The prevailing trend in the crossover market over the last several years has been to make the vehicles more "carlike" in both appearance and driving character, supposedly to enhance their appeal to buyers coming out of passenger cars, as well as customers migrating down from truck-based SUVs to the more comfortable, maneuverable, and efficient crossovers. The 2013 Mercedes-Benz GLK could be seen by some as the iconoclast of the compact premium crossover class.

Its styling mimics its big-brother GL three-row SUV, with an upright, chiseled shape, complete with a vertically angled windshield and unusually shallow dashboard. But there's nothing uncouth, agricultural, or trucklike about how the 2013 GLK350 drives. Loosely based on the C-Class chassis, the GLK is thoroughly refined, and the styling and mechanical updates to the 2013 model make it even more appealing to those seeking carlike comfort and performance in a small SUV.

We drove the new 2013 GLK350 after having had some seat time in the new-for-2013 GLK250 BlueTec diesel model, and the 302-hp, naturally aspirated V-6 provides a unique contrast and counterpoint to the diesel's powertrain. Unlike the diesel's waffling, unhurried character, the direct-injected 3.5-liter V-6 feels frenetic by comparison, with its 6800-rpm redline more like 9000 relative to the diesel's effective 4500-rpm redline. Not helping the Red Bull feeling is the GLK350's non-linear and somewhat lurchy throttle, which delivered slightly less-than-smooth acceleration at times.

Regardless of how it was presented, there was no question the GLK delivered the goods when the pedal hit the metal, clocking a brisk 5.8-second 0-60 sprint and properly quick 14.4-second quarter mile at 96.4 mph. These times represent worthwhile improvements of 0.8 and 0.6 second, respectively, over the last GLK350 we tested, with the 268-hp port-injected V-6. The V-6 was also 1.2 seconds quicker than the diesel from 0-60, and 0.9 seconds quicker through the quarter mile.

In other performance tests, the BlueTec and 350 were more closely matched, with the BlueTec doing the figure-eight in 28.7 seconds at an average of 0.57 g, compared with the 350's 28.5 seconds at 0.55 g. Braking from 60-0 was slightly longer on the 350 at 121 feet, compared with the BlueTec's 117, and the gasser taking a slight edge in maximum lateral acceleration at 0.76 g compared with the diesel's 0.74 g.

The GLK350, like many newer Mercedes-Benz models, is equipped with auto stop-start. The system's default setting is on as soon as the car is started, but can be overridden at the push of the button on the console. Most of the time, hitting the button to disable the function was the first thing we did after starting the ignition, with many of our previous experiences with similar systems being less than stellar in smoothness and responsiveness. But the handful of times we forgot to disable it, the GLK's auto stop-start was surprisingly smooth, quick, and unobtrusive, almost hybrid-like without the jarring shudder or lag we've experienced with other systems.

Our GLK350 was equipped similarly, but not identically, to the BlueTec diesel we tested around the same time, and skipped the Lighting Package and AMG Styling Package to come in $1930 less than its diesel-sipping sibling. Mercedes has largely neutralized the price difference between the gas and diesel models, and comparably equipped, the prices would likely be close enough to be considered a wash. Your choice in GLKs will likely be determined by personal preferences and how important fuel economy is to you. The diesel will deliver a substantial 25-30 percent better performance in miles per gallon, with the tradeoff of slightly more leisurely performance and added periodic maintenance with AdBlue top-offs.

Either powertrain is packaged in a stylish, solid compact SUV that brings the traditional Mercedes strengths of solidity, comfort, and refinement that has been improved for the 2013 model year. While we certainly like the zippy responsiveness and enthusiasm of the V-6, we were definitely impressed by the frugality of the diesel, and surprised by its relative quickness. Either engine is a reasonable choice depending on which attributes rank higher on your small-premium SUV must-have list.


2013 Mercedes-Benz GLK350 4Matic
BASE PRICE $39,965
PRICE AS TESTED $48,525
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV
ENGINE 3.5L/302-hp/273-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve V-6
TRANSMISSION 7-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 4183 lb (52/48%)
WHEELBASE 108.5 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 178.3 x 74.3 x 66.9
0-60 MPH 5.8 sec
QUARTER MILE 14.4 sec @ 96.4 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 121 ft
LATERAL ACCELERATION 0.76 g (avg)
MT FIGURE EIGHT 28.5 sec @ 0.55 g (avg)
EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON 19/24 mpg
ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY177/140 kW-hrs/100 mi
CO2 EMISSIONS 0.93 lb/mi