With its recent refresh of the most affordable member of its SUV lineup, Mercedes-Benz has chosen to walk a different path when compared against its Teutonic rivals. Instead of mimicking the more car-like lines of the Audi Q5 or the BMW X3, the 2013 Mercedes-Benz GLK-Class stands firm on with its upright styling that is far more reminiscent of the full-size G-Class truck than a crossover wagon replacement. By doing so, the GLK-Class is able to rise above the fray and present a truly different compact SUV alternative in a segment where design homogeneity often makes it difficult to pick individual models from the crowd.
Of course, it also helps that the 2013 Mercedes-Benz GLK-Class has also had significant attention paid to its passenger compartment, its drivetrain, and its list of available features, further bolstering its status as an entry-level luxury SUV stand-out. Its looks might not be for everyone, but its affordable entry-level price and the upcoming availability of a new, fuel-efficient turbodiesel engine option make the GLK-Class impossible to ignore.
Currently, the 2013 Mercedes-Benz GLK-Class is available in a single trim level, the GLK350 (MSRP $37,995). The GLK350 comes with dual automatic climate control, a power driver's seat, HD radio, Bluetooth connectivity, the COMAND interface, the mbrace2 app, 19-inch rims, walnut wood interior trim, LED daytime running lights, and MB-Tex seat covers. If it seems like a lot is missing there, that's because it is. Like many Mercedes-Benz automobiles, the GLK350 offers a thin level of standard equipment that must be pumped up with sticker-inflating options packages in order to truly sample luxury living.
The GLK350 4MATIC model that I drove for a week came with the AMG Styling package (20-inch rims, AMG front and rear bumpers), the Lighting package (adaptive HID headlights with washers), the Leather package (genuine leather upholstery), the Premium 1 package (panoramic sunroof, power lift gate, rain-sensitive wipers, MP3 compatibility for the stereo system), the Multimedia package (navigation system, hard drive for storing digital music files, voice command capability, a rearview camera), an iPod interface, satellite radio, a Harman/Kardon surround sound system, heated front seats, 4MATIC all-wheel drive, the Lane Tracking package (blind spot and lane keeping assist features), a trailer hitch, and the PARKTRONIC active parking assist system.
That long, long list of optional gear made the GLK350 4MATIC quite comfortable to drive, but it also drove the vehicle's asking price up to $55,545. It's possible to spec out its competitors to a similar degree and have them end up costing even more, so the GLK-Class' pricing scheme isn't out of line - but it is something to keep in mind when shopping to make sure that you compare the exact combination of packages that contain the features you are looking for.
The Mercedes-Benz GLK-Class will also soon be available in GLK250 trim - already available in Canada - which introduces turbodiesel power and which should start at a slightly cheaper price than the GLK350 model.
The 2013 Mercedes-Benz GLK350 4MATIC is a boxy compact SUV that evokes the larger G-Class without presenting nearly as severe a package. Small touches like the rounded roofline, the way the greenhouse shrinks towards the rear of the vehicle, the character lines scalloped out of the side panels, and the curves integrated into its front fascia and headlights help to soften out the utilitarian aspects of the design. New LED running lights serve to dress up the vehicle's visage, and the AMG appearance package that came with my tester gave it a sporty edge compared to the standard model.
The passenger compartment of the 2013 Mercedes-Benz GLK 350 is a clear upgrade over past models, with nice-to-touch leathers and soft plastics covering the center console, the door panels, and the dashboard. The metallic trim surrounding the center stack and extending across to the passenger compartment was a little much, but it can be had in a more pleasing wood tone that is a better match for the classy interior. Big, circular chrome rings serve as the vehicle's heating and cooling vents, echoing a trend that is starting to come back into vogue on high-end vehicles. The AMG-style steering wheel offered aggressive bolstering and provided a very comfortable grip, and while I wasn't all that enamored of the floating speedometer needle or the background used for the gauges, this was merely a matter of personal preference. Even more so than pricier Silver Star SUVs like the M-Class, the GLK350 felt like a true luxury vehicle and not just a tarted-up crossover.
The 2013 Mercedes-Benz GLK350 4MATIC delivers legitimate four-passenger comfort that is clearly aimed at those with smaller families. The front seats provide a commanding view of the road and are easily adjustable for long-term comfort. The second row of accommodations is not what one would label 'expansive,' but I had no trouble fitting back there with legroom to spare. Adults taller than this tester - and there are many - might have a few complaints about being relegated to the second row of the SUV.
