By on July 15, 2011

To highlight the “BMW difference,” the marque traveled from dealer to dealer with not only the redesigned X3 but a few competing compact crossovers as well. Among the bunch, one stuck out as not like the others. But it was the Mercedes-Benz GLK350, not the BMW. Different in a good way? Well, that depends on what you’re looking for.

First off, styling. Unlike other compact crossovers, the Mercedes GLK350 makes no attempt to look sleek or even conventionally attractive. Instead, it’s for those who want the chunky look of the classic G-Wagen, without the six-figure price tag or horrendous fuel economy. Sure, there’s an aesthetic similarity to the related C-Class, as this model was introduced only a couple of years ago (as an early 2010), but with an upright, square profile that’s all truck. (Or all late model Subaru Forester, if we’re being less charitable.)

Inside, the GLK350 is similarly much more trucky than competitors. There’s hardly a curve to be seen, and the overall ambiance one of durability and functionality rather than luxury (despite plentiful wood trim). The MB-Tex upholstery should last much longer than leather—while fooling many who don’t suspect vinyl in a $46,000 car. As in other Mercedes, the cruise control lever is easily mistaken for the turn signals.

The GLK’s windshield is upright in the traditional SUV idiom. The instrument panel is tall—all but the tallest drivers will want to raise the seat. The pillars all around are thinner than most these days. The seats are firm. In back, there’s less rear legroom than in the revised X3 despite the GLK’s upright packaging. Shins can uncomfortably contact the lower edge of the front seatback. In terms of cargo space, the GLK joins the Audi Q5 and BMW X3 at the low end of the segment’s range.

Like many other Mercedes, the GLK350’s powertrain is a 268-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 paired with a manually-shiftable seven-speed automatic. The numbers are competitive, but subjectively this powertrain feels somewhat sluggish compared to the Audi, the BMW, and even the Lexus. There’s enough power here to move the GLK350 4Matic’s 4,200 pounds, but the throttle and transmission programming prioritize something other than on-road responsiveness. Unlike in the BMW, rear-wheel-drive is available, but most buyers will no doubt opt for the 4Matic all-wheel-drive system, which channels torque to the rear wheels until they slip. Despite the trucky looks, there are no fancy off-road-oriented features, or even a low-range. The GLK should do fine in light off-roading, but so will many more car-like competitors. The larger ML might be a little more capable, but is no longer offered with a low-range in the U.S.—no doubt because there was little demand for the option.

The GLK350 handles with commendable balance—the rear-wheel-drive platform pays some dividends—but leans considerably more than the Audi Q5 and BMW X3 in turns. Change lanes quickly at high speeds, and the tail wags in a way it doesn’t in the others. The Mercedes-Benz’s steering is light, with a little slop on center. Here as well the GLK makes little attempt to pass as a car, much less a driver’s car, despite standard low-profile 235/50R19 tires (even larger 20s are optional). On the other hand, the ride is smoother than in the Audi and BMW. Even so, the GLK doesn’t quite have a premium feel to go with its premium price.

The tested 2011 GLK350, with the Premium and Multimedia Packages and heated seats, lists for $46,045. A similarly-equipped Audi Q5 lists for about $800 more, but according to TrueDelta’s car price comparison tool includes about $2,100 in additional features—including leather upholstery and xenon headlights. The X3 xDrive28i with similar features and the $1,550 Sport Activity Package (to get 18-inch wheels, 19s are only available with the xdrive35i) lists for $1,690 more but includes about $2,400 in additional features. Bottom line: once you adjust for feature differences (or spec the GLK up to the same level as the others) the Mercedes is the most expensive of the three, but not by a large enough margin that many people are going to pick one over the others based on sticker prices.

With the exception of BMW, the Germans (and Swedes, for that matter) arrived very late to the compact SUV party. With the Q5, Audi offers the segment’s most car-like entry, and the redesigned BMW X3 shifts in the same direction. Mercedes-Benz, perhaps consciously opting to take a different tack than everyone else, perhaps simply not paying attention to industry trends, went in the opposite direction. The GLK350 is the segment’s most truck-like entry—even the Land Rover LR2 looks, sits, and drives more like a car. As a result, the GLK is far from the best choice for driving enthusiasts. But few buyers in this segment are driving enthusiasts. In what has recently become a very crowded field, it helps to stand apart from the crowd. The GLK350 achieves this. Want some traditional SUV flavor in your premium compact SUV, but care more about the badge or German engineering than luxurious appointments? Then the GLK350 has that space largely to itself.

