Call It a Tank, Call It Gretel. We Call It Very Good
James Riswick, New and Used Car Editor
The three-pointed Mercedes star is usually enough for people to buy whatever old thing it's glued to, regardless of whether it truly lives up to the brand's historic pedigree. Look no further than the dumpy C-Class hatchback of a few years ago or Europe's tiny A-Class that resembles a minivan sent through a trash compactor. To be honest, before we drove it, we thought the 2010 Mercedes GLK350 4Matic would be one of these cash-grab products preying on customer vanity and the popularity of compact SUVs. We were wrong.
True, the GLK will still appeal to brand snobs in search of a small luxury sport-utility, but it at least does it while being a meticulously engineered piece of 100 percent Mercedes-Benz excellence -- if it were any more German, it'd be named Gretel. The GLK may be the second-cheapest Benz you can buy in the United States, but it certainly doesn't seem that way. Closing the doors is like sealing yourself in Terry Benedict's Bellagio vault -- impenetrable to everything but George Clooney and 10 pals. Railroad tracks and deep potholes are casually brushed off without a millimeter of body flex. It feels as if you could roll over a grenade and suffer nothing but a muted thump. On second thought, forget Gretel; try Panzer.
The current Mercedes C-Class feels the same way, and it's no surprise that the GLK is based on the compact sport sedan. The steering and ride quality feel similar to the C, while both Benzes share the same 268-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 (the only engine available in the GLK). However, the platform's compact SUV version is 4 inches shorter in length, plus it receives the obvious ride and body height pump up. While the result may not be the sportiest compact SUV around, like the C350, the GLK350 represents an ideal balance between ride and handling that should please most luxury buyers.
We were prepared to dislike the 2010 Mercedes-Benz GLK350, but we handed over its keys duly impressed. While others provide more space and/or more equipment for the same amount of money (or less), none offer those unmatchable Mercedes traits of painstaking over-engineering and top-notch interior craftsmanship that is certainly worth some, if not all, the price premium. Not all Benzes have upheld these traditions, but the GLK has most certainly earned its three-pointed star.
Every 2010 Mercedes-Benz GLK-Class is powered by a 3.5-liter V6 that produces 268 hp and 258 pound-feet of torque. Rear-wheel drive is standard; however, our test car came equipped with 4Matic all-wheel drive. Paired with the buttery-smooth seven-speed automatic that features Sport, Comfort and Manual modes, the GLK350 4Matic went from zero to 60 mph at our test track in a tidy 7.2 seconds. That seems just about right for this type of vehicle -- respectably quick -- and on the open road, the GLK is never wanting for power. In fact, Mercedes could probably pop in the C300's smaller V6 and it wouldn't be significantly worse for wear.
The brakes are also a GLK strong suit, producing a best stop from 60 mph in 119 feet with fade-free subsequent stops of similar length. Pedal feel is solid and trustworthy without any of the nebulous dead travel that some Mercedes exhibit.
While it may not provide the sort of slick handling of a BMW X3 or Infiniti EX35, the GLK350 nevertheless feels capable and confidence-inspiring around corners. The steering can be on the heavy side in parking lots, but at higher speeds is linear in its buildup, with just enough typically German road feel. Whether you're looking for sport sedan-ish handling or just a comfortable cruiser, the GLK should strike a pleasant balance.
According to EPA estimates, fuel economy for the 4Matic-equipped GLK is 16 mpg city/21 mpg highway and 18 mpg combined. Our test car matched the combined number after two weeks in our lead-footed care. Given the seven-speed transmission, however, we would expect better highway fuel economy.
If you like a spongy, wafting ride, the 2010 Mercedes GLK350 will not be the SUV for you. Instead, it thunders down the road feeling as if it's 500 pounds heavier than it actually is (and at 4,192 pounds, the GLK's already big-boned). You feel bumps, but there's never any harshness or jarring -- especially on the highway. The GLK proved to be a road trip champ even over the horrendous mosaic of poor surfaces found on the Los Angeles freeway system. At the same time, the cabin was kept remarkably free of wind and road noise.
Like the ride, some may find the GLK's seats to be on the north side of firm. However, after numerous hours behind the wheel, we found them to be well-shaped and supportive in all the right places. Again, very German. Seat adjustability was also excellent, while the optional power tilt-telescoping steering wheel assured a good driving position for all.
Headroom is positively cavernous in the GLK and that boxy greenhouse ensures excellent visibility. The rear seat is hardly limolike, but it's placed high and provides good thigh support. Our tallest driver could fit behind his own far-back driving position. The same can't be said for Infiniti's EX35 and FX35. Unfortunately, ingress and egress to the rear are made difficult by small door openings and diagonal door cuts. This is also a problem when installing a child seat, but there's at least enough space within once you squeeze it through.
Every 2010 GLK features Mercedes' latest COMAND electronics interface for the stereo. Bluetooth phone and the optional navigation system are bundled in the $3,350 Multimedia package that also includes a decent upgraded stereo, digital music storage and back-up camera. Once you know where everything is located and what it takes to manipulate it, COMAND's redundant controls -- physical dash buttons, steering-wheel controls, multifunction knob and display screens -- are at least a reasonable solution for performing a variety of different functions. The climate controls, by contrast, are remarkably simple but are located too low in the center stack.
Cargo space is the GLK's Achilles' heel, with a scarcity of storage bins and a smaller-than-average cargo compartment. While we suspect Mercedes may be selling itself short with the GLK's stated maximum capacity measurement of 54.7 cubic feet (it's hard to believe the X3 is 16 cubes bigger), stuff-hauling is certainly not its forte. The boxy shape helps to optimize the available space, however.
Design/Fit and Finish
Mercedes' interior quality took a nosedive for a few years, but the 2010 Mercedes-Benz GLK350 proves that the three-pointed star represents a world standard once again. What it may lack in design creativity (there's barely a curve in sight), it certainly makes up for with high-class materials and meticulous construction.
We were left bamboozled when we discovered our test car was upholstered in so-called MB-Tex (a.k.a. vinyl) rather than leather. Not surprisingly, we were therefore impressed by its quality and convinced you don't need to pony up the extra $1,750 for old-fashioned cow skin.
The exterior's odd blend of C-Class and G-Class styling cues was hardly loved amongst our editors. Some thought it looked contrived, while others at least appreciated the subliminal message its blocky proportions send ("I look like a brick and I'm strong like one, too").
Who should consider this vehicle
Someone who needs more utility than a C-Class provides or someone willing to sacrifice a bit of space in return for the most meticulously engineered small luxury SUV available.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
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