The GLK-Class' cargo compartment is an interesting example of numbers not telling the entire story. 54.7 cubic feet of total cargo space is available with the back seats folded forward, and while that number comes up short when compared against a few of its rivals (notably showing roughly 10 cubic feet less than the BMW X3), it is still eminently usable. I employed the GLK350 4MATIC as a parts-and-art mule with great success during my week with the vehicle, and I was also impressed at how much storage space remained available even when the SUV was full of passengers.
On a side note, the vehicle's center console splits open like a book, instead of popping up to the right in order to give the driver full access to its contents. While this looks fabulous, in practice reaching over the deep console's lid to access or even peer at its contents was a bit of a hassle.
The 2013 Mercedes-Benz GLK350 4MATIC's interior controls are a somewhat unusual mix of old-school and far-future (at least as seen through the eyes of Mercedes-Benz designers). There are no touchscreens to be found inside the GLK-Class, with that particular functionality replaced by the COMAND system's rotary controller mounted at the front of the center console. COMAND parses navigation, entertainment, and vehicle settings through either the knob or a fairly extensive list of voice commands. The system works, but it's not exactly straight forward: you have to already be on a particular screen to access the voice commands for that feature, which means you are using the knob whether you want to or not, and it's not always a simple process to get back to the main menu. In a world where touchscreens are ubiquitous, COMAND feels a bit like an anachronism.
Speaking of which, the GLK-Class - like certain Volvo models - still offers a numeric touchpad at the far right of the center stack. Depending on what screen the COMAND interface is displaying, you can use this to either dial a telephone or access a radio preset. There doesn't really need to be this much redundancy in the system, and I much prefer hitting preset buttons rather than scrolling through a list each time I want to access a frequently-played station. Not sure why it has to look like a telephone dial - complete with matching letters for alphanumeric completeness - but there it is.
Almost else about the GLK350 4MATIC's controls was easy enough to get along with, especially the steering wheel-mounted buttons that worked together with the LCD screen set into the speedometer. The one remaining exception was the vehicle's new shifter stalk, which juts up unobtrusively from the steering column and which, again, is overcomplicated in its design. Pushing up on the stalk accesses Drive, while pushing down puts the vehicle in Reverse. If you don't use enough force in either of these actions, the car defaults to Neutral and you end up revving your engine aggressively at confused passersby. Park is accessed via a button at the end of the stalk. Perhaps most unusual is that I didn't have to have my foot on the brake pedal to shift out of park into Drive or Reverse, nor did it have to be there to start the car. In fact, it's possible to turn the GLK-Class off while it's still in Drive, with the system automatically setting it to Park.
The 2013 Mercedes-Benz GLK350 4MATIC comes with all of the expected standard safety features, including front side airbags, dual forward airbags, front pelvic airbags, side curtain airbags, and a driver's knee airbag. Active head restraints up front, electronic stability control, and traction control are also provided free of charge, as is an alertness monitor and several remote functions via the mbrace2 mobile app.
The GLK350 4MATIC that I drove also came with a blind spot monitoring system and a lane keeping system that alerted me when a vehicle was lurking to the right or the left of the SUV, or when I was wandering out of my lane without having activated a turn signal. It's also possible to get versions of these systems that will actually intervene in the steering of the automobile in both cases. The features worked well, but the blind spot system had a weird habit of illuminating the side mirror-mounted yellow triangle at all times when the GLK-Class was stopped or traveling at a low speed. I was told that this was done to let the driver know that the system was not active in those circumstances, and that they should be aware of their surroundings, but it actually had me worried that there was a fault with the feature.
Even less useful was the square P icon that would appear in the cluster whenever the car was stopped at a light or idling. Another inquiry revealed that this was to remind me to put the car in park, should I, you know, have completely forgotten how to drive. I spent most of the week puzzling out what P could possible mean before being illuminated upon returning the SUV.
2013 Mercedes-Benz GLK350 4MATIC Crash-Test Ratings: The NHTSA has yet to crash test the 2013 Mercedes-Benz GLK-Class, but the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety ranked the 2012 model (which is structurally identical) as a Top Safety Pick.
