First Drive: 2010 Mercedes-Benz GLK350
Mixed Messager: Sorting through the multiple personalities of the newest Baby Benz.
It can get 30-plus mpg or dash to 60 mph in 6.5 sec. Its Agility Control suspension corners racetrack flat, yet its undercarriage can be armored for ramming over rough stuff. It's targeted at Sex-in-the-City women, but it wears sharp, angular styling that apes the butch GL-class. Does this fuel-crisis trucklet suffer multiple-personality disorder?
Globally, yes, but there will be some exorcisms before the GLK arrives in January. The off-road package is out due to lack of interest on our shores (similar packages are dropped on ML and GL too). Officials claim the package bestows Land-Rover LR2-equivalent capability, from a combination of a Downhill-Speed Regulation system that uses engine braking and the ABS gear to creep down hills at any programmed speed from 2-11 mph. An off-road switch changes the transmission, ABS, stability control, and engine control maps to better suit loose surfaces, and underbody armor made of fiberglass-reinforced thermoplastics provide protection and keep the hangy-downy bits from snagging on rocks. The COMAND system display shows steering angle, altimeter and compass info in this mode. Sad to say, the two diesel engines are also banished-the 34-mpg 2.1L twin-turbo four and the 30-mpg 3.0L variable-nozzle turbo V-6. That'll leave us with a 22-mpg 3.5L gas V-6 spinning a seven-speed and 4Matic all-wheel drive (rear drive follows a few months later) wearing the fanciest walnut trim, standard dual sunroofs, and 19- or 20-in. wheels.
We may not miss the off-road gear-4Matic's fixed 45/55 front/rear torque split, traction control, and 7.9-in. of ground clearance will get us where we're going, and the big wheels, fat tires, and taut suspenders are antithetical to billy-goating. We will miss the diesels unless brisk demand for BlueTec MLs and GLs earn one of them a reprieve. Cross your fingers for the teched-out four, featuring piezoelectric injectors squirting fuel at over 29,000 psi, dual overhead camshafts driven by gears from the back of the block, and sequential turbos-a small one that spools up quickly at low revs, and a big one for higher speeds. The GLK220 CDI only trails the GLK350 by only 2.0 sec to 60 mph, and by achieving 50-percent-better fuel consumption its owners could recover their $1000-$2000 option price during a typical lease, even if today's diesel-fuel pricing persists.
The baby-GL styling looks sharp on the road and cuts through the wind with a 0.34 drag coefficient-impressive for such a blocky vehicle. The tall greenhouse and standard twin-sunroof provide spectacular visibility. And while the total cargo area is smaller than the MLs, it's configured for slightly more width, meaning two golf bags can fit sideways on the floor without removing the drivers. A handy cargo net folds in half and rolls up for easy storage in the space above the minispare, below the cargo deck. Glossy burled walnut trim on the dash and doors looks dressy, but the matte-finish sienna pine trim the Europeans get is arguably more interesting. Multimediaphiles will revel in the sound system's ability to connect to and control both an iPod AND a USB stick at the same time, and Bluetooth audio streaming is just around the corner.
The V-6 and seven-speed team well together for brisk acceleration and terrific passing performance (the tranny goes right to the gear it needs). A trailer-hitch option permits towing up to 3500 lb, which this drivetrain feels capable of handling with ease. Naturally, the vehicle feels extremely stable at three-digit autobahn speeds. The steering feels rather slow and not terribly informative (often the case with off-road optimized vehicles), but it's reasonably accurate. Clever purely mechanical shock valves provide soft damping over small bumps and vibrations, then stiffen up on the big stuff to deliver a ride that's still Euro taut but feels more supple than the BMW X3's or Acura RDX's. Perhaps the closest competitor in terms of general demeanor and deportment is the more powerful and roomier Infiniti EX35. The GLK carries more stuff (up to 55 cu ft of it) and costs a bit more ($39K and up) but looks and feels worth the premium.
A more definitive assessment of just how charming the GLK's prevailing personality is will have to wait until we can gather the aforementioned players (along with the forthcoming Audi Q5) in this white-hot segment.
|2010 Mercedes-Benz GLK350|
|Base Price||$39,000 (est)|
|Vehicle layout||Front-engine, RWD/AWD, 5-pass, 4-door, SUV|
|Engine||3.5L/268-hp/258-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve V-6|
|Curb weight (dist f/r)||4050 lb (mfr)|
|Length x width x height||178.3 x 74.3 x 66.9 in|
|0-60 mph||6.5 sec (mfr est)|
|EPA city/hwy fuel econ||16/22 mpg (est)|
|CO2 emissions||1.06 lb/mile (est)|
|On sale in U.S.||January 2009|