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The 2010 Mercedes-Benz GLK350 seems like an odd duck in the company's model lineup. It has the same five-seat SUV configuration as the M-class, but angular styling that comes closer to the G-class. But the GLK350 serves a very relevant purpose, given the current economic situation: it's a well-equipped but affordable model, similar to the C-class update launched in 2007.
Although there is no end of competitors in the small SUV segment, the GLK350 has a certain level of luxury going for it that sets it apart from these others, as befits a Mercedes-Benz. It uses an updated package of cabin tech superior to that found in much more expensive models from the same company, offering, for example, a hard drive-based navigation system with a few gigabytes left over for music storage, along with full iPod integration. Our GLK350 also had Mercedes-Benz's all-wheel-drive system, but the car felt more designed for inclement weather than real off-roading.
On the road
Hitting the road with the 2010 Mercedes-Benz GLK350, it became instantly apparent that we were in a lower grade Benz. The seats didn't massage us, the cruise control didn't adapt to slower traffic, and no lights warned us of cars in our blind spots, all features that the CL550 we recently tested could boast. On the flip side, the GLK350 had a better stereo and Bluetooth phone system than that much more expensive car.
A button labeled C-S toggles the transmission between Comfort and Sport modes.
Driving the GLK350 over miles of freeway and highway, we concluded that there is absolutely nothing remarkable about the driving experience, besides how easy it is to operate. The steering wheel has just a little play, enough to make long stretches of reasonably straight road easy to drive. The 3.5-liter V-6 has enough oomph to keep the car running at a good clip, even as we started to climb into the foothills of the Sierra Nevada.
Standard in the GLK350 is a seven-speed automatic transmission, the smooth shifting of which contributed to the completely unremarkable drive. But then we found the Sport setting, selectable with a button on the console. We pushed this button, which toggles between Comfort and Sport modes, at a stop light, and hit the gas when it turned green. The acceleration was good, if not pin-you-to-your-seat dramatic, and the engine produced an excellent growling sound, a welcome change from the miles of quiet operation.
When we set our route back to headquarters, we got in a little argument with the navigation system over lunch. We wanted to treat ourselves to an In-N-Out burger and had a look at the POI database. It only let us look in our immediate location, around our destination, or any city we might specify, but didn't have an option to look along the route. Furthermore, it didn't let us search for our burger joint of choice, merely presenting a list of all restaurants within 10 miles. Disappointed, we settled for an inferior choice, and became a bit incensed when we saw a red and yellow In-N-Out sign some 40 miles further down the road.
We never quite got use to the way the GLK350 looks, with its too big grille and odd side sculpting.
Coming back into the Bay Area, we chose a winding route through the Oakland hills, giving the GLK350 a last chance to prove it could be exciting. The high center of gravity gave us initial trepidation in the corners, so we moderated our driving and were impressed by how well mannered the car behaved. The steering tracked well, and the all-wheel-drive in our model proved helpful on some corners. The traction control light lit up when appropriate, although we didn't feel the car slipping much.
Despite its off-putting body style, the GLK350 felt very solid. It's not the kind of car you want to push hard, but it will inspire confidence on ski trips, while providing enough room for cargo and people over a weekend.
In the cabin
Although there are familiar elements inside the 2010 Mercedes-Benz GLK350, the overall design is a little more squared off than we're used to seeing in a Benz. It looks like Mercedes-Benz either licensed the car from another automaker, or the designers put a little too much work in during Oktoberfest. The switchgear has some obvious Mercedes-Benz trademarks, such as the seat controls on the door (the best configuration in the business), the monochrome LCD in the middle of the speedometer, and the COMAND knob on the console.
The POI database, although not searchable, lists Zagat-rated restaurants.
We mentioned some issues with finding POIs in the navigation system above. Beyond that, this system has a lot to recommend it. The route guidance, although it lacks text to speech, is really good, with very clear graphics and lane directions. We like the resolution of the maps, but aren't particularly pleased that you have to zoom in all the way to see street names.
