Overview

For decades, Mercedes-Benz offered only coupes, sedans station wagons and convertibles in the U.S. market. There was only one SUV in the product portfolio, the G-Class, but it wasn't sold in the United States until a few years ago. Then came the M-Class mid-size SUV, the big R-Class crossover, and the big GL-Class.

Now comes the compact GLK. It was to look like a GL, act like a G-Class off-road, and be shorter, lighter, and more economical to own and drive than some of the larger SUVs in the lineup.

The Mercedes-Benz GLK is the first compact SUV ever built by Mercedes and was designed to compete with the BMW X3, Audi Q5, Acura RDX, Infiniti EX, Lexus RX, and Land Rover LR2. While the ML, GL, and R class are built in Alabama, the GLK is built at the Mercedes plant in Bremen, Germany.

Initially, the lineup consists of the GLK350 with a 3.5-liter V6 engine and seven-speed automatic transmission. It comes with rear-wheel drive or 4MATIC all-wheel drive.

The GLK looks like the big GL, but it doesn't offer as much space inside. It seats five and offers nearly 55 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seats folded down.

We found the new GLK behaves more like an E-Class sedan than a truck. The suspension quietly soaks up bumps. It accelerates quickly and cruises easily at high speeds and gets about 22 mpg on the highway. Off road it performs brilliantly. The new 4Matic all-wheel-drive system keeps it going through mud and over rocks.

Model Lineup

The 2010 Mercedes-Benz GLK350 ($33,900) and GLK350 4MATIC ($35,900). A GLK220 CDI diesel is expected to follow.

Safety gear that comes standard includes front, side-impact, and roof curtain airbags. Anti-lock brakes (ABS), Brake Assist, traction control, yaw control come standard. 4Matic all-wheel drive is available, which is transparent to the driver and completely computer-controlled.

Walkaround

The Mercedes-Benz GLK uses a five-door layout with a whole lot of GL spirit in its exterior design. Initially, the U.S. will get the GLK as a five-seater: two in front, three in rear.

The GLK has the sports car grille with the central star, a set of three flowing lines from front to rear on the body, and a design in a thoroughly modern idiom. In the wind tunnel, it's slick enough to generate a 0.35 coefficient of drag, better than many lower-riding, rounded-off passenger cars and better by far than most of the SUVs against which it will compete. In many markets, things like PreSafe, adaptive headlamps, and the new intelligent lighting system (ILS), all class exclusives for the GLK, will be standard equipment.

The 4000-pound Mercedes GLK uses welded steel unibody construction with front and rear subframes to mount the steering and suspension systems, with almost half the body weight in high-strength low-alloy steel.

Interior Features

Inside, the GLK is a Mercedes-Benz through and through, but with some new features added, like the central controller on the console for combined control of the sound system, navigation system, and telephone, and a much more angular, purposeful instrument panel and dashboard layout. All of the dashtop panels in the GLK will be anti-glare black, regardless of the interior color scheme (black, tan or gray).

If there's a negative in daily use duties, it's the interior space, or lack thereof. Mercedes-Benz told us that the total interior space inside the GLK is less than that of the C-Class wagon (not sold in the U.S.)

When loaded up to the top edge of the rear seat backrests, the load compartment of the GLK has a capacity of 23.3 cubic feet. The rear-seat backrests fold down in a 33/67 split or folded down completely to produce a flat load floor. Folding the second seat flat produces 54.7 cubic feet of load capacity, with a load compartment measuring 66 inches long.

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.

An additional 86-liter 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.

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.

Driving Impressions

We had the opportunity to drive one of the first production versions of the GLK350 in Dusseldorf, Germany, and came away very pleased with the GLK and bullish about its future.

The GLK350 is powered by a 3.5-liter V6 engine, coupled to a seven-speed automatic overdrive transmission called the 7G-Tronic 7. The GLK350 V6 engine will be rated at 268 horsepower at 6000 rpm, with 258 foot-pounds of torque available from 2400 to 4500 rpm, and 87 percent of that maximum number available as low as 1500 rpm, useful for crawling off-road.

The GLK350 can accelerate from 0-60 mph in just 6.5 seconds, says Mercedes, 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.

The seven-speed transmission, as with most recent Mercedes-Benz automatics, will gradually adapt to the driver's own driving style and change shifting patterns accordingly. By analyzing speed versus throttle opening comparisons, the transmission will know whether the GLK is going uphill or downhill and will either delay upshifts or hasten downshifts accordingly. And, unlike most SUV automatics, the 7G-Tronic in the GLK will come with a TouchShift feature for side-to-side manual control and a choice of Comfort or Sport shifting modes for the driver's choice of higher rpm shifting and harder shifts or lower rpm shifting and softer shifts.

