By on February 3, 2009

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.”

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43 Comments on “Review: 2010 Mercedes GLK 350 4Matic...”

  • avatar

    “The vehicle will find favor amongst financially-challenged Mercedes SUV fans.”

    Now there’s an oxymoron if there ever was one. No, the only buyers of the GLK will be the wealthy parents of Ivy league college kids, when Jr. needs a car that’s good in the snow. Hey, it worked for the BMW X3.

    I have to admit from your review though, that it’s probably a good car on merit.

    • 0 avatar

      I have had my GLK 350 for 1 year. It has 9,500 miles on it. I love it! I love the style and my color choice of silver–it glows. I love the design of this car. When it is parked in my driveway, it seems to be saying to me–I’m ready–let’s go! I love the comfortable seats–especially for long drives. I love the panaramic roof! The only thing I do not like is the lack of side molding on the car. Add the side molding, and the car is perfect!

      No, I do not work for Mercedes. I would buy this little SUV again and again!!

      • 0 avatar

        I agree with you it is a wonderful little truck. I have had mine since April 2009 and have just under 40,000 miles on it. I have no complaints and just love to drive it in any kind of weather. It is great in the winter in ice and snow and also driving in the rain.

        Just wanted to add my 2 cents as there seems to be so many people who are being critical about it.

  • avatar
    Brian E

    So, if I like the exterior, is it a five star product? It certainly sounds that way from the review.

    Does anyone know if this is expected to be available with the BlueTec diesel?

  • avatar
    John R

    I’d rather have a spec B Legacy wagon, but I guess I’m not in the demographic.

    Sounds like a loaded example. What was the MSRP on this one?

  • avatar

    This and the new C will help Merc make it through this economic downturn. That is, if people can get past the looks of the GLK long enough to take a test drive.

  • avatar
    Gardiner Westbound

    The quality goes in before the name goes on. – Zenith TV tagline

    Mercedes has turned out horrible quality cars since the W124 E-Class was put out to pasture. Does this one look like it hold together?

  • avatar

    I think it’s a really cool looking vehicle. I don’t usually care for SUVs, but I really like this one.

  • avatar

    it’s rather horrendous, but it sounds like a solid-feeling car. Just awful looking. A white one with 20″ wheels drove through my neighborhood yesterday, and I spit up some coffee as I watched it from my porch. Ghastly.

    If i wanted a small luxury SUV, I’d consider this after the XC60.

  • avatar


  • avatar

    I haven’t driven the GLK, but I sat in it at the dealership. As for the looks, well . . . I wouldn’t buy one for the looks. I don’t really get the whole big rims thing eitther, and ones of the GLK look like wagon wheels. But it felt very solid, like the new C, which feels like our old W202 C220, which I think is a complement. The interior is very upright and vertical (“stark” was a good word to use), and the materials aren’t plush – the same as the new C, similar to the old W202 – but while some people think that screams cheap, it feels solid and durable to me.

  • avatar

    With the GLK, Q5, XC60, and downsized SRX all arriving this year, the BMW X3 suddenly finds itself in a crowded segment.

    The Audi, as usual, has the others beat in terms of interior styling and materials. It seemed nicer inside to me than other recent Audi designs.

    The BMW should continue to have the best handling of the bunch.

    Exterior styling is a toss-up, depending on personal taste. They all look different. None strike me as beautiful.

    So how does the Mercedes stand out in this crowd? I don’t see that it does. Unless you want RWD in your compact SUV–then the GLK is your only option.

    TrueDelta has pricing for the X3 and GLK in its database so far, and I’ll add the XC60 this week.

  • avatar

    Gardiner Westbound:

    I think Mercedes turned a corner a year or two ago WRT reliability. Owners of the GL-Class have been reporting high repair rates in TrueDelta’s Car Reliability Survey. But the new C-Class has been about average, at least so far.

  • avatar

    Starting price 34k my ARSE!!! These babies are like 45k+ after basic options and tax… but I just love MB cars’ feeling of solidity that you mentioned here. The feeling truly makes it seem buying that expensive thing was damned worth it.

    Hope to sit in a GLK soon. The upright interior and creasy exterior reminds me of the MBs in the 80’s. Anyone else?

  • avatar

    Michael Martineck, I am going to steal this term because I think it is quite appropriate..

