2010 Mercedes-Benz GLK-Class
2010 Mercedes-Benz GLK-Class Expert Review:Autoblog
When you launch a vehicle during the year's most over-hyped estrogenfest, you're obviously trying to appeal to a specific demographic. Specifically, not us. There's a reason we haven't taken a crack at the Mercedes-Benz GLK until the sequel to Sex and the City hit the screen. It was just too easy to pigeonhole this cute 'ute as nothing more than a boxy four-wheeled trinket – a cynical fashion accessory designed to compliment your rat-faced pooch and Manolo Blahniks (yes, we had to look that up).
But a funny thing happened on the way down I-5.
While blasting the stereo and hauling along at a decidedly Germanic clip, all of the stereotypes about the GLK's target demographic flew out its expansive sunroof. For as much as we dislike the mere idea of "entry-level luxury" – and in particular the scads of pseudo-SUVs that populate it – the GLK started to make sense. It's well proportioned, has adequate power and comes with nearly enough amenities to match its tri-pointed badge. We actually enjoyed it, even though our manhood might've taken a hit in the process.
Photos by Drew Phillips / Copyright ©2010 Weblogs, Inc.
Speaking of hits, from a stylistic standpoint, the GLK is either a solid double or a strikeout. Over the course of a few days, we warmed up to it, enjoying the E-Class-inspired rear fender flares, expansive greenhouse and tight posterior. Its Sports Appearance Package 20-inch, seven-spoke wheels fit the blistered arches to a "T," and while the emblem is larger than a Big Gulp lid, we've resigned ourselves to the fact that Mercedes-Benz is taking a "go big or go home" approach to its fascias.
Inside, the slab-sided aesthetic of the exterior carries over to good effect, with a right-sized dash, center console and steering wheel. It's a clean, if staid design for its segment and made up of de rigueur C-Class materials to match. The center-mounted speedo recieves the standard Merc LCD display in the middle, allowing you to toggle between everything from fuel consumption to trip readings. The gauges are clear and legible, the steering wheel controls easy to understand and even easier to operate.
The stereo is an ode to simplicity, save the numerical keypad running along the right side, and the dual-zone climate controls are nicely knurled, if a little shifty in their fitment. In short, everything is exactly where you'd expect, including the large COMAND knob aft of the shifter and the absolutely massive (and slightly comical) dollar-coin-sized engine start button.
Finger that aluminum-look starter and the 3.5-liter V6 gets startled to life and falls into a smooth drone in the background. With just over 4,000 pounds to motivate, the 268 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque are up to the job, and in our tester's 4Matic (read: all-wheel-drive) trim, the first stab of the throttle was met with more acceleration than expected. The standard seven-speed automatic flicked through the ratios with the speed and assurance we've come to expect from the Benz boyz, lending more credence to the claims that Mercedes vehicles offer some of the best 'boxes in the biz.
A few circular on- and off-ramps along with a run down a local Bay Area backroad proved that the GLK is remarkably more at home on the curves than most of its closest competition. The steering, while fingertip light, provided a connection to the road largely devoid on most luxo-soft-roaders and, despite its lanky proportions, the GLK was remarkably adept at handling the twisties. The rough(ish) ride we experienced on the highway and around town became an asset, not a curse, when bouncing from bend to bend, with body motions kept in check and an uncommon amount of front grip when heading into a corner a touch to fast. Scrubbing off speed with the four-wheel discs was never an issue, with firm, positive feedback that proved fade-free throughout our various drives.
Mercedes' COMAND interface seems to fall somewhere in between Audi's MMI and BMW's iDrive when it comes to ease-of-use, with a well thought out menu structure and a "Back" button always providing you a quick escape from sub-menu hell. While we understand the safety concerns about entering a destination into the nav system, the inability of the passenger to get directions while the GLK is trundling through traffic became a reoccurring annoyance. Even more galling was the lack of Bluetooth audio streaming or even a standard 1/8th-inch jack to run our phone into the system. If Ford can do it in the bargain basement Fiesta, surely a Benz driver shouldn't be forced to listen to their tunes through a crappy set of headphones – particularly on an audio system this damn good.
