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The 2013 Mercedes-Benz GLK seats five comfortably. (Petrina Gentile for The Globe and Mail)
The 2013 Mercedes-Benz GLK seats five comfortably. (Petrina Gentile for The Globe and Mail)

First Drive

Mercedes-Benz GLK: Sleek and sophisticated Add to ...

The GLK is Mercedes-Benz’s baby crossover, but it’s a big winner in the lineup, the German auto maker’s top-selling sport-ute.

It originally debuted in 2009 as a 2010 model. Sure, it was a little late to the party, but it is quickly making up for lost time. For 2013, it gets refreshed with tweaks to the exterior, interior modifications and a shakeup in the engine department – Mercedes is offering a long-waited diesel in the GLK250 BlueTec 4Matic.

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“2011 was the best sales year so far, with increases achieved in all key markets. This kind of sales growth in the year leading up to a facelift is highly untypical and only serves to underscore its enormous popularity,” says Hubert Schneider, head of development for the GLK.

Powering the GLK250 BlueTec is a 2.1-litre, twin-turbocharged, inline-four-cylinder diesel that pumps out 190 hp and a hefty 369 lb-ft of torque. Mated to the engine is a smooth-shifting seven-speed automatic transmission.

The GLK’s compact size makes it easy to drive along the mountainous route filled with twists and hairpin turns. It’s not as sporty to drive as a BMW X1, for example, but it can hold its own. The handling is secure and composed. And the engine is excellent – it never struggled. And you won’t hear any noise or clatter like diesel engines of old. This one is quiet, refined and clean.

It’s a dream to drive with ample guts to overtake slow-moving vehicles on the highway and climb the steepest of mountains along our 100-kilometre-plus route from La Cusaz in the French Alps to Geneva, Switzerland. Even weighed down with three adults and suitcases, briefcases and shopping bags squished into 450 litres of cargo space, the diesel still returned an impressive 7.7 litres/100 km combined highway and city driving.

Personally, I’d take the GLK250 BlueTec in a heartbeat. It’s great on gas and has all the comforts you need such as leather seats, rain-sensing windshield wipers, steering-wheel shift paddles, heated front seats and Mercedes fourth-generation 4Matic all-wheel drive system. But if you prefer gas over diesel, there’s another model available, the GLK350 4Matic.

Under the hood is a 3.5-litre, direct-injection V-6, the same one first offered in the 2012 SLK350. It delivers 302 hp and 273 lb-ft of torque – up from 268 hp and 258 lb-ft. It, too, comes with a seven-speed automatic. It’s pretty quick, hitting 0-100 km/h in only 6.5 seconds, shaving a few seconds off the diesel time of 8 seconds.

One feature the gas engine gets, which the diesel doesn’t, is the new Eco start/stop technology. When stopped, the engine automatically shuts down and restarts again after you take your foot off the brake. The result is less fuel consumption and less carbon-dioxide emissions.

The exterior tweaks include an all-new front end with new headlights, bumpers and integrated LED daytime running lights, enlarged front air dams and new 19-inch wheels with five triple spokes. New active bi-xenon headlamps with LED turn signal indicators and 20-inch twin five-spoke wheels are optional on the GLK250. At the rear, there’s new LED tail lamps, new LED licence plate lighting and a new rear bumper design with integrated twin-pipe chrome exhaust.

The overall look is sleek and sophisticated.

But the most noticeable changes are inside. There’s a new dashboard, instrument cluster, funky circular air vents and a new centre console with an illuminated storage compartment. A new three-spoke steering wheel with paddle shifters creates a sportier ride. The gear selector lever been moved; it’s now on the steering wheel column, which frees up space in the centre console. The cruise control has a new layout, too; the position of the multifunction turn signal lever and cruise control stalk have switched so you’re less likely to engage the cruise control accidentally.

There’s also an abundance of technology up for grabs, too, including blind spot assist, which warns you when a vehicle is in your blind spot and it’s unsafe to change lanes, and active lane keeping assist, which warns you when the vehicle crosses the lane unintentionally and intervenes by applying selective brakes to return the vehicle to your lane. Most of the technology is bundled into packages. Be careful when selecting them – the cost could add up fast.

The GLK350 seats five comfortably. The cabin feels more spacious than the previous version, especially when you’re riding in the rear seats. There’s more padding for extra comfort. Headroom and legroom is also good in all seating positions. The front seats are spacious and supportive, even on long drives. From the driver’s seat, outward visibility is excellent thanks to thin A pillars and an upright windshield.

The 2013 MB GLK350 goes on sale in June. The GLK250 BlueTec 4Matic will be available this October. Prices aren’t available yet., but expect to pay slightly more than the outgoing base model, which starts at $41,600.

Tech specs

2013 Mercedes-Benz GLK250 BlueTec 4Matic

Type: Four-door, premium compact utility vehicle

Price: Not available

Engine: 2.1-litre, twin-turbocharged, inline-four diesel

Horsepower/torque: 190 hp/369 lb-ft

Transmission: Seven-speed automatic

Drive: All-wheel

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 6.1 combined; diesel fuel

Alternatives: Land Rover LR2, BMW X1, Audi Q5, Cadillac SRX, Lexus RX350, Acura RDX, Lincoln MKX, Infiniti EX, Volvo XC60

pgentile@globeandmail.com

Correction: An earlier online version of this story misidentified the Mercedes-Benz GLK350.

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