    So I cannot believe I am saying this, but as far as, “trucklet’s” go, I actually like the GLK-350.

  • avatar

    The GLK may be good, but the ad contains one of my most irksome pet peeves when it comes to mechanics. Unless the suspension regularly wets itself, it is not “self-dampening”. Dampers (as correctly designated in the review above) damp. They don’t dampen anything.


  • avatar

    Is the GL built in Alabama? it seems that nothing good comes out of that factory. A family member with a first gen M Class couldn’t wait to get rid of the thing with less than 40k on it. Electrical gremlins galore.
    I must say that I don’t mind the looks of this. Then again I am a fan of boxes on wheels.
    I love the GL, I think its the best looking full size SUV out there.
    This seems to be a mini-me version of that.
    I don’t think it will have a problem selling at all.

  • avatar

    10k worth of Merc electrics to ensure dealers get 20% of the car in maintenance over the next 3 years, check.

    Depreciation like a cruise missile (It’s pretty much worthless after you arrive at your first destination with lots of flash) – check.

    20″ wheels as “standard” making the ride crap – check.

    Saying it’s better than an X3 is like saying herpes is better than syphilis.

  • avatar
    Jim K

    I like this new MB. I truly hope that they are finding there way back to producing good, solid, reliable cars like they used to.

    I grew up in a MB family that would keep them on average of 200k plus miles, but I have never owned one personally.

    I have always bought BMW’s instead and currently drive an e39 wagon which I really like. However, this new GLK (or the latest C-class) could be my next car if the economy doesn’t implode first (worse than it already has).

  • avatar

    Having done quite a few miles in an X3 Si, the GLK sounds like a wonderful car (truck?). The X3 is harsh, overly sensitive through every input (as in hair trigger throttle and brake), and frankly not that fast (needs far more torque). The suspension is far too hard while still not communicating things (aside from scrabbling and wheel hop over rough pavement). The transmission, while quick and crisp, didn’t prevent me from herky-jerkying my way through traffic due to the bang-bang shifts coupled with the aforementioned hypersensitive pedals. I loathed the thing because it’s a small, useless truck trying to be a car. The GLK sounds like a small, useless truck trying to be a small, useless truck. I appreciate the honesty, because if that was what I wanted to buy, I expect to get…um… what I expect to get.

  • avatar

    What’s with all of these minuscule “hard drives”? It’s insulting. Does it come with a copy of Windows 95?

    How do you even obtain a 6GB drive in this day and age? I assume it’s a solid-state drive. Even so, flash memory isn’t that expensive. They just spent about $20 on a “hard drive” and charged you a lot more.

  • avatar

    Michael: I don’t agree with your first paragraph. It’s better to cannibalize your own sales than to have a competitor do it for you! Without the GLK would people be flocking to the ML and GL instead? I’m not quite sure. If people want a downsized truck then they would just get an X3 or (if reliability and lower price is more important than the badge) a Honda Pilot or (if cargo space is more important than stilts) a wagon from Audi, BMW, or various other makers.

    Roundel: Mercedes’ reliability slump was across the board after the W124 (that’s the 300E that started production in 1985). Germany pumped out problem vehicles just like the Alabama light truck plant.

    BobJava: You’re right, a 6GB hard drive sounds small. Perhaps its a 60GB hard drive designed for a laptop or a 6GB solid state drive. 6GB isn’t a power of two bytes, though, so that might make solid state memory chips a bit awkward (3 banks of 2GB or a 2GB and 4GB bank?). Remember that 6GB Microdrive? That was the rotating hard disk enclosed in a CF Type II enclosure so it worked like a CF card. One version of the iPod Mini had that. I don’t recall their reliability being a problem as long as you kept the device under 10,000 feet elevation. Couldn’t we just have an iPod dock instead?

  • avatar

    So how does the Mercedes stand out in this crowd? I don’t see that it does. Unless you want RWD in your compact SUV–then the GLK is your only option.

    Except for the EX35, which also comes that way. I haven’t actually looked at any sales numbers, but it seems like the EX must be a total dud. I have yet to see one anywhere, and when discussing the compact lux ute segment, it usually isn’t mentioned.