BMW provided the vehicle for this review at a ride-and-drive event for BMW owners.

Michael Karesh operates TrueDelta, an online source of automotive pricing and reliability data.

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54 Comments on “Review: 2011 Mercedes-Benz GLK350...”

  • avatar

    Great write-up!

    I’ve tried really hard to like the GLK, but I just can’t. Especially when I saw the trailer for Sex in the City and Sarah Jessica Parker driving this thing… game over. This car, like the women in that film, don’t have that premium look or feel.

  • avatar

    I really like the little trucklet. The seats are good, it rides well, has honest sightlines and an airy feel. Not pretentious, nor obliquely crossoverish.

    The problem for me is that its hideously overpriced and Mercedes service is borderline criminal. The problem for Mercedes is the the cheaper B200 is better in every objective way save towing and subjectively not too ugly.

    • 0 avatar

      Not pretentious? It’s a Mercedes-Benz SUV. I’m not sure there is a more pretentious combination of words in any language. Every time I see someone driving one of these I think they look like a huge douchebag.

      • 0 avatar

        Ok, fair point. Not pretentious for a Mercedes or for a luxury trucklet. They could have made it look like a highway warrior (like the ML or GL) or more overtly crossoversportariffic like the X3 or Q5. Instead it looks like a tall wagon, which is what it is.

        I was going to call it a Mercedes-Benz Escape, but Mr, Karesh’s Mercedes-Benz Forester is more apt. It’s an honest shape.

      • 0 avatar

        P-Wagen (poseur, pretentious, take your pick)…

  • avatar

    No way would I consider something that 99% of the time will wear a magnetic VistaPrint sign with a middle-aged woman’s Sears studio portrait on it.

  • avatar

    I don’t mind the boxy looks. Boxy usually means practical. Which is why the subpar cargo space mystifies me…

  • avatar

    What the article fails to mention is that GLK is some of the cheapest Mercedes in the US, period, at like $35K or so. That makes it pretty damn appealing for those who want a station wagon that can actually tow something. In the glam range, of course. And if you have $46K to burn, just buy the M class, duh.

  • avatar

    How can they charge nearly $50k for a car and they won’t even give you real leather? Some things never change… I remember in the late 90’s when the S-Class started at 70-something grand, but the CD player was an option.

    Mercedes-Benz really does have an admirable business model… who else can charge top dollar for the bare minimum?

  • avatar

    You say the Audi includes xenons at that price and fail to mention that the GLK has them too. If you look closely at those headlights, those are indeed xenon…

  • avatar

    I think it doesn’t even come close to being a true competitor for the Q5, never mind the new X3.

    The Q5 is IMO one of the more appealing Audi and the new X3 is a vast improvement over the previous one and pretty much the new benchmark in this class. Inside and out, both look a class above the GLK (to me) yet they sell for the same kind of money.

  • avatar

    I’ve had a couple of these as rentals. All I can say is “meh”. They aren’t nice looking, they aren’t that nice to drive, they get crappy gas mileage, and they are very expensive. But middle-aged women seem to like them and they are EVERYWHERE so obviously they sell. But not for me.

    • 0 avatar

      Anecdotal though it may be, I think I’ve seen maybe one or two GLKs on the roads around here. The Q5 and X3 seem to be more popular, though I see more recent model Audis and BMWs than Mercedes in general, so it could just be chalked up to the local Mercedes dealer not being particularly competitive.

      • 0 avatar

        Nullo where in Florida are you located? Here in Tampa MB is very strong and you see as many Benzes as Audi and BMW. The local dealer tells me than more than 80% of new Benzes are leased.

  • avatar

    I’ve never understood this segment and, most likely, nor do the Germans as all of their attempts in this segment have been halfhearted to say the last. I suspect they put their effort into cool station wagons. I understand the appeal of the 3 series or A5 – they look good, handle well, are practical, luxurious and for that you have to put up with their patchy reliability and service costs. But this thing makes no sense at all as it doesn’t handle well, isn’t really attractive, has fake leather, hasn’t got much room, is still expensive and no more reliable.

