SANTA BARBARA, California - When a company already has four sport-utility vehicles and crossover SUVs on the market, is another one needed? Mercedes-Benz thinks there's room for one more, and is adding a brand-new GLK-Class model to back up that belief.
Markedly more compact than the German automaker's GLS- and R-Class crossover-type models, the GLK350 is 10 inches shorter overall than the company's more trucklike M-Class SUV. In fact, it's 4 inches shorter than a C-Class sedan. Despite its upright windshield, Bernhard Glaser, general manager of product management, emphasized that the GLK350 "doesn't look like a small M-Class." The GLK350 weighs some 700 pounds less than an M-Class.
Glaser calls attention to the GLK's "aggressive" grille, as well as the integrated flared fenders and modest number of chrome accents. An integrated rear spoiler is installed, and standard 10-spoke alloy wheels hold 19-inch tires (with 20-inch available).
Driving a seven-speed automatic transmission and exhaling via a true dual exhaust system, the GLK's 3.5-liter V-6 engine develops 268 horsepower. Mercedes' 4Matic full-time all-wheel drive is available, delivering torque distribution of 45 percent to front wheels and 55 percent to the rears. Peak towing capacity is 3,500 pounds. The Environmental Protection Agency gives the rear-drive GLK350 a fuel-economy estimate of 16 mpg in city driving and 22 mpg on the highway. All-wheel drive drops the highway figure to 21 mpg.
Six airbags are standard, along with an Electronic Stability Program, traction control, antilock braking, and Brake Assist that helps with emergency halts. Active front head restraints are installed, too. Adaptive Braking incorporates Hill Start Assist, Dry Braking, and a Pre-Pressure function. Agility Control is Mercedes' term for an automatic-adjusting suspension, which is purely hydro-mechanical in operation.
Aluminum trims the five-passenger interior, except when it's upholstered in Beige/Almond. In that case, burl walnut substitutes for aluminum. A leather-wrapped steering wheel is standard, and full leather upholstery is an option. Cargo volume totals 23.3 cubic feet with the rear seats up, and 54.7 cubic feet when those seats are folded.
Except for one or two perennial complaints about Mercedes-Benz products, topped by the cruise control stalk's position above the turn-signal lever, there's little to fret about inside a GLK350. Expect plenty of enthusiastic energy at start-off, and this SUV dashes up to 60 mph and beyond with effortless enthusiasm. There's no shortage of passing power, either, though you definitely know it if you're headed uphill.
Ride quality is generally excellent, as the GLK350 glides over most roughness with relative ease. On lumpy pavement, a fair amount of motion is discernible, but it's not really bothersome at all. Staying quite flat in curves, the GLK responds effectively to steering inputs at all speeds.
Fine steering feel yields confident control: not too light, but not really heavy, either. Quiet-running nearly always, the GLK emits a very light snarl on hard acceleration. Just a touch of wind noise occurs at times around the A-pillars.
Serious yet comfortable seats give ample support and have pleasantly long bottoms. Just-right side bolstering is notable, but definitely not confining, and the driver enjoys good views all around.
Gauges are not quite the easiest to read at a glance, but clearly acceptable. Mercedes' navigation/information screen is high and clear, but at 5 inches, not every big. Climate controls sit way down low on the center stack.
Overall, GLK drivers and riders may anticipate an enjoyable and satisfying road experience, in a vehicle with a welcoming personality and non-stern, enticing character. There's only the tiniest residual touch of overweight sensation, which has in the past been a traditional Mercedes characteristic.
Pricing for the GLK350 starts at $33,900 (plus an $875 destination charge). With all-wheel drive, the sticker price escalates to $35,900. Mercedes-Benz makes it easy to order a GLK350, offering just five option packages and eight individual options.
Sales begin in January 2009, and U.S. dealerships can expect to receive half of the GLK-Class models that are made. Some 70 percent are likely to have 4Matic all-wheel drive.
Considering Mercedes-Benz's current emphasis on BlueTec "clean" diesel power for other SUVS in its lineup, will the GLK-Class get that alternative? Spokespersons are staying mum about any details, but acknowledge that it's under consideration. Glaser noted that it's a "very good possibility." In Europe, as expected, diesel power will be a major part of the GLK picture. For many years now, Europeans have adopted diesels with far greater enthusiasm than drivers on the western side of the Atlantic Ocean.
Attention Editors: This complete 2010 Mercedes-Benz GLK-Class review is available now for your publication. Please contact us at JF@tirekick.com for details.