A quick review of the GLK's interior stats proves what we've suspected all along: its quarters are slightly more cramped compared to the competition, particularly in rear leg and shoulder room. Similarly, its maximum cargo capacity – 55 cubic feet – is notably lower than the 71 cu-ft provided by the BMW X3 and slightly less than the 61 cubes found in the Acura RDX. However, considering it's the shortest of the bunch, that's to be expected, although it is the tallest and the widest amongst its German competitors.
Situated in the firm, comfortable seats while peering through the uncharacteristically upright windshield, we began to think of the GLK as more of a mini-G-Wagon rather than the high-riding C-Class on which it's based. That impression lasted right up until the moment we pulled up next to one of M-B's WWII throwbacks. Despite its marginally rough ride, the GLK is not a Gelandewagen at two-thirds scale. It's far too modern, far too composed and, yes, far too ordinary to carry on that legacy. But that's not a bad thing.
With competition coming from all coasts, the GLK is remarkably well-equipped to handle the onslaught of buyers looking to downsize. Our fuel economy numbers landed smack-dab in the middle of the EPA's estimates (16/21 mpg city/hwy, 17.7 mpg tested) and the 4Matic's starting price of $36,600 (minus $2k for rear-wheel drive) puts it right on par with the rest of the pack.
However, as with anything hailing from Deutschland, the price rockets skyward like Atlantis on its final flight if you get crazy with the options. Our tester – fitted with the $3,150 Premium Package (memory seats, power liftgate, Panorama sunroof, etc.), $3,350 Multimedia Pack (5.1 Dolby surround, seven-inch color display, COMAND) and an assortment of other kit – rang up an MSRP of $50,235. That's nearly enough to buy Ford's aforementioned subcompact for your kid along with a bone-stock GLK. Then again, that's just how the German's roll.
Needless to say, in the realm of compact luxury crossovers, you're basking in a big bucket of choice. But while the RDX might be sportier, it's decidedly less refined. And while the Audi Q5 might fit like a well-tailored suit, it lacks the panache to stand out from the crowd. So where does the GLK fit in? Right in the middle; a pseudo-'ute for fashion-conscious Cougars and maybe their well-heeled suitors. We wouldn't mind driving it to the multiplex, even if that involves a rendezvous with four insufferable forty-somethings. No matter, we'll leave with our manhood intact.
Photos by Drew Phillips / Copyright ©2010 Weblogs, Inc.
New Car Test Drive
New compact SUV feels like a Mercedes.
For decades, Mercedes-Benz offered only coupes, sedans station wagons and convertibles in the U.S. market. There was only one SUV in the product portfolio, the G-Class, but it wasn't sold in the United States until a few years ago. Then came the M-Class mid-size SUV, the big R-Class crossover, and the big GL-Class.
Now comes the compact GLK-Class. It was to look like a GL, act like a G-Class off-road, and be shorter, lighter, and more economical to own and drive than some of the larger SUVs in the lineup.
The Mercedes-Benz GLK-Class is the first compact SUV ever built by Mercedes and was designed to compete with the BMW X3, Audi Q5, Acura RDX, Infiniti EX, Lexus RX, and Land Rover LR2. While the ML, GL, and R class are built in Alabama, the GLK-Class is built at the Mercedes plant in Bremen, Germany.
Initially, the lineup consists of the GLK350 with a 3.5-liter V6 engine and seven-speed automatic transmission. It comes with rear-wheel drive or 4MATIC all-wheel drive.
The GLK-Class looks like the big GL, but it doesn't offer as much space inside. It seats five and offers nearly 55 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seats folded down.
We found the new GLK-Class behaves more like an E-Class sedan than a truck. The suspension quietly soaks up bumps. It accelerates quickly and cruises easily at high speeds and gets about 22 mpg on the highway. Off road it performs brilliantly. The new 4MATIC all-wheel-drive system keeps it going through mud and over rocks.