  • avatar
    1600 MKII

    I came back from Europe in 05 intending to get an M-B “B” Class (remember when we were definitely getting that) after driving an “A” for a month. When they decided it wasn’t coming I wound up with an ’06 X3 3.0. It is a little choppy but I certainly have never had any problem with tip-in or shifting or handling at the limit (see JEC’s comments). I also average over 18 mpg.
    I’ve looked at but not driven the GLK and it looks OK although I find its design seems uncomfortable in it’s skin – big snout – stupid cut lines obscene wheels…and I was looking forward to it, too. But…the last MB we bought we still have – my wife’s ’93 190E 2.6. I haven’t found anything that quite works in this country from them since.
    Q5 looks cools – particularly w/the diesel.
    BTW, Brian E, MB says they’re definitely adding the Bluetec next year.

  • avatar

    purely on factors excluding the actual driving experience, the XC60 is easily my pick out of it and the Q5, X3 & GLK.

    The Q5 just seems too toyish/cartoon-like in it’s exterior design. the current styling of M-B products does nothing for me, the GLK being one of the worst and the X3 is getting on in years and has never been a good looking ride. the XC60 hits all the sweet spots and has a sweet turbo 6

  • avatar

    The tester had more than $6k worth of extra electronics

    Load up that sucker up with the one thing Benz does abominably.

  • avatar

    Here is how sales stack up for January 2009:

    Entry-Level CUV

    1. Mercedes GLK – 1,300
    2. Acura RDX – 801
    3. Infiniti EX – 776
    4. BMW X3 – 394
    5. Audi Q5 – 31

    The GLK did pretty well in its first month, but that is to be expected for a brand new product. It looks like those sales might have come at the expense of the X3. RDX and EX sales are holding fairly steady. The XC60, Q5, and SRX will make things even more interesting when they go full-swing. Too bad Land Rover’s parent Tata won’t report the LR2’s monthly sales, because it too would have been included. Amazingly, this gives us eight choices in the CUV segment, when there only used to be one.

  • avatar
    Johnny Canada

    The soundtrack in that ad really turns me off.

    Does anyone remember the last scene in the film Soylent Green when the Edward G. Robinson character opts for the Government-assisted euthanasia? Yeah, that was the same music.

  • avatar

    How does this stack up against the new VW Cute ‘Ute? At first blush it appears to be a better optioned version.

  • avatar

    What the lines remind me of is a shrunken Honda Odyssey. In fact, it’s the same engine size, same fuel efficiency, similar price (when Honda is well equipped), just the capacity of the GLK is a fraction of the Odyssey. That’s the price of being the cool kid with the Benz, I suppose.

  • avatar

    I doubt the Rogue is killing Murano sales. More being expensive and having a V6 is killing Murano sales. Murano sales are actually decent given the times. 5000 per month.
    Where’s Lexus in this semi-luxury cute-ute space?

  • avatar

    Is this Mercedes, in a way, a fully-loaded Subaru Forester?

  • avatar

    “this could be the best ski trip vehicle in Mercedes’ line up . . . or on the market.”

    In terms of traction gadgets, you may very well be right, but it fails the cargo capacity portion of the test – a paltry 23.3 ft^3 with the seats up. That’s a tight squeeze with four adults and their gear stored in the trunk.

    There are some packaging issues going on that I don’t completely understand because a “mid-size” SUV from the late 90s typically has about 60% more cargo capacity than a modern cute-ute, even though the exterior dimensions are about the same. I was shocked when I parked my R50 Pathfinder next to a then-new Mazda Tribute and saw that they were essentially the same size.

    As for this GLK, I generally like the way it looks in photos, though the rear end looks pinched in terms of length. I’m not sure if the proportions will hold up in person, but then again, this didn’t seem to trouble X3 sales.

  • avatar

    “shoulder room are ample enough to make you forget this is the runt of the litter”

    Seriously? This was only the 2nd “real car” I’ve ever been in where my left shoulder was planted into the B Pillar. The other being the current Infiniti G Sedan. My shoulder also touched in the NA 1st Gen Miata, but, that’s a Miata.

    I actually like the style of this truck (but again, I like trucks that look like trucks, boxes all the way). But I was shocked to find I was right up against that pillar.

    Not like I got the scratch or desire to buy one of these. But I was just surprised by your comment.

