The GLK, Mercedes-Benz's newest addition to its SUV line, isn't even on sale yet, and already it's causing controversy. The slow, deliberate introduction of this compact luxury 'ute has included name changes (rumors originally had it named the MLK Class, but those initials tend to get people thinking about Dr. Martin Luther King), numerous renderings, and a spy shot taken on the set of a movie.

When it goes on sale in early 2009, the GLK will enter a fairly small niche: entry-level luxury SUV. That category is currently filled by the BMW X3, Land Rover LR2, and Acura RDX, but upcoming models such as Audi's Q5 and the Infiniti EX35 also will be serious competitors. Concept versions of the compact five-passenger SUV made their debut at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. The Vision GLK Freeside and Townside displayed two different interpretations of the future sport/utility--only cladding, wheel and tire, suspension, and interior treatments were different.

What will be the smallest SUV with a Mercedes badge borrows its styling from the largest--the GL. The square, bulky design was shown with cladding and without, and it's still unclear which will be used on the production version. The Freeside and Townside were displayed with 20-inch alloy wheels but each was fitted with different size all-terrains. The cabins were posh, with white leather accented by black piping, a la Range Rover. The interior designers gave one a light interior and the other mostly dark.

Expect the GLK to be powered by a choice of at least two engines. The first, revealed by the GLK350 badge on the unit uncovered in the spy shot (a 268-horse, 258-pound-foot, 3.5-liter V-6), is the same engine currently offered in the ML350. However, both Detroit-show concepts were powered by a new engine from Mercedes: a 170-horse, 2.2-liter Bluetec turbodiesel four said to put out a stunning 369 pound-feet of torque, available at 1600 rpm. This engine will offer excellent fuel economy. Gas and diesel engines will both be backed by a seven-speed automatic transmission. Mercedes has not yet confirmed that the turbodiesel will be coming to the United States--but it is under serious consideration. The engine uses a two-stage turbocharger and the company's Bluetec emission control system, which incorporates an oxidizing catalytic converter, particulate filter, SCR catalytic converter, and AdBlue (urea) injected into the exhaust. This system is already EU6 compliant (Europe's strict emissions regs for 2015) and is said to comply with California's LEV2 legislation.

Mercedes also announced the GLK will be fitted with a new version of the company's 4Matic all-wheel-drive system, which uses a multiple-disc clutch in the center diff. It doesn't make the SUV a hard-core off-roader by any means but will improve traction on ice and in snow. The standard torque split is 45/55 front to rear. The GLK concept's suspension can be designed with a bias toward comfort or handling, and the Freeside and Townside were displayed with different ride heights and suspension tuning.

The company plans on showing the production version of this SUV soon. We expect the mechanical aspects of both concepts to stay about the same when it goes on sale in January.


2009 Mercedes-Benz GLK-Class
Base Price $38,500 (est)
Layout Front engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV
Engines 2.2L/170-hp/369-lb-ft TD I-4; 3.5L/268-hp/258-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve V-6
Transmission 7-speed automatic
Wheelbase, in 108
Lengthxwidthxheight, in 177.6x72.0x68.0 (est)
Curb weight, lb 4200 (est)
GVWR, lb 5200 (est)
Payload capacity, lb 1000 (est)
Max towing capacity, lb 3500 (est)
Max cargo capacity, cu ft 60.0 (est)
EPA fuel econ, city/hwy, mpg 15-19/20-28 (est)
On sale January 2009