The 2010 Mercedes-Benz GLK350 ($34,600) and GLK350 4MATIC ($36,600). A GLK220 CDI diesel is expected to follow.
Safety gear that comes standard includes front, side-impact, and roof curtain airbags. Anti-lock brakes (ABS), Brake Assist, traction control, yaw control come standard. 4MATIC all-wheel drive is available, which is transparent to the driver and completely computer-controlled.
The Mercedes-Benz GLK-Class uses a five-door layout with a whole lot of GL spirit in its exterior design. Initially, the U.S. will get the GLK-Class as a five-seater: two in front, three in rear.
The GLK-Class has the sports car grille with the central star, a set of three flowing lines from front to rear on the body, and a design in a thoroughly modern idiom. In the wind tunnel, it's slick enough to generate a 0.35 coefficient of drag, better than many lower-riding, rounded-off passenger cars and better by far than most of the SUVs against which it will compete. In many markets, things like PreSafe, adaptive headlamps, and the new intelligent lighting system (ILS), all class exclusives for the GLK350, will be standard equipment.
The 4000-pound Mercedes GLK350 uses welded steel unibody construction with front and rear subframes to mount the steering and suspension systems, with almost half the body weight in high-strength low-alloy steel.
Inside, the GLK-Class is a Mercedes-Benz through and through, but with some new features added, like the central controller on the console for combined control of the sound system, navigation system, and telephone, and a much more angular, purposeful instrument panel and dashboard layout. All of the dashtop panels in the GLK-Class will be anti-glare black, regardless of the interior color scheme (black, tan or gray).
If there's a negative in daily use duties, it's the interior space, or lack thereof. Mercedes-Benz told us that the total interior space inside the GLK350 is less than that of the C-Class wagon (not sold in the U.S.)
When loaded up to the top edge of the rear seat backrests, the load compartment of the GLK350 has a capacity of 23.3 cubic feet. The rear-seat backrests fold down in a 33/67 split or folded down completely to produce a flat load floor. Folding the second seat flat produces 54.7 cubic feet of load capacity, with a load compartment measuring 66 inches long.
The load compartment can be hidden from sight thanks to the load compartment cover, while standard-fit load-securing rings make it easier to fasten down cargo. There are bag hooks, coat hooks in the tailgate trim, a 12-volt power outlet and a lamp at the side of the load compartment.
An additional 86-liter stowage compartment is hidden under the fold-up load floor. This compartment is split into smaller partitions by a removable stowage tub. A safety partition net is available.
A power tailgate is available that can be opened and closed at the push of a button, either from the driver's seat or by remote control.
We had the opportunity to drive one of the first production versions of the GLK350 in Dusseldorf, Germany, and came away very pleased with the GLK-Class and bullish about its future.
The GLK350 is powered by a 3.5-liter V6 engine, coupled to a seven-speed automatic overdrive transmission called the 7G-Tronic 7. The GLK350 V6 engine will be rated at 268 horsepower at 6000 rpm, with 258 foot-pounds of torque available from 2400 to 4500 rpm, and 87 percent of that maximum number available as low as 1500 rpm, useful for crawling off-road.
The GLK350 can accelerate from 0-60 mph in just 6.5 seconds, says Mercedes, with a top speed of 143 mph and expected highway fuel economy of 22 miles per gallon. This is one of the most efficient and sophisticated engines that Mercedes-Benz has ever built, including lightweight casting techniques, forged connecting rods, variable valve timing on both intake and exhaust valves, variable intake tuning, and advanced combustion techniques for cleaner emissions and greater power.
