We’ve just finished two weeks with Mercedes-Benz’s brand-new GLK350, which goes on sale January 5, 2009, as a 2010 model. Prices have already been announced, and they are quite competitive: $34,775 for a rear-wheel-drive model and $36,775 for the GLK350 4Matic with all-wheel drive. This compares with $40,225 for a BMW X3 xDrive30i, the GLK’s most obvious competitor. (Although it’s worth noting that BMW practically gives these things away via leases; you can get one for $469 per month, or $565 per month over a 36-month lease including all cash due at signing.)
Mercedes-Benz will be going up against the all-new Audi Q5 and Volvo XC60, both of which go on sale in March and both of which, arguably, are better-looking vehicles. However, we expect the Q5 to cost a bit more than the GLK, but Audi of America has some time to try to wring a better deal out of its German parent. As was the case with Mercedes-Benz USA when it priced the GLK350, Audi and Volvo ought to benefit from the newly strengthened dollar against the euro. Surely Audi and Volvo’s U.S. product planners are doing everything they can to bring their products here with base prices starting at less than $40K, now that Mercedes has laid down its $35K gauntlet.
Whereas the Q5 is effectively a smaller version of Audi’s existing Q7 crossover, the GLK350 was intentionally designed not to look like a miniaturized replica of the Mercedes-Benz ML. That’s why the GLK is boxy and square rather than rounded and sleek. Why did Mercedes try to invoke the Gelandewagen rather than the ML? Because it has had the luxury of observing BMW’s experiences with the X3, which sometimes cannibalized sales from the more expensive X5, because they looked so similar.
As one of the few automotive journalists in America to have driven both the Audi Q5 and the Mercedes-Benz GLK350 (but not back-to-back and with five months dividing the drives) I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that the Q5 is the more satisfying vehicle in terms of dynamics. The Audi has better body control and more communicative steering, and perhaps a slightly more supple ride. The Audi and Mercedes powertrains are pretty similar, though: the GLK350 offers a 268-hp, 3.5-liter V-6 mated to a smooth seven-speed automatic; and the Q5 is coming to America solely with a 270-hp, 3.2-liter V-6 and a six-speed automatic. Audi of America would do well to bring us its corporate 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder gasoline engine for the Q5 just as soon as it possibly can, in an effort to decrease the sticker price and increase fuel economy. As for the GLK350, which is EPA rated at 16 mpg city, 21 mpg highway, we’d rather see Mercedes bring us a fuel-sipping diesel than one of its coarse four-cylinder engines. M-B USA officials allow that they are considering both a four-cylinder and a diesel for future fitment. However, they will not offer the 3.0-liter V-6 that’s available in the C-class sedan upon which the GLK is based.
Our test vehicle was loaded for bear and stickered at about $49,000. Ouch. But check out all the goodies: gorgeous, thick-spoked, twenty-inch wheels; leather upholstery and handsome aluminum-look trim; three-setting heated seats that don’t cycle off; a sunroof; a power liftgate; a navigation system with Mercedes-Benz’s excellent second-generation Comand controller; and a spectacular 600-watt Harman Kardon stereo system.
The 3.5-liter V-6 provides plenty of straightline grunt and sounds pretty good when you hammer the throttle. It’s possible to drive the GLK350 quite aggressively on a twisty road and come away feeling pretty satisfied, but there is clearly not the level of sportiness here that Infiniti builds into its EX35 and FX35 crossovers. This won’t matter to most buyers, though, who will be more interested in the three-pointed star; the all-weather capability of the 4Matic system (it churned the GLK350 up my steep, snow-covered driveway handily, ABS grinding away); and the excellent front sightlines through the broad windshield and the expansive side glass.
The rear seats fold flat easily in a 60/40 split, without having to adjust the seat bottoms first. The rear seats themselves seem pretty comfortable, if not overly roomy. The rear cargo area is wide enough to accommodate a set of golf clubs, Mercedes claims, and there’s a 115-volt plug back there.
It will be interesting to see if this segment has room for the GLK350, the Q5, and the XC60 to slot in beside the existing BMW X3, Land Rover LR2, Infiniti EX35, and Acura RDX. For the past several years, all of these luxury carmakers have been spouting off research that indicated that the market for small luxury crossovers was going to grow by leaps and bounds for the foreseeable future. But the future isn’t foreseeable anymore, as we’ve learned in recent months, so sales success for the GLK and its competitors is far from certain.
Joe DeMatio, Executive Editor
You go, Joe. You forgot to mention the Lexus RX family, though, which very handily outsold all other luxury utes in 2007. And compared with the soggy RX, I found the 2010 Mercedes-Benz GLK350 to be hugely entertaining to drive. That’s not saying a whole lot, however; in fact, I was fairly disappointed by the GLK350’s light steering, which is nothing like the excellent, tight steering that graces some of Mercedes-Benz’s newest products (the S-, CL-, SLK-, and C-classes come most immediately to mind). Instead, it reminds me of M-B products from several years ago. I do realize, of course, that this is an SUV, but I was still hoping for a tighter, sportier setup beneath this Mercedes. If you judge the GLK350 by class-appropriate standards, though, it’s perfectly fine to drive, whether on a boring commute or on a winding back road. Based on DeMatio’s glowing review above, though, I’m anxious to drive Audi’s new Q5.
I, too, was a bit shocked to learn that this particular GLK costs so much more than the vehicle’s $37,775 base price. That said, I wouldn’t try to persuade someone against outfitting a GLK350 like ours was: 4Matic all-wheel drive, the excellent spinning-wheeled Comand navigation system, the large sunroof, and numerous other options make this a very pleasant vehicle overall.
