The ad for the new Mercedes GLK is targeted straight at owners of MB’s ML and GL SUVs. After all, the new GLK gives you the “same innovation in a smaller design.” Same agility. Same suspension. Same luxury. Same depreciation (my add). So, why bother paying more for one of Mercedes’ more much macho trucks? Sure, this baby brother routine hurts the automaker. The Nissan’s Rogue’s Murano-i-cide is but one example where a new, smaller vehicle robbed Peter to pay Paul less. But that’s the way it is. In Bailout Nation’s new era of hunker down austerity, downsizing is almost as fashionable as having a job. Big ticket buyer meets smaller ticket price on the dark side of town. The carmakers must figure that what they lose in profit they’ll recover in volume. Ask GM how well that works. In that sense the Mercedes GLK is a born win – loser. Or is it?
It takes a couple of miles to warm up to this trucklet. The Mercedes GLK’s exterior won’t fire you up on your approach. The 90s-style orthogonal body looks like it’s already due for a refresh. I’m not saying everything on the road needs to be modeled on a suppository. I love the righteous Geländewagen, a machine which shipping crates have envied for over 30 years. But the authority of the creases found on the G and GL SUVs simply doesn’t scale down. Sometimes, emulating your big brothers makes it all the more obvious that you’re the baby of the family.
The diminutive outside cons you. The interior appears so incredibly roomy A) because you’ve lowered your expectations and B) because it is. Two sunroofs help. Headroom and shoulder room are ample enough to make you forget this is the runt of the litter. The detail is stark but accentuates the safety deposit box theme. The silvery rings on the controls and the dials put you inside a Breitling chronograph. If I owned a big ad agency I’d do my office this way and everyone would respect me.
The seats are exquisite. The seat controls’ traditional door-mounted position makes them easy to use and keeps snow off the armrests. One assumes they won’t short out. An electrical problem is not what you want in this mobile Brookstone showroom. The tester had more than $6k worth of extra electronics, including a 600-watt Harman Kardon surround-sound system; 7-inch color monitor; a 6GB hard drive with media database and an entirely superfluous in-dash six-disc changer. Everything is voice controlled.
I didn’t fiddle with all the gizmos. Who has that kind of time? My only complaint with the inside: getting inside, through the rear passenger doors. The rear side glass intrudes on the top right, making the porthole smaller than you think. It’s needlessly awkward on an otherwise carefully thought-out design.
I approached the driving part of the Mercedes GLK program with a prejudice: I like wagons. The GLK has more suspension travel than the C-Class upon which it’s based. It’s far more supple, without being soft. I could feel the ruts in the road (Yes, ruts. I didn’t baby this thing) without being jarred. The use of hydraulic dampers and blow-by valves sounds like steampunk technology, but it works.
This is especially true when combined with the 4Matic all wheel-drive, traction and stability control and thrown about in a square mile of fresh snow. Even with all-season rubber, this was a yak. Thanks to the power-to-weight ratio, with the all the processing tech being equal, this could be the best ski trip vehicle in Mercedes’ line up . . . or on the market.
Power comes from a 3.5-liter V6, putting out 268 horsepower. It’s as quick as it should be. The automatic transmission was a seven-speed Zen koan. So many gears, so much wheel-spin management and suspension adjusting and brake control. In other words, I have little idea what it was doing at any given moment, but whatever it did seemed appropriate to the situation. If you consider the best transmission the one you never have to think about, you don’t need to think about this one.
The Mercedes GLK’s brakes are as expected: powerful enough to haul you down from speed before the cops can haul you off to jail. Mercedes has always taken their stoppers seriously and it shows. Everything is firm and fluid. Again, I’ve got to compliment the suspension, which sucked up inertia in ways I don’t fully understand.
And slowly, as the miles clicked by, I became a fan. I still don’t get the whole tall wagon deal. This one is derivative in intent and purpose. It won me over with genuine driving chops. The GLK was not the first to the small SUV market, but it’s the best. The vehicle will find favor amongst financially-challenged Mercedes SUV fans. But it’s also Mercedes’ best “entry level” product in decades. If it was a book, it would be called “How to Win Friends and Win More Friends.”