Car Review

2013 Mercedes-Benz GLK350: First Drive

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ADDITIONAL MODEL INFORMATION

author photo by Dan Carney June 2012
  • Exterior styling details improved
  • Expected safety equipment is now standard

Now that's more like it. After going through a similar evolution with its original ML-Class SUV and C-Class compact sedan, Mercedes-Benz has realized that customers of the three-pointed star demand high levels of luxury from all of the company's products, and for 2013 it has upgraded the GLK compact SUV accordingly.

The GLK, which made its debut in 2010, has not been a source of enthusiasm overall. Customers were disappointed by its lackluster cabin appointments, dull styling and lack of Mercedes-grade safety technology. Mercedes, in turn, was disappointed by the relative lack of purchasers in this hot-selling product segment.

For 2013, Mercedes has directly addressed all of the old GLK's shortcomings that could be fixed without a total redesign. The Converse All-Star high-top sneaker proportions remain, but now the details are abundantly more sophisticated, with crisp character lines and chrome trim highlighting the front and rear fascias.

Interior Decoration

The old car's cabin might not have been quite hose-it-out off-roader style, but its drab plastics didn't approach the lavish furnishing expected of a Mercedes product. The new GLK is as opulently outfitted as anyone could hope. A vast stretch of wood across the middle of the dashboard is punctured by four circular chrome air vents that look and work better than the old rectangular black vents.

There's more wood on the console and inlaid in the door trim. Available wood includes walnut and black ash, and there is brushed aluminum for modernists. The console has a clean appearance now, because the shifter has been relocated to a stalk on the dashboard.

A new steering wheel with brushed metal spokes replaces the plain black plastic wheel in the outgoing model. Looking through that wheel, now the instruments resemble those in the rest of the Mercedes line, with a color display screen embedded inside the speedometer.

The cabin's nighttime appearance is the most dramatically transformation, with the addition of optional ambient lighting to the dashboard and door panels, a feature that is also seen on the company's other models. For the more price-sensitive compact luxury SUV segment, the ambient lighting is bundled with the optional leather upholstery for $2,000.

Underhood Motivation

The refresh presented the chance for Mercedes to replace the old-tech 90-degree V6 in the GLK350 with a modern direct-injected, 302-hp 60-degree V6. The 90-degree engines were basically V8s with two cylinders chopped off, and unsurprisingly, they weren't as smooth as a purpose-built 60-degree V6 (or the even better flat- and straight-6s). Direct fuel injection squirts the gas directly into the combustion chamber, providing better control for maximum power and minimum pollution.

The engine is matched to a new seven-speed automatic transmission. Together, they provide seamless acceleration and improved fuel economy. The official EPA numbers aren't yet available, but the company said that the new GLK should see the same 15 percent improvement with the new engine that the C-Class sedan experienced.

The outgoing model was rated at 16 mpg city and 22 mpg highway, so look for about 19/25 mpg for the 2013 GLK. In a day of mountainous highway driving, we saw 23 mpg from the all-wheel-drive GLK350 and 25 mpg from the rear-wheel-drive version. A fuel-sipping diesel is in the works for early 2013.

Safe at Home

Mercedes has earned an impressive reputation for equipping its vehicles with the latest safety technology. For 2013, the GLK steps up to meet that expectation. The new edition includes active blind spot warning and lane keeping systems, along with a device that warns if the driver appears to be too sleepy to drive.

Some features combine safety with convenience, such as the forward radar system, which warns the driver and automatically applies up to 40 percent braking power if it sees an object ahead. The same radar contributes to the automatic cruise control, which lets the GLK settle in behind slower-moving cars with the driver disabling the cruise control setting.

The starting price for the rear-wheel-drive GLK350, which will account for slightly less than half of GLK sales, is $37,090. The company's 4matic all-wheel drive is a $2,000 option, so it is possible to get out the door with some equipment for less than $40,000. The test model, in contrast, was optioned up to a surprising $54,000, thanks to the AMG appearance package and a variety of amenities like seat heaters.

In total, the new GLK delivers the authentic Mercedes-Benz "The Best or Nothing" experience that shoppers expect from the brand. From the dashboard details to the engine design to the safety technology, now the GLK meets and exceeds expectations.

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
2013 Mercedes-Benz GLK350: First Drive - Autotrader