GLK350 laddles on the luxury
Small luxury utes are nearly as plentiful as entry-level small utes, and sometimes I wonder what you get for that extra $15 grand. But a week in the Mercedes-Benz GLK350 reminded me what it is, luxury looks, feel and ride.
A bunch of the little luxury utes handle pretty well and a few even look luxurious, but the GLK350 is a heck of a nice blend, and with a base price of $37,090 it’s one of the least expensive vehicles from the famous German automaker. This one added a variety of niceties, so it hit $46,930 before an $875 destination charge.
But the truth of the matter is that even at its base the Benz is luxury oriented and performance is the same, no matter how many extras you add.
Standard is a peppy 3.5-liter DI V6 that creates 302 horsepower so this ute will get up and go from a stop. But in a Mercedes you don’t want to be tossed into the back seat with muscle car power. So there’s a highly refined 7-speed automatic transmission that slips through the gears with velvety smoothness. You barely notice a gear shift.
All this is just for starters. Add in the standard Agility Control suspension with selective damping and you’re in for the finest small ute ride on the market. Most small utes offer some choppiness or body roll even in luxury-priced models. Not here. The Mercedes suspension’s valving firms up when you make a sudden or aggressive move, improving the handling. But under normal conditions it reduces damping to smooth the ride for comfort. On some of the Milwaukee area’s roughest roads, the ride was well controlled and comfortable.
All-wheel drive is standard too with sensors at each wheel to judge wheel slip. If they sense any the system shifts power to another wheel for maximum traction. On slippery roads the GLK felt steady and there is only slight body lean even in high speed turns.
Naturally there are sizeable vented discs brakes all around and the truck runs on 19-inch tires. Its weight, 4,079 lbs., and 108.5-inch wheelbase give the ute a solid feel and excellent on-road capability. The Mercedes also sits a little higher off the ground in case you want to go off-road. The ute has 7.9-inches of ground clearance, compared to say a decidedly on-road friendly Infiniti EX37 with 5.7 inches of clearance.
The small bit of a downside is a taller step-up height on the Mercedes, which also has a fairly wide frame at the door’s edge to step over. You quickly get used to it and even for me, a shorter than average driver, it was not a problem.
GLK will tow up to 3,500 lbs. of trailer and gear too, plus there is good interior storage space with 23.3 cu.ft. of cargo room behind the second seat and 54.7 cu.ft. when you fold the rear seats down.
I’m never happy when a vehicle requires high-octane premium fuel, which this does, but in its defense, the GLK has an Eco mode. If you press that button the engine will shut off at any full stop to save a bit of fuel. I got a reasonable 19.9 mpg in about 60% city driving, very nearly what the trip computer was estimating.
There is no doubt too when you see the Mercedes that this is indeed a luxury ute with its identifiable Mercedes nose and grille and a well chiseled body with downward slopping nose that makes it stand out from the other boringly boxy utes. This one was “diamond” white with chrome roof rails on top and exciting five-spoke alloy wheels that look fast, even when the ute is sitting still.
Not always a fan of German vehicles’ interiors, I liked this one, despite the plastic-look of the supposed burl walnut trim. Seats were black leather, naturally, but with a gray stitching that freshens and lightens their look. There is satin chrome trim on the air vents and steering wheel hub to give this a distinguished look, plus matte silver-faced gauges that are easy to see and read.
The power seats are controlled by seat-shaped buttons on the doors, which are easy to find and get at. Plus the driver’s seat has three memory buttons, part of the $3,450 premium 1 package that also adds a garage opener, auto-dimming side mirrors and rearview mirror with a compass, a 4-way power lumbar support and a giant panoramic sunroof. Other goodies in the package include an interface for iPod & MP3 use, SIRIUS radio, a 115-volt outlet in the cargo area, plus a power liftgate, a real winner when the weather is lousy. Nice not to have to fiddle with opening the hatch as it’s pouring or sleeting.
Seating is fairly flat, so easy to slide in and out of and really very comfortable on a longer drive. The seat back has some contouring and the ute has three-level seat heat. Rear seats also fold flat so you can easily haul bigger items in the hatch area, if needed. In back there’s a solid tire (no air needed) spare under the floor. So that means there is some under the floor storage area too, if you need to hide valuables while traveling.Mercedes loaded this one up with some of its high-tech features too, and they all operate well, mostly adding to the GLK’s value and safety. A $2,790 multimedia package includes its Comand system with a hard-drive navigation system and rearview camera. I could do without the nav, but the camera is helpful. There also is a lane tracking package for $850 that includes a lane departure system that vibrates the steering wheel if you drive near the center line. This package also includes blind-spot warning, which turns on a warning light in your outside rearview mirrors if a vehicle or large object is in your blind spot.
One downside of the ute’s interior though is Mercedes insistence of putting three levers to the left of the steering wheel, for cruise control, wipers and turn signals and the tilt/telescope function. This is confusing, easy to hit the wrong lever and simply one too many levers here. Yet I wouldn’t let that spoil the GLK’s interior for me. It’s comfortable and well laid out.
That’s the story for the entire luxury ute. It’s well laid out, looks great, is comfortable and performs as you’d want, and expect such a vehicle to behave – but not all do. Plus, in this segment, this is a bit of a bargain. Never thought I’d say that about a Mercedes!
FAST Stats: 2013 Mercedes-Benz GLK350
Hits: Super smooth shifts, good power, excellent ride and fluid handling, plus AWD. Handsome ute with good tech, such as rear-vision camera, blind-spot warning, 3-level heated seats. Dual overhead sunroofs, power hatch, easy controls, flat comfy seats and seat controls on door.
Misses: Drinks premium fuel, wood trim looks too plastic-like and three levers to left of steering wheel is confusing and one too many.
Made in: Germany
Engine: 3.5-liter DI V6, 302 hp
Transmission: 7-speed automatic
Weight: 4,079 lbs.
Wheelbase: 108.5 in.
Cargo: 23.3 cu.ft. (54.7 cu.ft. rear seats down)
Tow: 3,500 lbs.
Base Price: $37,090
Dealer’s Price: $34,494
Premium 1 package (garage opener, auto-dimming side mirrors and rearview mirror w/compass, driver’s 4-way power lumbar, driver’s seat memory, iPod & MP3 interface, SIRIUS radio, power liftgate, panoramic sunroof, 115V power outlet in cargo area), $3,450
Multimedia package (Comand system w/hard-drive navigation, rearview camera), $2,790
Lane tracking package (lane-keeping assist, blind-spot warning), $850
Test vehicle: $47,805
Sources: Mercedes-Benz, www.autos.yahoo.com
Photos: Courtesy of Mercedes-Benz