The 2013 Mercedes-Benz GLK350 is the closest thing that we've got this generation to a wagon version of the C350 sport sedan with which it shares its platform and 3.5-liter, V-6 engine. "But wait," you're probably saying as you look at the photos above, "isn't that a big SUV?"
I can understand your confusion; conventional wisdom dictates that crossovers are bigger than sedans, but let's take a look at the numbers. The GLK's 178.3-inch overall length, 108.5-inch wheelbase, and front and rear track are actual slightly smaller than the C-Class' measurements. Of course, the crossover is still wider by about 5 inches and taller by about 10 inches than the sedan and the whole package is at least 463 pounds heavier depending on options -- our 4Matic all-wheel-drive-equipped tester was probably slightly heavier still.
The taller GLK still fits in a C-Class sized parking spot, but has significantly more cargo room (between 23.3 cubic feet and 54.7 cubic feet, depending on whether you fold the rear seats flat), more passenger room, and a higher, more commanding view of the road.
Power and efficiency
The extra mass and taller, slightly less aerodynamic profile adds a few ticks to the 0-60 time and subtracts a few from the fuel economy estimates, but we'll come back to that momentarily.
Peek under the GLK's hood and you'll find the same 3.5-liter V-6 engine that powers the C350 Sports Sedan. This naturally aspirated mill uses direct-injection technology to attempt to optimize power and fuel efficiency. Output is estimated at 302 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque.
Torque exits the engine via a single-option seven-speed automatic transmission before heading to the wheels. Just which wheels provide motivational duties depends on which drivetrain option box you checked at the dealership. The standard configuration sends power through the rear wheels, but a $2,000 4Matic all-wheel-drive package splits power between the front and rear wheels. This is a permanent all-wheel setup with a default front-rear torque split of 45/55, but up to 70 percent of available torque can be temporarily shuffled to either axle as traction needs dictate.
The GLK's transmission lacks a manual shift mode -- there are steering-wheel paddles and its steering-column-mounted shifter only has stops for PRND -- but it does feature two shift programs, Sport and Economy. The primary difference between these modes is that one (Sport) lets the tachometer sweep closer to its redline before shifting to take advantage of the available horsepower at higher engine speeds. Sport program will also downshift more readily when asked to accelerate and, occasionally, when braking in anticipation of a turn. The other program, Economy, short-shifts every gear, hustling to top gear as quickly as reasonably allowable to keep revs low and fuel economy up.
There's also an Eco Start-Stop system system present on the GLK350 that will shut down the engine when the vehicle comes to a complete stop to prevent wasting fuel while idling. During my driving time, the system only seemed to activate when the engine was sufficiently warmed up, and the restart was smooth and effortless under most conditions. When restarting after sitting at a traffic light or stop sign, the engine would fire up in the time it took my right foot to ease from the brake to gas pedal and acceleration would resume without a hiccup. The only indicator that anything special was happening was a slight cough from the engine that you wouldn't even really hear with the windows up and audio system playing. However, when the system started repeatedly activating during a stop-and-go traffic crawl, I became aware of a slight shudder that passed through the vehicle if I didn't give the system time to do its thing. Fortunately, the button to defeat the Eco Start-Stop during conditions like that is handily located on the dashboard.
Fuel economy for our 4Matic-equipped model is estimated at 19 city mpg, 24 highway mpg, and 21 mpg combined. Skip the all-wheel drive in favor of a rear-driven model and you can add 1 mpg to the highway estimate. Those efficiency estimates aren't particularly heinous, but the middle-of-the-pack averages aren't much to get excited over either. Also factor in that Mercedes-Benz recommends that the GLK350's 17.4 gallon tank be filled with premium gasoline, which very slightly increases operating costs.
Handling and comfort
Around town, the GLK350 handles like the vertically stretched C-platformed vehicle that it is. Differences in suspension tune give the crossover a smooth ride that dulls the worst bumps. However, it's still firm enough that you don't forget that the bumps are there. A bit of that firmness is probably due to the optional 20-inch wheels (though I can't imagine that the stock 19-inchers are significantly smoother), but most of the thanks and blame should fall on the stiffly damped suspension system. The tradeoff for a slightly bumpy ride is that GLK does offer good responsiveness when dodging potholes and minimal squat and dive when accelerating or braking at intersections.
This is all assuming that you're driving like a sensible person (or at least being smooth with your inputs). Get too lead-footed with jackrabbit starts and panicked stops or saw away at the steering wheel and the GLK350's elevated center of gravity and the laws of physics will gang up on you.
The tall seating position of a crossover is a godsend for seeing over and around parked cars when easing out of blind alleys into traffic and 360-degree visibility is good thanks to the airy greenhouse and large windows. However, despite its parkable footprint, I found it difficult to spot the GLK's corners during parallel parking maneuvers. Erring on the side of caution, I'd often end up further from the curb than intended, but it would be just as easy to scuff those shiny 20-inch wheels on a high curb.
On the highway is where the GLK350 really comes into its own, soaking up the miles in comfort. The stiff dampers relax a bit at cruising speed, rolling over high-frequency imperfections in the road, such as expansion joints, road sensors, and cracks, without protest. However, lower-frequency imperfections were still transferred into the cabin -- an undulating bit of Highway 101 just south of San Francisco had me and my passengers bouncing around quite a bit in our seats.