    • 0 avatar

      Some people seem to want jacked up cars so that the bumpers of pickup trucks (with or without enclosed bed) are aiming at the metal instead of directly at the windows.

  • avatar

    It looks like it would be capable offroad and be able to tow at least 5000lbs.

    But apparently it does neither.

  • avatar

    All branding, no equity!

  • avatar

    For an extra $335 ($46,380), I’d rather have a Grand Cherokee Overland Summit. Much nicer vehicle inside and out.

    • 0 avatar

      Has low range, too.

    • 0 avatar

      $46k for a Grand Cherokee? Jeep would never get that much (or any) money from me until they’ve demonstrated a level of fit/finish and reliability that makes up for all of the crap since 93. BMW would be the leading contender to get my money in this segment should I go mad and decide that I need a brand new small luxury ute for hauling kids/dirty mountain bikes/snowboards and parking in the airport’s long-term lot.

  • avatar

    I like the look of it. I dislike the current trend in compact SUVs of swoopy sides, sloped rear, and pinched c-pillars (Nissa Rogue, Kia Sportage, etc). To me, boxy designs will always have a timeliness about them, whereas some other styles quickly date themselves.

    • 0 avatar

      Agree, agree, agree. Unfortunately, as we’re moving away from truck-based SUVs, we’re not only getting swooping designs, we’re getting truck wanna-bees such as the GMC Terrain.

  • avatar

    Oh my gawd that is ugly. Its like Mercedes went DOWN MARKET in styling to homely Honda or Nissan.

    Mercedes GLK 350? GLK must stand for geeky lookin.

  • avatar

    I think the X3’s the nicest.

    There will be more. There’s already the Q3. There will be LOTS of sizes of bubbles soon. Imagine a mini X6, its rear coming up to your waist.

    At least there’s still sedans. I don’t need so many lifestyle vehicles. I don’t need to be so high up, and cats are better anyway. And I don’t think everyone does either. Will the lower alphabet class be late to the wagon game?

    Who is getting sick of crossovers now? I guess I don’t mind so much when BMW does it (BMW tries the hardest), but for god’s sakes already. Another B-class thing, more Qs. And it’s only the Germans. I think it must be because it’s easy, to have so many intermodels, to make it so modular.

    I don’t think all of the cars will survive.

  • avatar

    When I took my mother to buy her a car, she absolutely hated this and gravitated towards the ML instead. The GLK lacks femininity and it’s too small for the price. Even the SRX is a better deal.
    She ended up not wanting the truck like feel anymore so she passed on the ML even though she liked the interior design.

  • avatar

    “The numbers are competitive, but subjectively this powertrain feels somewhat sluggish compared to the Audi, the BMW, and even the Lexus.”

    Which Lexus is this? It’s never mentioned specifically in the article. The RX seems to be the most obvious, but it’s also a half-class larger than the others mentioned here based on interior volume.

    • 0 avatar

      The Lexus RX 350 is larger, as you say, but one was among the vehicles at the event.

      • 0 avatar

        Interesting. It would seem like the RX would win on the value scale and the X3 on the dynamic scale. Couple that with the fact that RX actually regressed aesthetically (on the exterior) with the latest generation while the X3 progressed and it should add up to an interesting comparison. I’m indifferent to the Q5 and GLK at this point.

  • avatar

    Sweet, sweet GLK 350. How I do not love thee. Let me count the ways.

    1. You are two ugly stick beat down ugly. I don’t know what they’re smoking at MB but its obviously strong.

    2. For what you are you cost way too much. Those on the lower rungs of “the profession” might ask for three hundred a night but that doesn’t mean they’ll get it. Go back to your street corner GLK 350. Go back now.

    3. You kinda make other seemingly “cuvs” want to emulate you. You being Mercedes and all. But that is not a good thing and at least BMW and Porsche have product that looks a whole lot better and is definitely more engaging.

    The funny thing is you’ll probably do just fine sales wise so what do I know?

  • avatar

    Despite the trucky looks, there are no fancy off-road-oriented features, or even a low-range.

    Like almost all trucks and SUVs, it has a long way to go in terms of tire and wheel selection before there would be any point in a low range transfer case!

