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New Comer: 2010 Mercedes-Benz GLK350

The Multiple Personalities of the New Baby Benz

Frank Markus
Dec 10, 2008
It can get 30-plus mpg or dash to 60 mph in 6.5 seconds. 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, yet it wears sharp, angular styling that apes the butch GL.
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 two to 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 provides protection and keeps 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 Euro diesel engines are banished--the 34-mpg 2.1-liter twin-turbo four and the 30-mpg, 3.0-liter variable-nozzle turbo V-6. That'll leave us with a 22-mpg 3.5-liter 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-inch wheels.
Let's be honest, although it's a pity, the 4Matic's fixed 45/55 front/rear torque split, traction control, and 7.9 inches of ground clearance will get us where we're going, and the big wheels, fat tires, and taut suspenders are antithetical to billy-goating anyway. We think it's a bad idea not bringing over the diesels; of course, brisk demand for Bluetec MLs and GLs could earn the littlest M-B a better engine choice for the next model year. Cross your fingers for the teched-out four, featuring piezo-electric 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 two seconds 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 at today's diesel fuel prices.
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. The total cargo area is smaller than the ML's, but it's configured for slightly more width, meaning that 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. The GLK's sound system can connect to and control 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. A trailer-hitch option permits towing up to 3500 pounds, 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, 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 cubic feet 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)
Layout Front engine, RWD/AWD, 4-door, 5-pass SUV
Engine 3.5L/268-hp/258-lb-ft DOHC V-6, 4 valves/cyl
Transmission 7-speed automatic
Curb weight, lb 4050 (est)
Wheelbase, in 108.5
Length x width x height, in 178.3 x 74.3 x 66.9
0-60 mph, sec 6.5 (mfr est)
EPA city/hwy fuel econ, mpg 16/22
CO2 emissions, lb/mile 1.06
On sale January 2009


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