The GLK350 comes standard with a 5.8-inch color display in its dashboard and the Comand physical control knob on the center console. Using this combination, users can access the array of standard audio sources, which consist of a single-slot CD player and an AM/FM radio, and the standard Bluetooth hands-free calling system (which can also be commanded by voice). But you live in the post-CD 21st century; you need more audio sources, so you'll have to step up to the $3,450 Premium package that adds iPod/iPhone connectivity via a Media interface, MP3 playback from USB, Bluetooth audio streaming, and SiriusXM Satellite Radio connectivity. That same package also gets you crowd-pleasers such as the Panorama sunroof (my passengers couldn't stop gawking at it) and a motorized power liftgate.
Navigation isn't standard, so the directionally challenged should add $2,790 for the Multimedia package that adds the Comand hard-drive-based navigation system. Along with the hard drive you also get space for storing ripped audio and an enhanced version of the voice command system that adds spoken prompts for address entry for navigation. A rearview camera also comes as part of this package, though I'd like to see such a feature come standard at this price.
Our test model was also equipped with a $2,100 leather package, a $990 Sport Appearance package that includes the aforementioned 20-inch wheels and roof rails, a $650 keyless entry and start system, and the $810 Harman Kardon Logic7 premium audio system.
The GLK is available with two levels of driver assistance tech. The Lane Tracking package for $850 gets you blind-spot monitoring and lane-keeping monitoring systems. At this level, the vehicle will let you know if you drift out of your lane or attempt to change lanes into an obstruction, but it won't intervene. To get help from the car, you'll need to step up to the $2,950 Driver Assistance package that gives the car's electronic power-steering system the power to discourage loose lane keeping or merging into other vehicles with force feedback. This system also adds adaptive cruise control with Mercedes-Benz' Pre-Safe braking and collision protection systems. Our vehicle featured the Lane Tracking package, but not the more expensive active package.
Some will like the a la carte accessorizing structure and long list of available options, but I find it a bit tedious. I can understand breaking out certain features, such as the Lane Tracking package, but seeing a $750 line item for heated front seats seems a bit gratuitous in a world where this is an option that you can get as a standard feature on certain Hyundais. At the very least, why isn't that already a part of the $2,100 leather package? There was also an additional $720 line item for Lunar Blue Metallic paint that didn't stand out as particularly special until I saw how much it cost. I think I'll just stick to regular non-metallic paint, thanks.
The connected Benz
Mercedes-Benz offers three levels of in-dash connectivity for the GLK350, but only two of them are worth bothering with. For starters, there's the Mbrace package that adds automatic collision detection, roadside assistance, and stolen vehicle recovery and the Mbrace app for Android and iPhone that can be used to remotely lock and unlock doors, control the horn and lights, locate the vehicle location, and so on. Mbrace will cost you $280 per year after the six-month trial runs out.
For an extra $20 per month, GLK drivers can gain access to the Mbrace Plus level of service, which adds Mercedes-Benz Concierge, destination download, route assistance, traffic and weather, and speed alerts to the Mbrace system.
Finally, there's the $14-per-month Mercedes-Benz Apps package that rolls a Web browser, Google Local Search, Yelp, Facebook, News, and Stocks into the Comand dashboard interface. We've already complained about this system in detail in our review of the 2013 Mercedes-Benz SL550 Roadster.
Users of Mercedes-Benz Apps can search Google and Yelp for destinations, restaurants, hotels, and the like and set the result as a destination for navigation or contact for hands-free calling. Google's 360-degree Street View can also be viewed for each result. Through the Facebook integration, you can navigate to events that you've RSVPd to using the social network, contact friends for hands-free calling, or fire off canned status updates about where you are, where you're going, and when you plan to be there. On paper, this all seems pretty sweet, but in practice the connection and interface are so slow and tedious that you'd have better luck and save much time just using your smartphone for any of these functions. You do have a smartphone, right?
The 2013 Mercedes-Benz GLK350 starts at $39,090 when equipped with the 4Matic all-wheel-drive system. Our GLK350 was significantly more expensive. Factor in $13,110 in options and a $875 destination charge to reach the as-tested bottom line of $53,075.
Even at that price, we're leaving thousands of dollars in options on the table; we skipped the Driver Assistance package, the Active Parking Assist automated parallel-parking system, the in-vehicle Wi-Fi hot spot, rear-seat entertainment, the iPad docks for the headrests, and a few choice styling options. All in all, it's not hard to end up with a $60,000-plus GLK350.
|Model||2013 Mercedes-Benz GLK350|
|Power train||3.5-liter V-6, 7-speed automatic, all-wheel drive|
|EPA fuel economy||19 mpg city, 24 mpg highway, 21 combined mpg|
|Observed fuel economy||N/A|
|Bluetooth phone support||Standard|
|Disc player||Single-slot CD, optional single-slot DVD|
|MP3 player support||Optional analog 3.5mm auxiliary input, USB connection, Bluetooth audio streaming, iPod connection|
|Other digital audio||SiriusXM Satellite Radio, 10GB HDD music storage|
|Audio system||Optional Harman Kardon Logic7 surround sound|
|Driver aids||Optional blind-spot monitoring and lane-keeping assistant, standard Attention Assist driver alertness/drowsiness monitoring|
|Price as tested||$53,075|