The 2013 Mercedes-Benz GLK-Class features a 3.5-liter V-6 engine as its standard power plant, and this unit now features direct fuel injection that, together with a higher compression ratio, allows it to pump out 302 horsepower and 273 lb-ft of torque. This represents an impressive gain of 34 horses and 15 lb-ft of twist over last year's model, but more importantly it also bumps fuel mileage up from 16-mpg city and 22-mpg highway to 19-mpg city and 25-mpg around town. Optional 4MATIC four-wheel drive drops the highway figure by a single mile per gallon.
Also helping the GLK350 increase its efficiency - on paper, at least - are the presence of a seven-speed automatic transmission as well as an automatic engine start/stop feature. Despite these improvements, I wasn't able to break 16-mpg in heavy city driving with the GLK350 4MATIC, instead matching its older rating.
The upcoming 2.1-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder diesel engine, to be offered in the GLK250 will produce 200 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque. Fuel economy figures for that particular drivetrain have yet to be released, but they should eclipse those of the gas engine and approach 30-mpg on the highway.
The 2013 Mercedes-Benz GLK350 4MATIC is genuinely enjoyable as a daily driver. Although it might look more like a truck than a car it certainly drives in much the same way as a mid-size sedan, informed by its additional ride height and the grip offered by its four-wheel drive system. I found the GLK350 4MATIC to be nimble when I need it to be, but the trade-off of such a well-tuned suspension system was a harsh ride when encountering rough pavement. The SUV also made short work of the snowstorm that dumped two feet of fresh powder on Montreal's roads during our time together. In fact, the GLK-Class' stability control system did an excellent job of staying out of the way and letting me slide and spin my way through snow banks and iced-over intersections, helping me maintain forward momentum and control and only intervening in worst-case scenarios.
Power delivery from the SUV's V-6 engine was excellent, with all 302 horses chomping at the bit to surge the GLK-Class forward at a moment's notice. Most of the time, I left the seven-speed automatic transmission in Eco mode, although Sport mode sharpened the throttle and seemed to push the 3.5-liter mill under the hood that much harder when the go-pedal was depressed. Although I enjoyed the forward thrust provided by the GLK350's engine, and found the seven-speed automatic transmission to be so adept at its task that I only once engaged the steering wheel-mounted shift paddles (out of curiosity), I can't say I was anywhere near as enthralled by the automatic start/stop feature. Start-up from a stop was quick but rough, with vibrations sent through the GLK350's cabin that could be felt by both the driver and the front passenger. Even more alarming was the fact that on steeper hills, the truck had a tendency to roll backwards a few inches once my foot was lifted off of the brake before the engine could engage. There's a button on the dash to turn the start/stop system off, which I wholeheartedly recommend using whenever you can remember to do so.
Easing the pain of the start/stop feature was the inclusion of Mercedes-Benz's intuitive PARKTONIC parking assistance system. PARKTRONIC consists of a pair of thin, black half-ovals, one sitting on the dash and one mounted on the roof at the back of the passenger compartment, which display a pair of red lines where the GLK350's fenders are located. As one approaches an obstacle while traveling at a slow speed, a series of yellow lines illuminate to show how close they are to the car itself, and an audible warning also sounds. The feature works well, and the inclusion of the roof-mounted indicator is a genuine boon while reversing the SUV.
I very much enjoyed my time with the 2013 Mercedes-Benz GLK350 4MATIC. It's got excellent power, a very capable four-wheel drive system, and an interior with class and style that finally matches the promise made by the Silver Star on the steering wheel. I found the vehicle's right-angle looks to be handsome, particularly with the AMG Styling package installed, and although it's interior is not the largest in its class, I was able to get excellent cargo and passenger use out of the compact SUV.
Caveats? The COMAND system is a bit overwrought, but it's not a deal-breaker, nor is the automated start/stop technology that is spreading throughout the automatic industry like a bad weed. It's difficult to stay under $45,000 on the options sheet while still snagging all of the premium features that make a Mercedes-Benz a Mercedes-Benz, and the weak fuel mileage offered by the GLK-Class might also give one pause, but it's hard to find a truly efficient luxury SUV that pleases the frugality gods without giving up some power in the process. If miles per gallon are at the top of your list, then perhaps it would be best to wait for the upcoming GLK250 turbodiesel model.
Mercedes-BenzCanada supplied the vehicle for this review