The hills and canyons above Malibu are a well-known playground for automotive enthusiasts. Warm weather and spectacular views make for a wonderful Sunday afternoon cruise, while winding roads and sparse traffic create a driver's playground. Expensive sports cars are routinely seen here testing their limits, but soon visitors may well spot the new Mercedes-Benz GLK350 compact SUV attacking the turns with them.
Last year, Motor Trend garnered an exclusive first drive of the all-new GLK350 in the mountains of Spain, followed by another drive across Germany's autobahn. Both experiences impressed, but we couldn't help but wonder where this new cute ute will slot into the luxury SUV market. Now that we've conducted a thorough instrumented test, though, we have an answer.
Few Mercedes-Benz owners in the U.S. ever take their vehicles off-road, a reality the German automaker not only realizes but embraces. Thus, the GLK is targeted at affluent women -- and it appears Mercedes has hit its mark. This baby Benz has clearly been refined for the on-road market.
Consider the evidence: The off-road package that Mercedes-Benz claims will allow the GLK to rival the Land Rover LR2 in off-road capability will not be available in the U.S. Neither will the two Euro-market diesel engines, despite their efficiency advantages. As if to drive the point home, our tester arrived wearing 20-inch wheels wrapped with Pirelli Scorpion Zero tires. While the sidewalls may have revealed a mud and snow rating, the tread hardly looked trail-ready. Clearly, the GLK350 is not meant to tackle much more than the occasional snowy drive to a condo in the mountains.
We're okay with that, because while the GLK might not keep up with a Jeep Wrangler on the soft stuff, it will be far more pleasant to live with during the work week. Heated leather seats, Bluetooth and iPod connectivity, and a superb stereo will make the office commute and jaunts to the mall and supermarket more than bearable. The fully adjustable seats keep your backside happy on long drives, and the COMAND infotainment system is easy to learn and provides quick access to stereo, phone, and navigation. While the COMAND control knob operates much like BMW's iDrive, the system is more user-friendly. Unfortunately, Mercedes has placed the knob at an odd angle behind the gear select lever, requiring an uncomfortable reach. Moving it just an inch farther forward, away from the edge of the armrest, would help immensely.