I’m not ashamed to admit that I was a big fan of the tough-looking GLK concept that debuted at the 2008 Detroit auto show. I think the production GLK350 has lost a significant amount of its flair, unfortunately, but I still think that the look of the finished product is quite attractive, if a bit heavy on the hard edges. I also like the nice blocky swathes of aluminum-look material in the cabin. After my initial drive in the GLK, my only real qualm is that the front seats were angled too flat (even when adjusted to the max) to comfortably support my skinny thighs.
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor
Joe makes a good point about the GLK350’s aggressive competitive base price, but the fact that you can pile $13,000 in options on it almost makes the base price a moot point. For comparison, the Volvo XC60 (which is only available in the U.S. with all-wheel drive) has a similar base price, but when well-equipped will be much closer to $40,000 than the $50,000 of the GLK350.
I find the styling of this vehicle to be uninspiring, at best. With its long, nearly horizontal snout, it reminds me of a Subaru Forester. Not that the Forester is a bad vehicle, but if I’m buying a premium German SUV, I don’t want anyone to mistake it for a Japanese brand. I find nearly all the GLK’s competitors to be more attractive.
Amy Skogstrom, Managing Editor
I ran a quick errand to the airport in the 2010 Mercedes-Benz GLK350. The steering is a touch too light and twitchy on center but I was impressed with how well it rode on Michigan roads considering its short dimensions and large, twenty-inch wheels. I’m not nuts about the way the baby Benz SUV looks, but at least it’s dramatic and isn’t easily confused (except with maybe a Subaru Forester). I look forward to driving the Volvo XC60 and Audi Q5 to see how the newcomers to this segment compare.
Marc Noordeloos, Road Test Editor
There is only one compelling reason to consider this compact SUV; your neighbors and friends will be impressed by your membership in the three-pointed star club.
Costing nearly $50,000, this is not a value-based product. It doesn’t deliver anything remarkable in terms of performance, utility, or riding comfort. Only by carefully watching speed and throttle pressure will you ever visit the 20-mpg realm. And don’t forget you’ll be fueling up at the premium pump.
My driving-joy monitor never so much as flickered during my brief exposure to this truckette. If you relish speed, handling, and agility, stick with cars.
I do lean in favor of the GLK’s aesthetics. It wears its creases well and looks fresher than the other flare-fendered rolling refrigerators in the MB lineup. This is, after all, a junior leaguer and Mercedes needs a different look to appeal to younger buyers taking their second or third step up the luxury ladder. Designers hit that nail on the head.
My personal attitude towards any SUV is that virtue is inversely proportional to size. My dogs ride contentedly in cars so my thoughts never wander in the ‘gotta have an SUV’ realm. But that’s me. If your dog deserves a star ship and you’ve got neighbors to astound, there are GLKs ready and anxious to serve your needs.
Don Sherman, Technical Editor
For anyone who hasn’t been in a GLK yet, it bears no relationship to the G-Wagen. This is a seriously overloaded luxury crossover with a fairly small footprint. Yet its tall roof and origami-like body creases give it real curb presence. Eyesight is about level with the license plate of a Ford Escape, the gas cap of a Jeep Liberty, and the top of the head of a Ford Taurus driver.
The light grey leather and brushed aluminum-trimmed interior is a slightly new design expression for M-B – a bit more Spartan and angular than we’ve been seeing in the cars.
The most expensive option at $3350 is the Multimedia Package and it seems like a real deal considering its long list of desirable features: COMAND system with hard-drive navigation, a Harman Kardon LOGIC7 surround system, eleven speakers with 600 watts of power, an in-dash six-disc DVD/CD changer, a 6-gig hard-drive that with download and store music from CDs or MP3files, voice control for audio, telephone, and nav, system, and rearview camera.
The center console screen controller is situated in front of the driver’s right armrest, so you can let your fingers roll through radio stations and set up how you’d like the air to blow around the cabin while you’re casually leaning on the armrest. It’s very comfortable and a lot easier to use than it’s been in the past.
Ride control is a bit “looser” that that of the ML AMG we recently tested. There’s more side-to-side shake, and more leaning in tight turns. But then, we’ve been driving a lot of AMGs lately. Not to brag.
There is a lot more competition out there (as Joe D mentions) when you’re shopping outside the glowing aura (and heady price point) of the AMG line. But that big star on the front has its own cachet these days.
Jean Jennings, President & Editor-in-Chief
2010 Mercedes GLK350 4Matic
Base price (with destination): $36,775
Price as tested: $49,470
Premium 1 Package – $3150
Full Leather Seating Package – $1750
Lighting Package – $970
Media Package – $3350
Appearance Package- $970
Tele Aid – $650
iPod / MP3 Media Interface – $375
Heated Front Seats – $740
Steel Grey Metallic Paint – $740
Fuel Economy: 16 / 22 / 19 mpg (city/hwy/combined)
Size: 3.5L V6
HP: 268 hp @ 6,000 rpm
Torque: 258 lb-ft @ 2,400 – 5,000 rpm
Safety Ratings (in stars, 1-5):
Frontal Crash Driver: NR
Frontal Crash Passenger: NR
Side Crash Front Seat: NR
Side Crash Rear Seat: NR
Transmission: 7-Speed Driver Adaptive Automatic Transmission w/Touch Shift
Weight: 4036 lb
– 17″ aluminum wheels (size)
– 235/50 HR 19 all-season tires