2012 Mercedes-Benz GLK-Class Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
Compact SUV seats five, drives like a car.
The Mercedes-Benz GLK-Class is a compact crossover SUV, with looks reminiscent of the larger Mercedes-Benz GL-Class. The GLK-Class was launched as a 2010 model so the 2011 GLK-Class carries over largely unchanged, though several important features are available.
The 2011 Mercedes-Benz GLK-Class comes with new driver/passenger pelvic air bags and a driver's knee air bag. The steering wheel is covered in premium leather on the 2011 GLK-Class. A new rearview camera reduces fisheye distortion and there's a new headlight control switch. A new AMG styling package bundles unique bumpers, aluminum roof rails, LED daytime running lamps and 20-inch wheels (no 500-hp engine, though).
The GLK-Class seats five, offering two rows of seating, not three. The GLK-Class offers nearly 55 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seats folded down.
A compact sport-utility, the Mercedes-Benz GLK-Class competes with the BMW X3, Audi Q5, Acura RDX, Infiniti EX, and Land Rover LR2. The Lexus RX is also a competitor, though the Lexus is longer and has more cargo space. The Mercedes-Benz GLK-Class appeals to those who want some of the capabilities of an SUV in a less expensive, scaled-down package. It's relatively small, and easy to park.
The GLK-Class comprises just two models, the GLK350 with rear-wheel drive and the GLK350 4MATIC with all-wheel drive. They are otherwise equipped identically.
The Mercedes-Benz GLK350 is powered by a 3.5-liter V6 engine that makes 268 horsepower at 6000 rpm, with 258 foot-pounds of torque available from 2400 to 4500 rpm. Mercedes-Benz officials claim the GLK350 can accelerate from 0-60 mph in just 6.5 seconds with a top speed of 143 mph.
Fuel economy is an EPA-estimated 16/23 miles per gallon, or 16/21 mpg for the 4MATIC.
We found the GLK-Class drives more like a car than a truck, which makes sense, considering the car-based vehicle is built on the same platform as the C-Class compact sedan. The GLK-Class accelerates quickly, cruises easily at high speeds and quietly soaks up bumps.
Off-road it performs admirably, better than most in this class, and the 4MATIC all-wheel-drive system keeps it going through mud and over rocks.
The 2011 Mercedes-Benz GLK-Class is available as a GLK350 ($35,500) and four-wheel-drive GLK350 4MATIC ($37,500). Standard equipment includes cloth upholstery, two-zone automatic climate control, automatic headlamps, eight-way power driver's seat, leather-wrapped multi-function steering wheel, tilt/telescoping steering column, cruise control, Bluetooth hands-free phone system, eight-speaker audio with CD player and aux jack, remote keyless entry, rain-sensing wipers, 19-inch alloy wheels.
Optional equipment includes the Multimedia package ($3,000) with rearview camera, navigation system, voice controls, digital music storage, 6CD changer and iPod and USB ports. The Premium 1 Package ($3,200) adds a power liftgate, sunroof, rain-sensing wipers, auto-dimming mirrors, driver seat memory settings, driver seat power lumbar support, satellite radio capability and a 115-volt (a standard household) outlet. The Appearance package ($990) adds 20-inch wheels and aluminum roof rails. The new AMG Sport package ($1,990) includes the Appearance package plus AMG bumpers and LED daytime running lights. Standalone options include the Panorama Sunroof ($1,480) and PARKTRONIC ($800). Also optional is an 11-speaker Harman Kardon surround-sound audio system, heated front seats and a rear seat entertainment system with dual front-headrest-mounted displays.
Safety features on the 2011 GLK-Class include anti-lock brakes (ABS), multiple airbags including front, side-impact, roof curtain, driver/passenger pelvic airbags and driver's knee. Brake assist, traction control and yaw control come standard. Optional safety features include 4MATIC all-wheel drive and the rearview camera.
The Mercedes-Benz GLK-Class looks about like what you'd think a Mercedes compact SUV should look like.
The exterior design of the GLK-Class oozes a whole lot of GL-Class, the big full-size SUV. The GLK-Class silhouette is upright and angular, but its boxy shape is surprisingly aerodynamic, thanks in part to a deep hood and rising side character lines. To get technical, the Mercedes-Benz GLK-Class earns an admirable 0.35 drag coefficient in the wind tunnel, which bests many curve-wielding, lower-riding, passenger cars, as well as most of its direct competitors.
