Introduced to the North American market in 2010, the Mercedes-Benz GLK350 shares its platform with the company’s C-class. Among other things, this gives it a level of comfort and driveability unmatched by most of its rivals.
For example, BMW’s X3 (also car-based) has a harshness about it and feels less refined than the GLK350. The X3 also lacks a diesel option, although my test GLK featured Mercedes’ ubiquitous 3.5-litre V-6 gas engine.
In this configuration, it develops 302 horsepower, which is up a little over the previous model, and 273 lb-ft of torque. There is but one transmission choice: a seven-speed automatic with Mercedes’ seven-speed G-Tronic automatic with manual shift mode, and 4Matic all-wheel-drive is standard issue. This system essentially applies the brakes when a wheel starts to slip, and redirects power to the non-slipping wheels until the vehicle gets going again. Mercedes utilizes it on various other models as well and it’s unobtrusive and unnoticeable. Not exactly suited for serious boulder-hopping, it will see you home if you get caught in a snowstorm.
Being a Mercedes, the GLK350 is a cut above in terms of comfort. That’s one of the things I like about it. It comes with heated front seats, but not just any heated seats; these have two modes – “normal” and “rapid” – and you can warm things up in a hurry with the latter setting. They also shut themselves off after 30 minutes. No chilled/air-conditioned front seats here, however. This may be one of the stupidest features car makers have adopted – right up there with touch-screen monitors, push-button start, and automatic parallel parking. Whenever I use chilled seats in a car, I feel like I’ve wet myself.
Other standard kit includes manual tilt/telescoping steering, climate control system, power front seats, one-touch-up/down front windows, back-up camera and Mercedes’ “artico” upholstery. I love this latter feature – they used to call it MB-Tex, now it’s “artico” or man-made leather. Artico apparently stands up better than real leather, and is used by taxi drivers in Germany, where various Mercedes models are standard fare.
My tester also had a couple of packages: navigation and premium. The latter includes a power tailgate, a cavernous power sunroof, Sirius satellite radio and a parking assist system, all of which adds $3,600 to the price tag. The sunroof, which essentially takes up the entire roof, increases the interior temperature dramatically – even if it’s not particularly hot outside. The navi package, meanwhile, is good for another $2,400. All in, my tester approaches $52,000 before taxes and extras. The Acura MDX, by way of comparison, starts at about $53,000, while the X3 is in the mid-$40,000s.
A word about storage. The GLK350 is beautifully finished inside and is not the kind of vehicle you’d throw lumber or tools in. Nonetheless, I had occasion to haul my cruiser-style bicycle around in it, and it doesn’t fit. At least, not unless you remove the front wheel first and even then, it’s a squeeze. Why not put the bike on a rack, you ask? Aside from the fact that I didn't have one at the time, there is also the theft factor to consider. Bicycle theft in my home town is rampant, and not only will they lift the bike, but they’ll take the rack as well. Nothing is safe, no matter how robust the wheel/fork lock. Stashing the bike inside the vehicle is the only sure way to keep it – at least downtown – and with the GLK, it’s a bit of a struggle.
The GLK also has a couple of standard equipment features I like: Mercedes’ Eco start/stop function and hill start assist. The first is politically correct, but surprisingly unrefined. You can feel the car shudder into life when you take your foot off the brake and, although it’s not obtrusive, it caught me by surprise. The second feature is excellent and holds the car for about two-three seconds on a hill. Studebaker, which introduced this feature back in the 1940s, was ahead of its time.
Aside from the price and fuel economy, I like just about everything about the GLK. It’s the right size, has above-average comfort, is easy to use around town, and has a nice sense of balance. This is a driveable automobile and it’s easy to see why it sells in big numbers.
About the price and fuel economy: at $51,790, this one is getting up there, and isn’t even the top trim level. If you choose, you can drop $60,000 on a GLK easily. As well, 11.1 litres/100 km in town and 8.1 on the highway can’t be described as thrifty by any stretch, and premium gas is required.
But then, if you can afford a GLK350, the price of gas is probably not high on your list of concerns.
2013 Mercedes-Benz GLK350
Base Price: $44,900; as tested: $51,790
Engine: 3.5-litre V-6
Horsepower/torque: 302 hp/273lb-ft
Transmission: Seven-speed automatic with manual shift feature
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 11.1 city/8.1 highway; premium
Alternatives: BMW X3, Audi Q5 ,Acura RDX, Cadillac SRX, Range Rover Evoque, Lexus RX350
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