Pros: Tanklike build quality; carlike ride and handling; all-wheel-drive capability; good acceleration; well-padded seating; refined interior; good overall value

Cons: Limited storage room; lackluster fuel economy; steep learning curve for COMAND system; light steering feel

The 2012 Mercedes-Benz GLK-Class is just the right formula for small to mid-size families in need of a premium crossover to bounce around town in. The main attraction is that the GLK-Class is built as solidly as a vehicle can be built. Living up to its chiseled exterior styling, the GLK looks solid, feels solid and drives solid. Sure, all Benzes are known for a substantial presence, but there's something about the GLK's shape and size that gives it a substantial feeling compared with other small luxury crossovers.

Competing in the premium small-crossover segment, the GLK is an overachiever on most fronts, except maybe cargo space. But for those looking for a well-rounded mix of utility, technology, upscale character and performance, the GLK may be unmatchable for the price.

Comfort & Utility

As the lone GLK-Class model, the GLK350 boasts an impressively crafted cabin with high-quality materials throughout. If anything truly stands out, it's the seats. The ones in front offer standard eight-way power as well as optional four-way lumbar adjustment, driver's-side memory and heated seats. Furthermore, all five seating positions are supremely supportive, covered in either vinyl or leather.

The five-passenger interior is ample in headroom, legroom and elbow room in both front and back. The rear seat is large enough to accommodate three adults but intended more for children and child safety seats.

Space for passengers often leads to shortages in cargo space, and indeed the GLK offers less rear storage room than most competitors. So even though it is comfortable for road trips, you'll have to pack efficiently.

Interior styling is a bit utilitarian compared with other Mercedes cars. The list of standard and optional amenities is on par for the brand, with such items as dual-zone automatic climate control, a tilting and telescoping steering wheel and a panoramic roof. For a shot of performance character, there's an optional AMG package.

Based on the interior configuration, the 2012 GLK-Class is a sensible choice for singles, couples and families with less than four members. For those in need of more people-moving or cargo capability, the M-Class and the GL-Class are bigger alternatives.

Technology

The GLK-Class, like most Mercedes cars and SUVs, comes with a nice mix of technology such as Bluetooth, a six-speaker stereo and the COMAND system for controlling electronic functions. Fair warning: the COMAND system is challenging to learn and, at times, frustrating to operate.

Upgraded technologies include a hard-drive-based navigation unit with voice command. It's viewed on a larger information/entertainment screen than the one available with the base COMAND system. Also available are push-button ignition, a backup camera, and digital music storage. Elevating the entertainment experience is an 11-speaker harman/kardon sound system and rear-seat DVD entertainment.

With all options loaded in, the GLK-Class becomes a surround sound theater on wheels.

Performance & Fuel Economy

The GLK350 is equipped with a 3.5-liter V6 engine yielding 268 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. Energy channels through a seven-speed automatic transmission to the rear wheels or to the optional 4Matic all-wheel-drive system.

Although the GLK350 is quite heavy for its size, its capable engine feels more powerful than its output would indicate. Off-the-line acceleration, in particular, is noticeably strong. And even when loaded with five passengers and cargo, the GLK's power delivery still feels potent and authoritative.

Fuel economy, however, is not as budget-friendly as one would hope. The GLK is rated at 16 mpg city/22 mpg highway with rear-wheel drive and 16/21 mpg with all-wheel drive. Since the GLK is intended as a family-centric vehicle, this could be a turnoff to potential buyers.

Safety

The GLK-Class responds to families' prioritizing of occupant protection with a number of baseline features and systems. The GLK350 comes armed with standard ABS with brake assist, plus stability and traction control systems for managing higher-risk road conditions. Optional 4Matic all-wheel drive helps keep the GLK gripping at all four corners.

Inside, the GLK offers active front headrests and a full complement of airbags, including one for the driver's knee and two pelvic airbags for the driver and front passenger.

Rounding out safety is Mercedes's mbrace emergency telematics system. However, the GLK-Class does not offer some of Benz's latest safety innovations like Adaptive Cruise, Attention Assist or Night View with Pedestrian Detection.

Driving Impressions

On the road, the GLK350 drives like a car. Solid and compliant, it feels like a slightly taller C-Class sedan. The ride is very comfortable and smooth, even on rough road surfaces. In handling, the GLK is responsive and exhibits minimal body roll in corners. Steering can feel a bit light, but once you become accustomed to it, the GLK is very precise in this area as well.

In rear-wheel-drive form, this crossover displays plenty of confidence, but with 4Matic all-wheel drive, it becomes remarkably planted through fast corners and across wet or snowy pavement. The system is not as sophisticated as Audi's quattro all-wheel drive but is still highly recommended, especially for cold climates. The GLK's standard 19-inch or optional 20-inch wheels add to its all-weather capability.

In normal traffic, the GLK350 maneuvers well and accelerates boldly in passing situations. In slower, tighter venues such as parking lots and small city streets, the GLK's concise footprint is a considerable advantage.

Other Cars to Consider

BMW X3 - The X3 is more of a sharp-handling driver's car than the GLK-Class, but it's not as smooth in ride or power delivery. The seats are not as comfortable, either.

Audi Q5 - The Q5 enjoys a plusher ride than the GLK-Class. Both are a little short on cargo room, but the GLK's interior has a more solid feel and a more intuitive layout.

Cadillac SRX - Like the GLK, the SRX is very well balanced across all fronts. However, it does not offer the refinement or the status of a Mercedes Benz.

AutoTrader Recommends

The 2012 Mercedes-Benz GLK-Class includes only one model, the GLK350. It is one of the best-built premium-level compact crossovers on the market. With good power and acceleration at its disposal, we would likely favor it over any future AMG iterations. The GLK is a very complete package, especially with 4Matic all-wheel drive, and an excellent value as one of the least expensive vehicles in the Mercedes-Benz model line.

author photo

Shamit Choksey has a love for automobiles that worked into an early career writing and developing cop shows for network television. Later, diving even further into the world of wheels, he became a writer/producer for the Emmy-nominated PBS/Discovery Channel series "MotorWeek." These days, Shamit lives in Southern California, serving as a media consultant and journalist within the automotive industry. Incidentally, his wife and two sons are not impressed by any of this.

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