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Mercedes enters luxury compact SUV market with the GLK350

Get off the Road

Get off the Road

January 16, 2009|By DAN LYONS

The first thing that Mercedes got right with its new GLK350 is the styling. Granted, the design bar hasn't been set too high in the crossover segment to date. But, this is a good-looking vehicle by any sport-utility standard.

The GLK has an overall family resemblance to Mercedes' other SUVs, but the newest model stands on its own with a profile that's particularly strong. The upright windshield shows the influence of the G-Class, while the rear glass and roofline take after the GL and two rising character lines accent the side view. They're exclusive to the GLK, as are a set of nicely integrated headlamps. One option that will likely have a lot of takers is the Appearance Package, which combines a set of 20-inch, 7-spoke wheels, with aluminum roof rails. The added bright work really sets off the GLK visually.

Good looks are great, of course, but they'll only take you so far in a function-first segment like SUVs. The GLK350 proves its mettle on the inside with a well-finished, well-sorted cabin. GLK is just big enough to seat 6-footers in both rows, with a little compromise among passengers. Cargo capacity is usably large at 23.3 cubic feet and it's expandable to 54.7 cubic feet when second row seats are folded forward.

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Visibility is good in all directions -- unique in this segment. Here as in other Mercedes models, I find that the directional and cruise control stalks are too close together, but the other switchgear is generally easy to access. The center console is large enough to hold a fistful of CDs, and the cover doubles as an armrest for your inside elbow. Options include all the luxury staples: a panoramic sunroof, power liftgate, rear seat entertainment system, navigation and upgraded sound systems, leather seating and Bi-Xenon headlights.

The 2010 GLK is more than 10 inches shorter than the Mercedes M-Class, and a few inches shorter than the vehicles in its competitive class -- the Acura RDX, Infiniti EX and Lexus RX, to name three. That's shorter, but not short, as the GLK350 has a very right-sized feel. It's big enough to be useful, yet small enough to be agile on the road and easy to park.

The four-wheel independent suspension and a reasonably low center of gravity combine to give the GLK a driving feel more like a car than an SUV. The passenger compartment is quiet, and the supple chassis efficiently soaks up road shocks. Though the GLK is initially available only as a 4x4, a 4x2 model will join the lineup in April 2009.

Mercedes' 4x4 setup is known as 4MATIC. It's a full-time system, requiring no input from the driver to engage, and splits engine torque 45 percent to the front wheels, 55 percent to the rear. Stability control and traction control ride along with you, to help keep the GLK on its intended path.

Copyright, Motor Matters, 2008

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