The seven-speed transmission, as with most recent Mercedes-Benz automatics, will gradually adapt to the driver's own driving style and change shifting patterns accordingly. By analyzing speed versus throttle opening comparisons, the transmission will know whether the GLK-Class is going uphill or downhill and will either delay upshifts or hasten downshifts accordingly. And, unlike most SUV automatics, the 7G-Tronic in the GLK-Class will come with a TouchShift feature for side-to-side manual control and a choice of Comfort or Sport shifting modes for the driver's choice of higher rpm shifting and harder shifts or lower rpm shifting and softer shifts.
All-wheel drive is available and, called 4MATIC, it is the latest development of this technology. The new, lightweight 4MATIC computer-controlled all-wheel-drive system uses a 45/55 front/rear torque bias and uses a dual-disc clutch that acts as a locking center differential in difficult traction situations.
The front suspension combines two separate lower links with coil spring struts, twin-tube gas shocks and a stabilizer bar. Rather than one large control arm like a conventional MacPherson strut, the two forged-aluminum lower links provide better impact absorption in case of an impact. The low mass also contributes to better wheel control and damping. The top of the strut is connected to the body by a triple-path bearing, in which spring forces are transmitted directly to the body, but damping forces go through a rubber bushing that turns with the bearing during steering. Forces that exceed the suspension's travel, like a pothole or a curb, pass through a bump stop, then go directly into the body. The front suspension links are mounted to a high-strength steel subframe that also carries the engine, transmission and rack-and-pinion steering, which is mounted in front of the wheel center. The Mercedes-Benz five-link independent rear suspension has been updated for the GLK-Class. Mercedes engineers have redesigned it to minimize unsprung weight and optimize strength. A new rear high-strength steel subframe holds the final drive and suspension links.
Agility Control technology provides the benefits of both soft and stiff shock absorbers. Each shock absorber in the GLK-Class is fitted with a hydraulic by-pass piston that acts like a very soft shock absorber to dampen road noise and tire vibration. The by-pass piston is inactive during normal shock absorber operation, to maintain the steering and handling response of a stiffer shock absorber.
The new GLK-Class features four-wheel disc brakes with a standard anti-lock braking system (ABS). The brake pedal operates an aluminum master cylinder, and a tandem brake booster uses two eight-inch diaphragms to amplify the pedal power. Floating calipers, twin-piston up front and single-piston in the rear, squeeze the brake pads against vented brake discs, 13 inches in front and 11.8 inches at the rear.
The GLK-Class rides on 19-inch, ten-spoke alloy wheels shod with 235/50HR-19 all-season tires. Optional 20-inch seven-spoke wheels, 8.5 inches front and 9.5 inches in the rear, wear 235/40R-20 tires in front and 255/40R-20 at the rear.
In our drive from Dusseldorf to the Schloss Ehreshoven and back, traveling on the autobahns, winding country roads, and village streets, we pushed the GLK350 as hard as we dared, trying to find flaws in its driving manners, and we came up empty.
The GLK-Class behaves more like an E-Class sedan than a truck, quietly soaking up bumps and potholes and other imperfections, and it cruises easily at 115 mph with the 3.5-liter engine when traffic and space permit. Acceleration is very good for a vehicle of this weight, and in seventh-gear overdrive, it just purrs along at about 1800 rpm at 75 mph.
On the truly rugged and challenging off-road course at Schloss Ehreshoven, with a 35-percent grade and a 35-degree side slope on one section, the GLK350 performed brilliantly. Through deep water, over logs, through narrow gaps in the trees, it took the entire course in stride, without having to back up or back down once to negotiate a very tough course. The combination of the new 4MATIC system, traction control and ESP kept the GLK350 going through mud, over rocks, and through the water. In several situations where only one tire was touching Mother Earth, the system pulled through.
The Mercedes-Benz GLK-Class is a new compact SUV that offers smooth, fast highway performance with decent fuel economy. It performs well on rugged terrain.
Jim McCraw filed this report to NewCarTestDrive.com after driving a GLK350 4MATIC in Dusseldorf, Germany.
Mercedes-Benz GLK350, GLK350 4MATIC.
Options As Tested
Mercedes-Benz GLK350 4MATIC ($36,600).
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