2013 Mercedes-Benz GLK 350 Road Test Review

Trevor Hofmann - CAP staff
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With its upright styling and chunky hard edges the Mercedes-Benz GLK 350 isn't the sleekest looking compact luxury SUV available, nor is its interior filled with every new high-tech gadget the market offers. Twenty-three horsepower short of its most powerful competitor it's not the fastest either, and with four-cylinder turbocharged and hybrid-powered rivals it's certainly not the most fuel-efficient, at least not yet.

Next year a new four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine will power the new GLK 250 Bluetec, shaking the segment up with newly important fuel economy bragging rights, but until then Mercedes can be extremely proud of their updated 2013 GLK 350 featuring a revised 3.5-litre V6 with greater efficiency as well as 34 additional horsepower and 15 added pound-feet of torque for a new total of 302 and 273 respectively. The GLK is now one of the more potent performers in the compact premium SUV segment with a zero to 100 km/h rating of 6.5 seconds, pretty good considering its substantial 1,845-kilo curb weight, and it's made even more engaging thanks to Mercedes' 7G-Tronic Plus seven-speed automatic with paddle shifters that carries over mostly unchanged from last year's GLK. During a recent drive I found it fabulously fun off the line, pulling with much more vigor than the outgoing mill, yet just as smooth and refined. I can't wait to try the 369 pound-feet of torque available in the upcoming GLK 250 Bluetec.

Despite the added power in the GLK 350, fuel economy benefits from the addition of Mercedes' new ECO start/stop function that shuts down the engine when otherwise at idle. The new starter motor acts as a generator to keep the electrical system operational while the engine isn't running. The engineering updates allow for a decent 9.7 L/100km combined city/highway fuel economy rating, again not the best in the class but very good beside similarly powered competitors. And don't worry, if you don't like things starting and stopping without your consent you can switch it off via a manual override or, if in extreme cold or hot temperatures, let the climate control system override it for you. I'm all for saving fuel so I left it in ECO start/stop mode and was never disturbed by its mostly seamless background operation. Besides, there are so many more interesting things to keep the mind occupied inside the new GLK while waiting at a traffic light.

My tester came with the Premium package, well priced at just $3,600 and featuring such niceties as a media interface for connecting smart phones (it synced to my iPhone 5 in a jiff and was ultra-user-friendly for sorting through my tunes), satellite radio, a number of lighting packages including real sunlight via an expansive panoramic glass sunroof (that you can alternatively shut out with powered sunshades), parking sensors plus automated Active Parking Assist, and the premium class requisite powered tailgate.

My GLK loaner also had the $2,400 Comand Navigation package with its HDD navigation system, DVD changer, rearview camera, integrated garage door opener and electronic compass, and Mercedes equipped it with its $1,700 Convenience package too, boasting proximity sensing keyless access and pushbutton ignition, a powered tilt and telescoping steering column, heated steering wheel, powered lumbar support for the driver's seat, power adjustable passenger's seat, handy 115-volt power socket and even handier storage compartment under the driver's seat for hiding valuables out of sight.

I'm sure the $1,000 Bi-Xenon Headlamps package would have done a dandy job lighting the way if my test drive had been at night. It includes the upgraded lights, of course, as well as Adaptive Highbeam Assist to automatically keep the ultra-bright lamps from blinding oncoming traffic, plus headlamp washers, while the $2,700 Advanced Driving Assistance package was more interested in the needs of my passenger and me, not to mention surrounding vehicles, adding Active Blind Spot Assist and Active Lane Keeping Assist to keep the GLK and adjacent vehicles safer, as well as Mercedes' acclaimed PRE-SAFE braking system that automatically panic stops the SUV in the optimal distance using brake assisting BAS Plus, and if engaged will maintain a safe distance at all times via DISTRONIC PLUS, Mercedes' proximity sensing cruise control system. One day far into the future systems like these will be standard in every car (they form the basis of automated driving systems that have been covered a lot in news reports lately), but now Mercedes is one of a handful of automakers that lead the way by offering them as options.

