The GLK-series is an all-new model for North America, competing in the growing premium compact SUV market. While some reviewers will have you believe this is Mercedes’ first shot in this niche, the reality is the GLK is less than 2″ shorter than the original ML320, so this is hardly new territory. The M-Class has grown over the years, and Mercedes needed a small SUV to compete against the Audi Q5, Volvo XC60, Infiniti EX35 and Acura RDX. With so many choices-great choices, we should add-what does Mercedes bring to the party?
For a company that has built a reputation for playing it safe, style-wise, the GLK is a rolling contradiction. For a modern, small SUV the GLK is alarmingly upright, with chiseled edges, bulging fender flares, and an in your face front fascia. The upsweeping character line is particularly sporty. Our test car was fitted with the optional Sport Appearance package, which includes impressive 20″ wheels, and oh-so-elegant brushed aluminum roof rails. I tend to think red looks out of place on any Mercedes (except for the SL), but the Mars Red finish on our test car grew on me quickly. The looks of the GLK may not be for everyone, but I applaud Mercedes for deciding to make a style statement rather than offer some lozenge-shaped bore.
The upright, hard-edge look carries into the cabin of the GLK, which, in my opinion, makes the car. Mercedes has taken some knocks for letting interior quality slip a little in recent years. For anyone who still harbors doubts of Mercedes bringing their A-game, step into the GLK. Build quality, workmanship, look and feel of the materials are outstanding. Rich slabs of timber add warmth and richness, and the M-B Tex seats feel better than the real leather hides used by lesser competition. Ã‚Â Every surface you touch or look at is premium-no cut corners here. Ã‚Â Even the cargo area is nicely finished, and the backlit buttons for the power liftgate was a nice touch on a late night grocery store run.
The seats are firm, and although flat, offer decent support. Gauges are clear and easy to read. In spite of slew of buttons on the center stack, the GLK is not a challenge to use. While the COMAND system, which controls phone, radio and nav can’t match Lexus for ease of use, it is more intuitive than BMW’s iDrive. To sum, Mercedes has restored its reputation as the standard in interior quality, which is remarkable, considering the GLK is the second most inexpensive car they sell.
The GLK comes in one trim level-the GLK350, and one powertrain, a 3.5L V-6, rated at 268hp, coupled to a seven-speed automatic. Buyers can choose from rear or all-wheel drive. The Benz surprises again with a little bark on start up from its dual exhaust, just to let the neighbors know you treated yourself, but quickly settles into a near silent idle. The GLK’s V-6 offers adequate power-not fast, but enough to keep you out of trouble when you need it. Shifting of the seven-speed automatic is seamless, with almost imperceptible upshifts.
The GLK offers a Euro-grade firm suspension, and tackled twisty roads with total composure-no heavy roll or pitch changes to upset the car. It’s no sports car, but the GLK does not protest at all if pushed a bit. Ã‚Â While I was expecting steering feel to be a bit on the lighter side (it was), I was not expecting so much communication from the wheel, another pleasant surprise. While the suburban housewife will appreciate the lightness of the steering, kudos to Mercedes for adding in enough steering feel to satisfy the enthusiast. While the GLK looks stunning with the 20″ wheels included in the Sports Appearance package, the Benz crashed and jittered over road imperfections and manhole covers. If I had to live with a GLK on a daily basis, I would seriously consider sticking with the standard 19″ rims.
One nice feature on our GLK was the optional Lighting Package, which included bi-xenon headlamps with active curve illumination. While the GLK’s competition also offers this feature, we haven’t talked about it here at The Garage. This might sound like a frivolous option at first, but while driving unfamiliar twisty back roads in New York State in the dead of night, I cannot overstate how helpful this feature was in helping me get home safely.
To be sure, quality, and the vaunted three-pointed star come at a price. Things start out fairly reasonably-a base, rear-wheel drive GLK350 starts at $34,600USD (add $2,000 for the 4Matic). Typical of German car companies, the price escalates quickly once you start checking boxes on the option list. Our nearly loaded GLK included the Premium Package, Lighting Package, Multimedia Package and Sport Appearance Package for an as delivered price of $48,735-and that is without a leather interior. If you want leather hides, prepare to pay an extra $1,750.
When Mercedes joined the SUV market in North America with the 1997 ML320, it was saddled with a bland appearance and an interior that fell short of expectations for the brand. While the M-Class has moved up a size, I see the GLK as Mercedes’ second crack at the small SUV market. This time around, Mercedes went all in-bold styling, and interior quality that almost puts the car in Ã‚Â a class by itself. A competent drivetrain and a refreshingly sporty ride make this small Mercedes an instant top contender in the small premium sport ute segment.