2011 Mercedes-Benz GLK350 4matic

Mix the name Mercedes-Benz and the letter G into a sentence, and the mind conjures images of a sturdy, military-derived, body-on-frame SUV that hasn't changed in nearly forty years of production: the legendary G-class. The GLK may be a far cry from that vehicle, but it's certainly worth looking at if you're considering a compact luxury crossover.

Riding upon a modified C-class architecture, the car-based GLK owes almost nothing to the G-wagen apart from its name and exterior styling. Unlike the curvaceous profiles of the Audi Q5, Infiniti EX, and BMW X3, the GLK's exterior is surprisingly boxy.

That unusual exterior does pay dividends inside the GLK. Front seat occupants are treated to a commendable 39 inches of headroom, along with an expansive view of the road ahead. Rear seat passengers are given an almost equal amount of space, and cargo room also manages to eclipse most competitors.

Competitors' interiors, however, offer much more flair than that found inside the GLK. Mercedes' cabins have often been much more conservative than those by BMW and Audi, and the GLK is no exception. The plain, horizontal dashboard here is rather uninspiring. On the plus side, all controls are arranged in an easy-to-reach fashion, although the HVAC interface is placed well below the driver's line of sight.

The GLK drives fairly well -- no surprise, perhaps, given its C-class roots -- but the powertrain doesn't exactly sparkle. The 3.5-liter V-6 will certainly hustle the crossover along, but the seven-speed automatic is a little slow to respond to throttle input with a downshift.

Fuel economy, sadly, is not the GLK's strong suit. The EPA rates the rear-wheel-drive version at 16/23 mpg (city/highway), while the 4Matic earn a 16/21 mpg rating. A six-cylinder Audi Q5 gets 18/23 mpg, while the BMW X3 xDrive35i manages an impressive 19/26 mpg rating. I'd love to see Mercedes squeeze its Bluetec turbo-diesel V-6 underhood in the name of fuel economy, but perhaps the twin-turbocharged 2.0-liter I-4, which launched in the new 2012 C-class, would be a better choice for the diesel-phobic North American market.
- Evan McCausland, Web Producer

I know I'm in the minority, but I absolutely love the way this thing looks, and I'm not a fan of Mercedes. It's spunky and funky and has plenty of character just like the BMW Z3 Coupe, which I also adore. Reminds me of a bulldog!

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