All included, my fully featured GLK 350 tester came to $59,180 not including freight and PDI charges, which were $1,995 last year but are totally hidden from we consumers when configuring a GLK on Mercedes' retail website, so I suppose you'll get that pricing surprise when you sit down in front of the salesman. Then again if it has gone up at all, it won't be by very much as $1,995 is one of the most expensive delivery charges anywhere (for example Porsche only charges $1,115 to deliver and prep its larger, heavier Cayenne).

As tested the GLK is hardly inexpensive, but totally within the class average while offering a lot more than some competitors. The base model starts off at $44,900 plus destination, and comes very well equipped with 2013 updates that include a new grille and front fascia, new LED fog lamps, LED taillights, dual oval tailpipes and a sweet set of 20-inch AMG alloy rims, not to mention a revised interior with a new brighter instrument cluster that looks more up to date. A sportier three-spoke wheel looks great and feels nice and meaty in the hands, while Mercedes has installed a "new age" shift lever onto the steering column to free up space on the centre console (it's one of those fancy electronic devices that you flick up for Drive, down to Reverse, and press in from the side for Park). Even better, they've relocated the cruise control stalk to the left side of the steering column so as not to get in the way of the turn signal stalk anymore. I like the new rollaway centre-console storage compartment too. I should mention that Mercedes includes its Interior Sports package as standard equipment, which is a nice touch as it boasts gorgeous aluminum trim (you can swap it out for dark ash or burl walnut at no charge) and cool alloy foot pedals, plus other sporty upgrades, while its AMG package, also included in the base price, adds those nice big wheels I mentioned before, and exterior trim bits, and its no-charge Chrome package makes everything look blingy.

Most interior surfaces are up to premium spec with soft-touch materials, such as the dash-top, door panels and armrests, although taller folk might find the plastic surfaces on the lower centre stack hard on their knees. The seats are fabulous though, and in my testers' were multi-power adjustable including the aforementioned lumbar support, a must-have on a long drive, plus included automatically fore- and aft-adjusting headrests. Leather is optional at $1,990, but the standard Artico leather looks and feels genuine enough and is extremely durable. Now that we're talking add-ons, a 10-speaker 500-watt harmon/kardon Logic7 surround sound audio system can be added for $1,000, while aluminum running boards will increase the price by $750 and a trailer hitch (with a maximum 1,587-kg load) by another $675.

The GLK's comfortable suspension would aid in towing too. It's really smooth and absorbent over rougher roads, yet offers up that taut responsive feel most European import buyers cherish. Handling through tighter corners is aided by the GLK's standard 4Matic AWD system, which continuously monitors slip at each wheel before independently applying grip where necessary via front, centre and rear differentials. All of this happens without a thought, mind you, so if you're hightailing it along dry pavement that suddenly becomes wet mid-curve you'll likely maintain your lane, although there's a limit to even the best drive systems so best to be safe and keep to appropriate speeds when temperatures drop. This in mind, the GLK's higher than average centre of gravity causes a little bit of body lean, but it never felt uncomfortably wayward even when pushed. Of course if you ever find your wheels slipping from beneath you, any modern vehicle's electronic traction and stability control systems will help maintain control, but you can feel especially safe in the GLK because Mercedes' systems are more advanced than average.

While the GLK hasn't increased in overall proportions, Mercedes has managed to make it a bit more practical inside with more headroom front and back and more rear legroom; critically more than either of its German competitors too. And that upright styling I mentioned at the onset of this review aids in cargo carrying capacity, with 1,550 litres of luggage space available when the rear seats are laid flat. A non-slip floor surface is a nice feature too.

All-round there's nothing that I don't like about the new GLK, except maybe its foot-operated parking brake, a small issue that could easily be improved with a more modern electronic one. This aside I even like its slab-sided classic SUV styling, inspired from one of my favourite off-roaders of all time, the G-Class. With all the new updates for 2013 combined with an already well-made and totally utile compact crossover that offers more value than ever, the GLK is one of the best choices available.
©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Crossover, SUV, Mercedes-Benz, 2013, GLK350 4Matic, $40,000 - $49,999, $50,000 - $74,999, Compact,

Organizations: Mercedes-Benz

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