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.