  • avatar
    Bill Lightner

    We recently acquired a GLK having driven an X3 for the last two years to and from our moutain cabin, which is at the end of a twisty, up and down 4-mile road circuit. On our first voyage to the cabin I was apprehensive, presuming we had given up the BMW’s sharp handling for the Benz’s greater comfort. Boy, was I was wrong! The GLK actually handled BETTER, requiring no left foot braking to turn it in and providing smoother, greater exiting power – without the tranny hunting around for the right cogs. I am convinced this is the better “sports activity vehicle.”

  • avatar

    @Gardiner Westbound
    The quality goes in before the name goes on.

    I think it’s the opposite. No one would buy this thing if the badge wasn’t on it.

    There are still way too many fools in America buying this stuff.

  • avatar

    I just test drove it, very impressive, especially when the price on the base model is 41k in Canada. This is going to sell, lots of them.

  • avatar

    Interesting comments all.

    I’m a Toronto based Canadian and travel in all conditions, tow boats and snowmobiles to my cabin and actually have some need for this sort of vehicle. Further, as an long ago car salesman I actually enjoy shopping for a car as I consider it a purchase rather than ‘being sold’. Further, I like driving a nice car that best manages to hit as many targets of use in my daily life.

    I am coming to the end of a lease on a 2006 MDX and it has been a great option, perhaps a bit too big for my needs. Prior to that I’ve had Pathfinders and 4Runners, 2 each.

    Why I am so sold on this car is #1 because MB is also. By that I mean they are willing to put a 60% residual value on a 3 year lease. This includes trailer hitch, Nav system. Acura is offering a 47% on the package that has the nav which is worse than the basic model. In other words you eat the cost of these extra toys as part of you depreciation contribution. Now that sucks. To me the buyer, it means Honda doesn’t think it is going to be worth much at the end of the lease and wants me to pay the hit.

    As to comments on the style, I like it. As one reviewer said, it doesn’t look like a suppository. Further they are getting amazing numbers on drag co-efficiently (apparently it the back end that is important).

    Also after years of judging very person’s net worth at the door, and being snobs, the MB sales guys are actually figuring out that
    there are some of us regular guys that actually might buy if treated decently. A nice change.

    Do I have issues. Yes. I would take the diesel version in a heatbeat, but it’s 2 years out. Do I like stopping to put a destination in the nav system, no. Still as a whole package…. It’s pretty good, and really works for me.

  • avatar

    Up front I will say I’m not a MB’er.  Rode in a few over the years and they were nice, but just learned a bit about this one when our daughter bought one.  The big drawback is ROOM.  Her family of 4 can barely squeeze into it, and if you have an infant carseat in the back seat the person in front better be under 5′ with short legs.  Can see where it would be a great ski-trip car for 1-2 people….unless you were packing for the weekend as well.  Rear storage is about non-existent, so whatever you carry better fit on the roof rack.  Pricing aside, the Jeep Liberty my wife just bought has over twice the room and handles like a dream, though probably not as well on a curved course at 120mph.  The Jeep will tow 5,000 pounds though and would be much better off-road (the ski trip better be on paved roads).  Backup camera on this seems like a joke…I can understand one on a full-size SUV or van, but on something the size of a VW Bug?  And my $23,000 truck came with a 30GB hard drive, and amenities are not a big concern on a pickup.  I don’t try to understand brand loyalty or “class” issues (I’m sure our daughter being from CA is entirely coincidental), but this seems like something a couple in Germany would get more out of then a family in the US.  But she can hold her nose up when a Kia drives by, so maybe it’s worth it to her.

  • avatar

    i absolutely hated the styling on this vehicle the moment I saw the first pictures of it. I thought it was overly angular, had way too many streaks and cutlines on such a compact body and had an awful, cheap-looking 80s-tastic interior. I saw a black on the the freeway the other day and I actually like it. The color lessened all of the visual noise and gave this trucklet a nice, boxy tall wagon feel. I’m still not sold on the interior, though. The separate nav hump is really visually distracting to me. I’d have to sit in one to see if I change my mind about it.

  • avatar

    one thing to think about if buying this car is DON’T have any kids. A rear facing infant seat causes the front seat to be pushed so far up that my wife can not sit comfortably and she is only 5′ 2. An SUV that can’t accommodate a child seat.

    other than that it’s a nice ride if i want to drive by myself.

  • avatar

    Saw one in a parking lot yesterday and fell in love with it. I’ll pick one up at a dealer auction in a few years at 50% off.

  • avatar

    I just love my glk350 and have driven it 40,000 miles. What a fun vehicle.

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