The GLK-Class is shorter in overall length than the other cars in the class, it's nearly five inches shorter than the BMW X3 and two inches shorter in wheelbase.
The GLK-Class was launched as a 2010 model and shares its basic structure with the C-Class compact sedan. It carries over to 2011 largely unchanged.
The new AMG package is all show, no go, adding only appearance features, not performance features. Don't expect the AMG 20-inch wheels to soften the ride, and 19-inch wheels are standard. Our preference is for the non-AMG GLK-Class.
Inside, the GLK-Class is a Mercedes-Benz through and through. The GLK-Class reuses many elements from the C-Class interior, but with a much more angular instrument panel and dashboard layout. Dashtop panels in the GLK-Class are made of black, anti-glare materials.
Interior space is a mixed bag compared with the other vehicles in the GLK-Class. The BMW X3 has another inch of headroom in the front seats, though the Mercedes has more front legroom.
The rear seats offer substantially more headroom than what's found in the BMW X3 or Infiniti EX, though legroom suffers in the Mercedes. It seems like the GLK-Class gives up some rear legroom to gain front room, which seems like a good trade to us. After all, back-seat riders typically don't make car payments, so they don't deserve as much legroom as you do. But if you have tall, lanky teens in the family, you might want to look at that.
Maximum cargo space is listed at 54.7 cubic feet, with the load compartment measuring 66 inches long. That's slightly less than what's available in the BMW X3 or Infiniti EX. The Lexus RX has vastly more cargo space due to its longer overall length. The rear-seat backrests fold down in a 33/67 split or fold down completely to produce a flat load floor. With the rear seats are up, the load compartment of the GLK350 has a capacity of 23.3 cubic feet when loaded to the top edge of the rear-seat backrests.
An additional 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, handy for cargo and possibly dogs. 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.
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.
The Mercedes-Benz GLK350 is powered by a 3.5-liter V6 engine that makes 268 horsepower at 6000 rpm, with 258 foot-pounds of torque available from 2400 to 4500 rpm. For off-roaders, 87 percent of that maximum available torque can be accessed as low as 1500 rpm.
Mercedes-Benz officials claim the GLK350 can accelerate from 0-60 mph in an impressive 6.5 seconds 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.
Gears shift smoothly with the 7-speed automatic transmission, which adapts to the driver's driving style and changes 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. Comfort and Sport shifting modes allow the driver to choose between higher rpm shifting or softer shifts. Fuel economy for the 2011 Mercedes-Benz GLK350 is rated at 16 mpg city, 23 mpg highway and 18 mpg combined. The 4MATIC version differs only in the highway rating at 21 mpg, a significant difference.
The 4MATIC uses a computer-controlled all-wheel-drive system that employs 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 GLK-Class feels more like a car than a truck, with its unit-body construction, quietly soaking up bumps and potholes and other imperfections. It cruises easily at 115 mph with the 3.5-liter engine. 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. We pushed a GLK350 4MATIC as hard as we dared, trying to find flaws in its driving manners, and we came up empty.
The suspension is designed to absorb impacts and vibration for a smoother ride. 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.
On a rugged and challenging off-road course, the GLK350 performed brilliantly through a 35-percent grade and 35-degree side slope. It handled deep water, mud, logs and rocks in stride, without having to back up or back down. The 4MATIC system pulled through even when only one tire was touching ground. The GLK-Class is much better for rugged terrain than the Lexus.
Around town, the compact dimensions of the GLK-Class make parking easier. Shorter than a BMW X3, it takes a little less space to make a U-turn in the Mercedes.
The Mercedes-Benz GLK-Class is a compact SUV that offers smooth, fast highway performance with decent fuel economy. It performs well on rugged terrain, better than most of the vehicles in this class.
Jim McCraw filed this report to NewCarTestDrive.com after driving a GLK350 4MATIC in Dusseldorf, Germany.
Mercedes-Benz GLK350 ($35,500), GLK350 4MATIC ($37,500).
Options As Tested
Mercedes-Benz GLK350 4MATIC ($35,500).
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