All-wheel drive is available and, called 4Matic, it is the latest development of this technology. The new, lightweight 4Matic computer-controlled all-wheel-drive system uses 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 front suspension combines two separate lower links with coil spring struts, twin-tube gas shocks and a stabilizer bar. Rather than one large control arm like a conventional MacPherson strut, the two forged-aluminum lower links provide better impact absorption in case of an impact. The low mass also contributes to better wheel control and damping. The top of the strut is connected to the body by a triple-path bearing, in which spring forces are transmitted directly to the body, but damping forces go through a rubber bushing that turns with the bearing during steering. Forces that exceed the suspension's travel, like a pothole or a curb, pass through a bump stop, then go directly into the body. The front suspension links are mounted to a high-strength steel subframe that also carries the engine, transmission and rack-and-pinion steering, which is mounted in front of the wheel center. The Mercedes-Benz five-link independent rear suspension has been updated for the GLK. Mercedes engineers have redesigned it to minimize unsprung weight and optimize strength. A new rear high-strength steel subframe holds the final drive and suspension links.

Agility Control technology provides the benefits of both soft and stiff shock absorbers. Each shock absorber in the GLK 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.

The new GLK features four-wheel disc brakes with a standard anti-lock braking system (ABS). The brake pedal operates an aluminum master cylinder, and a tandem brake booster uses two eight-inch diaphragms to amplify the pedal power. Floating calipers, twin-piston up front and single-piston in the rear, squeeze the brake pads against vented brake discs, 13 inches in front and 11.8 inches at the rear.

The GLK rides on 19-inch, ten-spoke alloy wheels shod with 235/50HR-19 all-season tires. Optional 20-inch seven-spoke wheels, 8.5 inches front and 9.5 inches in the rear, wear 235/40R-20 tires in front and 255/40R-20 at the rear.

In our drive from Dusseldorf to the Schloss Ehreshoven and back, traveling on the autobahns, winding country roads, and village streets, we pushed the GLK as hard as we dared, trying to find flaws in its driving manners, and we came up empty.

The GLK behaves more like an E-Class sedan than a truck, quietly soaking up bumps and potholes and other imperfections, and it cruises easily at 115 mph with the 3.5-liter engine when traffic and space permit. 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.

On the truly rugged and challenging off-road course at Schloss Ehreshoven, with a 35-percent grade and a 35-degree side slope on one section, the GLK performed brilliantly. Through deep water, over logs, through narrow gaps in the trees, it took the entire course in stride, without having to back up or back down once to negotiate a very tough course. The combination of the new 4Matic system, traction control and ESP kept the GLK going through mud, over rocks, and through the water. In several situations where only one tire was touching Mother Earth, the system pulled through.

Summary

The Mercedes-Benz GLK is a new compact SUV that offers smooth, fast highway performance with decent fuel economy. It performs well on rugged terrain.

Jim McCraw filed this report to NewCarTestDrive.com after driving a GLK350 4Matic in Dusseldorf, Germany.

Model Line Overview
Base Price (MSRP)
$33,900
Model lineup:
Mercedes-Benz GLK350, GLK350 4Matic
Engines:
3.5-liter V6
Transmissions:
7-speed automatic overdrive
Safety equipment (Standard):
front and side airbags, side air curtain, ABS, traction control, yaw control
Safety equipment (Optional):
N/A
Basic warranty:
3 years/36,000 miles
Assembled in:
Bremen, Germany
Specifications As Tested
Model tested (MSRP):
Mercedes-Benz GLK350 4Matic ($35,900)
Standard equipment:
air conditioning, power windows, power mirrors, power locks, 6-way power driver seat, AM/FM/CD player
Options as tested:
N/A
Destination charge:
N/A
Gas Guzzler Tax:
N/A
Price as tested (MSRP)
$35,900
Layout:
four-wheel drive
Engine:
3.5-liter dohc 24-valve V6
Horsepower (hp @ rpm):
268 @ 6000
Torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm):
258 @ 2400-5000
Transmission:
7-speed automatic
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy:
16/22 mpg.
Wheelbase:
108.5 in.
Length/width/height:
178.3/74.3/66.9 in.
Track, f/r:
60.1/62.5 in.
Turning circle:
37.7 ft.
Seating capacity:
5
Head/hip/leg room, f:
39.0/na/41.4 in.
Head/hip/leg room, m:
N/A
Head/hip/leg room, r:
39.7/na/35.1 in.
Cargo volume:
54.7 cu. ft.
Payload:
N/A
Towing capacity:
3500 lbs.
Suspension F:
independent, MacPherson strut, stabilizer bar
Suspension R:
independent, multi-link, coil springs, tubular stabilizer bar
Ground clearance:
7.9 in.
Curb weight:
4036 lbs.
Tires:
P235/50R19
Brakes, f/r:
vented disc/vented disc with ABS, EBD in.
Fuel capacity:
21.7 gal.

Jim McCraw

New Car Test Drive

Copyright © 1994-2009 New Car Test Drive, Inc.

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