When Mercedes-Benz launched the then new GLK in 2009, the auto industry was still in a bad way. Sales were down in every segment, and some questioned the sanity of Mercedes for launching a premium, small, SUV.
But hindsight is always 20/20, and the segment is now rife with competitors, most notably the BMW X3 and Audi Q5. Both are solid vehicles, but both need to be very afraid of the 2013 GLK 350, which is better in every way than its predecessor.
Let’s start with styling. Where the 2009 GLK looked like a mini G Wagen (which Mercedes says is the bloodline vehicle for the GLK), the 2013 model still has the G’s rugged appeal, but also features the swoopy look that now adorns many Mercedes, including the SL550 sports car. The front of the GLK features new headlights with LED daytime running lights, a new bumper and grille. Redesigned roof rails and sculpted door panels enhance the side profile. At the rear, LED tail lights are now standard, and chrome plated tailpipe trim adds design flair. New 19” wheels are also standard, while 20” wheels are optional and part of two packages – the Appearance Package and the AMG Styling Package. The AMG package also adds AMG front and rear skirts, AMG grille with two chrome louvers, AMG LED daytime running lights and aluminum roof rails.
Step inside the new GLK, and you will think you are in big brother GL. Mercedes has done a terrific job redesigning the interior, which is “Bentley-esque” in some ways. Take the new wood dash trim. Available in Burl Walnut or Black Ash, the wood is of very high quality. It adorns the doors, and runs the full width of the dashboard. A cool roll-top bin is also made of wood, and resides where the gearshift lever used to be on previous gen GLKs, giving you more storage options. Large, circular air vents resemble precision aircraft parts, and move a lot of air. The wood trim and special vents remind me of the same on the upscale Bentley Continental GT. Quite an accomplishment to have me thinking premium luxury at an entry level luxury price point.
Additional interior highlights include a new three spoke steering wheel with shift paddles and a crisp color display within gauge cluster that shows trip computer and COMAND functions. LED fiber optic lighting is optional, and again brings the new GLK closer to other luxury staples in the Benz lineup. Leather seating is optional with MB-Tex (high quality vinyl) standard.
During the press preview for the GLK, Mercedes’ PR team showed us interior photos of the first gen and new GLK back to back. The new interior is dramatically better than the old. It was like the old interior was from a 1990’s Chevy, while the new interior photo reeked of the excellence one expects from the legendary brand.
On the road, the GLK also shines. The Blueridge Mountains served as the backdrop for our test drive. The GLK’s ride quality is excellent, with little body roll evident during aggressive driving. Credit the standard multi-link AGILITY CONTROL suspension system with selective damping for the excellent road manners. Current GLK’s are outfitted with a 3.5 liter V6 making 302 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque (GLK350). On deck is a 2.2-liter turbodiesel that outputs 190 horsepower and an impressive 369 pound-feet of torque (GLK250 BlueTEC). Given the GLK’s on road and off road prowess (we briefly drove off road on a very hilly gravel trail), either powertrain will deliver power and performance. Do opt for 4Matic, Benz’ all-wheel drive system, should you endeavor to take your GLK off road or if you live in a foul weather area. Base models are rear-wheel drive. New for 2013 is ECO Start/Stop, which shuts the engine down to save fuel when you come to a complete stop, say at a traffic light. You can switch the start/stop function off manually.
No review of a Mercedes-Benz would be complete without a compilation of the myriad standard safety systems. Nine airbags head the list, with front, front side, front pelvic, driver’s knee and full window curtain airbags. Electronic traction control lessens wipeouts in emergency situations. NECK-PRO active head restraints help prevent whiplash in rear end crashes. Adaptive brakes featuring HOLD (you can set and remove your foot from the brake during long traffic lights), brake drying, and hill start assist are among the safety features. Optionally, you can add to the list by adding DISTRONIC cruise control, Blind Spot Assist and Lane Keeping Assist.
Base price for the 2013 GLK350 is $37,965. Options are pricey, and raised the final tally to $54,025. That’s a lot to pay for anything pegged “entry level.” The saving grace here is the GLK will reward you with luxury, performance and safety, and should hold resale value better than competitors because it wears the coveted three-pointed star.