Our GLK350 didn't show traffic on the navigation system, and Mercedes-Benz forces you to make some odd choices to get traffic. You can either choose the Multimedia package, which gets you hard-drive-based navigation, a Harmon Kardon Logic 7 audio system, and six gigabytes of space for onboard music storage, present on our car. Or you can choose the Universal Media Interface option, which gives you a navigation system with lifetime traffic and a connection for "a range of portable devices," according to Mercedes-Benz. Not having tested the latter system, we can't judge it, but the lack of traffic reporting in the Multimedia package is problematic.
The iPod connection that you can get as an option with the Multimedia package works great, giving full access to albums, artists, and genres using the COMAND knob and the onscreen interface in the car. Our one small complaint stems from having the connection cable in the glove compartment. A port in a console compartment would be much easier for the driver to reach.
You can rip CDs to the car's onboard hard drive, which has six gigabytes of space for music.
The Multimedia package also gives you plenty of space to store music on the car's hard drive. You can rip any standard CD to the car, which uses an onboard Gracenote database to properly tag all the tracks. The interface for the Music Register, as Mercedes-Benz calls it, is similar to the iPod interface. A six-disc, in-dash player also handles MP3 CDs and DVDs. Satellite radio is from Sirius.
We were pleased with the audio quality from the Harmon Kardon audio system, which produces 5.1-channel surround sound from 12 speakers, including a subwoofer and centerfill, with 600 watts of power. We wouldn't consider this system one of the best, as it produces somewhat muddy sound, but it is well-balanced and solid.
The phone system is the best Mercedes-Benz has to offer, using Bluetooth to easily connect to a variety of phones. We paired an iPhone and had no trouble making calls with the onscreen interface. However, the system didn't download the phone's contact list, and there's no way to push contacts from the phone.
Under the hood
As we noted above, the engine puts out enough power to move the GLK350 easily, but doesn't produce spectacular acceleration. It's a 3.5-liter V-6 that makes 268 horsepower at 6,000rpm and 258 pound-feet of torque between 2,400 and 5,000rpm. Mercedes-Benz claims a respectable 6.5 seconds to 60 mph, a number we wouldn't doubt, given the way the car moved with the transmission in Sport mode.
The all-wheel-drive system is designed more for slippery conditions than this type of work.
Mercedes-Benz standardized on this seven-speed automatic for most of its model lineup, and it works well in the GLK350. We didn't feel any gear hunting, and we like the options for Comfort, Sport, and manual mode. Shift times under manual mode showed an expected amount of lag, as the torque converter engaged the new gear. The step down to a passing gear under heavy acceleration was also typical.
This transmission has an interesting feature where it disengages when the car is stopped, reducing the load on the engine. It works seamlessly: when the brake is released, the car creeps forward as you would expect from an automatic.
The 4Matic all-wheel-drive system defaults to a ratio of 45 percent torque to the front wheels and 55 percent to the rear. That, combined with the car's stability program and traction control, helps it in slippery conditions.
Despite having a tall highway gear and decoupling the engine when stopped, the GLK350's fuel economy is mediocre, with an EPA rating of 16 mpg in the city and 21 mpg on the highway. We saw an average of 19.3 mpg with driving biased toward the highway. Segments of pure freeway driving came in at around 23 mpg, but city driving kills the economy.
The 2010 Mercedes-Benz GLK350 4Matic bases at $35,900. Our car came with the Premium package, adding Sirius satellite radio, a power lift-gate, and sundry other convenience options, for $3,150. The Multimedia package, with navigation, the Harmon Kardon audio system, and voice command, cost an additional $3,350, while a la carte iPod integration was $300. Along with a number of other options, the total price of our GLK350 ran up to $46,345.
For a lot less money, you can get the Mercury Mariner Hybrid, which has better cabin tech and will cost far less to operate, especially in urban areas. Another small SUV we like is the Volkswagen Tiguan, featuring sprightly handling, but inferior cabin tech.
When considering the cabin tech for the GLK350, we gave it good marks for the digital-music options and the audio system. The lack of advanced features on the navigation system held it back a little. We were generally pleased with the car's performance, and gave it an excellent rating. The GLK350 requires little effort to drive, with smooth handling and power-train operation, but the fuel economy is a little weak. For our design rating, we can only consider the GLK350 average. The badge and grille are a little too big and the side sculpting seems overdone, but it is a practical configuration.