mercedes vehicles equipped with the Comand infotainment system.
Mercedes plans to offer the following option packages when the 2010 GLK finally arrives for U.S. buyers:
Multimedia package including Comand with an upgraded 600-watt sound system, 7.5-inch color display instead of the standard 5-inch display, a 6-gigabyte hard drive for recording music, and voice-activated control for the infotainment functions; Appearance package featuring 20-inch rims, aluminum roof rails, and all-season tires; Full leather seating package which includes full leather seats and upgraded interior lighting; Lighting package which includes active Bi-Xenon headlights, corner-illuminating driving lights, and LED taillights; Stand-alone options include a parking distance sensor system, aluminum running boards, a six-disc CD player, trailer hitch, heated seats, and a rear-seat entertainment system.
- Premium package including a power liftgate, rain-sensing wipers, an integrated garage door opener, auto-dimming mirrors, driver's-seat memory, rear power outlet, and Sirius satellite radio;
Mercedes will launch the GLK with a 3.5-liter V-6 engine, seven-speed automatic transmission, and 4Matic all-wheel drive. The 3.5-liter V-6 produces 268 hp at 6000 rpm and 258 lb-ft of torque from 2400 rpm up to 5000 rpm. In the spring of 2009, rear-wheel drive will also be available. Expect a 0-to-60-mph time of about 6.5 seconds and a top speed of 143 mph. Both of these figures slightly surpass the Audi Q5's claims. Fuel economy, however, is estimated at 16/22 mpg, which falls short of the Audi Q5.
Though Mercedes officials didn't confirm a Bluetec diesel engine would be an option for the GLK, Europeans will have the option. If demand for diesel Benzes remains as strong as it is right now, making up approximately 21 percent of all Mercedes SUV sales, it would be ridiculous to deny the Bluetec engine for the U.S.
The 4Matic system is a second-generation unit which can also be found in cars like the S550 4Matic and CL550 4Matic. Traction control for the system comes from the brakes, not mechanical lockers or limited-slip differentials. Torque is split between the front and rear wheels at a constant 45:55 ratio. There is no low range in the transfer case, but we doubt buyers in the segment will miss that feature.
Mercedes ships all GLKs with "agility control" suspension, which uses dampers that can firm up at high speeds to allow less body roll or soften at low speeds to make driving around town much more comfortable. The system is passive and does not require electronics to control the change in damping. We were impressed with the agility control, but there is a bit too much dive under braking and squat while accelerating. Lateral motions are well controlled, though.
The speed-sensing power steering has a fairly slow ratio and feels a little dead off-center. That shouldn't be a problem for an SUV, especially since the steering effort is reasonable. While muscling the SUV though some tight turns, it never felt too large or too heavy, and there was a surprising amount of grip. As in all Mercedes products, cruising at autobahn speeds is no problem, and little road or tire noise penetrated the cabin during highway jaunts.
We found on-road performance to be very good, but the off-road segment of our drive was incredible. The GLK clawed its way over trails that looked difficult enough to challenge a stock Jeep Wrangler. Though our GLK tester was equipped with the optional off-road package that U.S.-spec vehicles can't have, we don't anticipate many buyers in the U.S. looking for skid plates or hill descent control programming.
The 2010 Mercedes-Benz GLK350 is a solid choice for anyone shopping for a premium small SUV/crossover. It's also possible to see the GLK as a substitute for a C-class wagon in the U.S. This is as close as American shoppers can come to buying a smallish wagon with a tri-star on the hood. With a base price expected to be just under $40,000, the GLK faces stiff competition from the likes of Acura, Audi, BMW, Land Rover, and Volvo but has a different approach that should resonate well with U.S. shoppers.
2010 Mercedes-Benz GLK350
Engine: 3.5-liter DOHC 24-valve V-6
Horsepower: 268 hp @ 6000 rpm
Torque: 258 lb-ft @ 2400-5000 rpm
Transmission: 7-speed automatic
L x W x H: 178.3 x 74.3 x 66.9 in
Legroom F/R: 55.2/55.4 in
Headroom F/R: 39.0/39.7 in
Cargo capacity (seats up/down): 23.3/54.7 cu ft
Curb Weight: 4036 lb
EPA Rating (city/highway): 16/22 mpg (est)