    Not my sort of vehicle, but I like the Subaru-ish looks of this thing.

  • avatar

    I saw one of these featured inside Stuttgart Airport in white with a Bluetech badge on the rear, and I didn’t think the look was that polarizing. It made me think of a Niva with updated bodywork.

  • avatar

    Good conclusion…if you are buying this car…its for the badge…better buys out there….FX, Q5…i hate to say this but even Acura can make beetr SUVs than this one…..

  • avatar

    I loved the rather positive write-up, even though it is of the damn-the-pricing type, what´s a couple of grand among friends?

    The fact the article was made possible by BMW is just icing. Gleeful icing.

  • avatar

    I’ve always thought that, between the two, a couple of Foresters was the better option.

  • avatar

    The old Merc SUV is like Scion xB 1gen. It was too good, the company is incapable of reproducing it anymore. I was once at a hunting ranch and the game warden visited in one of those. Neither GL nor the big contemporary one is it anymore.

    • 0 avatar

      You can’t be talking about the first gen ML, so I’m guessing that you’re referring to the $100,000 G-wagon based on some 20 year old military vehicle design. Those things look cool but seem like a nightmare to operate on road and off road, for drastically different reasons.

  • avatar

    Anyone else think a top of the line Escape is more appealing than this thing?

    • 0 avatar

      I’m gonna go with “no”.

    • 0 avatar

      I find the Escape more appealing, if only because it doesn’t seem to be trying as hard, and is significantly cheaper. It is also roomier and probably more reliable (and it should be, it’s been around for about 11 years.)

      The comparison is noteworthy though – the GLK and the Escape are the truck-like looking alternatives in a market segment that has otherwise gone curvy. The exceptions may be the Gand Vitara (does anybody buy that now?) and MAYBE the RAV4.

      The Escape is still selling briskly, despite it’s hard plastic interior. I think because it looks like a mini-sized ford truck.

  • avatar

    One thing that did not get mentioned in this review is the horrendous fuel economy: 21mpg highway, 16mpg city. I am sure that M-B buyers can afford that, but I personally, after having paid $50K for this, would have doubts about the tech prowess of my vehicle manufacturer.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    Take the badges off and it could pass for some wacky JDM Nissan SUV.

  • avatar

    Every time I visit the MB dealer, there are a host of GLK’s in the service drive. Of course, it is during the week when the men are supposedly making the bacon. I see this model as probably the biggest poser model they have. Not because of its popularity (the C class wins that title) but because it really is pretty boring and unattractive.

  • avatar

    I actually quite like this little crossover. When equipped correctly it barely hits $40k. And it’s not “styled” like most of these little tall station wagons. It’s designed. It’s got a great greenhouse, sturdy materials, and a design that won’t age. At all.

    I mean, what’s the alternative? A Lexus? Anyone that spends over $20k on a Toyota station wagon is a fool. Fine cars for small money, but when you can pick a proper automobile, why wouldn’t you? The X3 is fine, but then you have the BMW quality issues and image problems. And the Audi trucks are too pretty to be trucks. The only competition, really, for the GLK is the SAAB 9-4X (much cheaper, real leather, ventilated seats) and the Volvo XC60.

    Overall, good job MB!

  • avatar

    Something not mentioned but possibly significant for buyers – this vehicle has abysmal fuel economy. 16/18/21. That’s a hair less than a V6 Grand Cherokee.

    • 0 avatar

      I purchased one for my wife a 2012 fully loaded, I wrote a check for 37,900. She got hit in the rear by Nissan Pathfinder (new) at a red light. Nissan totaled, my wife fine. I bought it for just this reason and I am pleased.

  • avatar

    Bought one for my wife. 4Matic, heated seats and Nav+4 iPod interface are only options. Sticker was $40,000 and after USAA discount and rebates paid $36,000.

    Its not a fancy car and doesn’t ooze luxury, but it is, perhaps, the best car we’ve ever owned. In a blizzard over Northern California’s Donner Pass the GLK was effortless to drive despite the ice and snow. On a 600 mile day the car remained comfortable with absolutely no annoyances. While the interior is rather spartan, it is of extremely high quality, which I prefer.

    I hated SUVs in past years. I liked my wife’s 2009 BMW X3 and LOVE our 2012 GLK350.

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