It's strange that while we still can't buy a half-ton or compact/midsize pickup with a diesel engine, the diesel-loving Germans at Mercedes-Benz continue to have no problem expanding their oil-burning footprint here in the U.S. The latest Benz diesel set for our shores is the 2013 Mercedes-Benz GLK250 BlueTEC we recently had a chance to take for a spin. No, the GLK will never be able to outcrawl a G-Class, in North America at least, the GLK now has something on offer the G doesn't.

We drove GLKs equipped with both engines that will be available in the U.S. The updated version of Benz's 3.5-liter V-6 with 302-hp and 273 lb-ft is the base engine, with the 190-hp, 369-lb-ft 2.1-liter turbodiesel I-4 available as an option. The V-6 propels the GLK to speed in short time, and both GLKs felt nimble on mountain roads. The GLK250 may not accelerate quite as quickly as the gas engine does, but it still feels plenty fast. It has a quiet rumble that's refined enough to fit well in a luxury vehicle, but there's still enough of a clatter to indicate it isn't a gas engine.

At 369 lb-ft, the GLK250's mill has nearly 100 lb-ft more than the V-6. That amount of horsepower and torque is a perfect fit for a vehicle this size, and it feels more like the engine the GLK was designed to use from the start. Neither pricing nor fuel economy for the diesel has been announced, but we expect it to offer better mpg than the gas engine as well. If Mercedes follows the pattern it started with the GL-Class and makes the diesel the less expensive choice, this would be a true bargain. Both GLK models use stop/start Eco mode. In the vehicles we drove, the transition between stop and start was seamless. Both models now also deploy electromechanical steering, and although it worked as intended, we felt steering response was too slow at lower speeds.

The GLK250's engine has been around in Europe since 2008, where it has powered the C- and E-Classes, and even the S-Class. It was recently given some refinements focusing on improving driveability, fuel economy, and emissions; it met EU6 regulations before that standard had been made law. As U.S. EPA and European standards become closer to each other, making an engine emissions-compliant in one region almost ensures that it can be adapted to the other. This gave Mercedes an opportunity to bring the diesel here with less relative expense than other companies would have to invest, and it will likely go on sale before diesel versions of the Audi Q5 and BMW X3 do.

The updated diesel is mated to Benz's seven-speed automatic, and engineers reduced both the weight of the engine and internal friction. A key example of how weight was reduced was through a new method Mercedes uses to cast the crankcase. This reduces wall thickness from 5 mm to 3. The way Mercedes does it, the cast-iron part weighs less but retains the strength found in the thicker-walled previous version. Like the 3.0-liter V-6 turbodiesel, the 2.1-liter will also require use of the urea-based AdBlue solution.

In addition to the new engine, for 2013, the GLK gets a wide array of updates and improvements. While the majority of the styling upgrades were to the interior, one notable change on the outside is a revised front end, with daytime-running LED lighting, more chrome in the grille, and restyled taillights and wheels. Mercedes says the GLK has more than 1000 new parts, and we expect many of those are within the cabin. The redesigned layout brings the center stack, gauge cluster, and color combinations in line with sedans and other SUVs in the Mercedes-Benz lineup.

Our test vehicles came with tasteful combinations of brushed aluminum, dark wood inserts, black leather seats, and leather-wrapped steering wheels. One vehicle even sported the high-dollar designo interior, an option that will not be available in the U.S. (nor will we get the Europe only off-road package). New features in the cabin include mbrace2, COMAND Online that allows in-vehicle Internet access, and safety systems such as Active Blind Spot Assist, Active Lane Keeping Assist, and Active Parking Assist. The updates to the GLK come at just the right time. With diesel offerings from Audi and BMW in the same size category coming, and with the on-sale date of this engine in the first quarter of 2013 (the V-6 will be available shortly), should beat both to market. The diesel offering and the overhaul of the interior make this vehicle more competitive than it ever has been before -- as long as the price is in line with the of the competition.


2013 Mercedes-Benz GLK250 BlueTEC
BASE PRICE $38,000 (MT est)
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front engine, 4WD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV
ENGINE 2.1L/190-hp/369-lb-ft DOHC 16-valve I-4
TRANSMISSION 7-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT 4250 lb (est)
WHEELBASE 108.5 in
LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT 178.3 x 74.3 x 66.9 in
0-60 MPH 7.0 sec (est)
EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON Not yet rated
ON SALE IN U.S. Spring 2013