October 23, 2014

2013 Mercedes-Benz GLK: Smooth and quiet; crisp handling

2013 Mercedes-Benz GLK

2013 Mercedes-Benz GLK2013 Mercedes-Benz GLKWhere it matters most – ride, performance, handling and safety – Mercedes-Benz’ compact crossover SUV, the GLK, borders on the sublime. While the larger BMW X3 remains our luxury compact crossover of choice, the GLK is a worthy contender for the title. But it has more than its share of design oddities.

The boxy GLK is less roomy than most of its Japanese, American and European competitors, and it’s fairly expensive. The base model with rear-wheel drive costs $37,090. Our 4Matic GLK350 test car had a base price of $39,090, but a long options list brought the sticker price to $53,165.

The GLK rides smoothly and quietly, and it handles more crisply than many popular sedans we’ve driven. The high driving position adds reassurance and excellent all-around visibility. The updated 3.5-liter V-6 packs 302 horsepower; it’s linked to a smooth-shifting 7-speed automatic transmission.

Inside, the GLK is meticulously assembled and well-appointed. The cargo compartment is big enough, but the rear seat is cramped, especially when tall drivers and passengers are seated in front.

Fuel economy is acceptable; we averaged about 22 mpg, and the GLK is capable of reaching 24 mpg on a long highway run. The car does require premium fuel, however. Soon to arrive in U.S. dealerships is the GLK250 Bluetec, equipped with a 190-horsepower, fuel-stingy diesel engine. 

Where the GLK falls short is in the layout of driver-operated controls and gauges.

Take the tilt-telescoping steering column. When our tallest driver positioned it where he wanted it, the steering wheel blocked his view of the top third of the speedometer. This is not an uncommon problem, but lesser automakers have dealt with this problem, often by clever means.

Then there’s the traffic jam of stalks on the left side of the steering column. There are three, covering five functions: turn signals, wipers and washers; column adjustment, cruise control and headlight bright-dim setting. On the other side, all by its lonesome, is the transmission shifter.

Finally, after 13 years and 168,000 miles, our 2000 ML320’s driver’s seat is more supportive and contoured than the seat in the GLK. Our test car had the $2,100 Leather Package; if we were in the market to buy a GLK, we’d check out a unit with the standard MB-Tex vinyl material. Consumer Reports magazine describes the GLK’s standard front seats as “excellent … firm and well shaped.”

Options added $13,000 to the price of our GLK; the standard-equipment list may be insufficient for many drivers. It includes dual-zone automatic climate control, Bluetooth, a convenient multi-function control knob at the driver’s right hand, and power front seats. Owners who want desirable features like a rear-view camera, power liftgate, power sunroof and satellite radio will have to check option boxes.

Consumer Reports recommends the GLK on the basis of its driving qualities and reliability. The GLK has been rated a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Steven Macoy (semacoy@gmail.com) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel, Conn.

Price: $53,165

Engine: 3.5-liter V-6, 302 horsepower, 273 lb.-ft. torque

Transmission: 7-speed automatic

Drive: all-wheel

Weight: 4,079 lb.

Ground clearance: 7.9 in.

Suspension: MacPherson strut front, multi-link rear

Wheels: 19×8.5-in. alloy (optional)

Tires: 235/50R H all-season

Seating capacity: 5

Luggage capacity: 23.3 cu. ft.

Maximum cargo capacity: 54.7 cu. ft.

Towing capacity: 3,500 lb.

Fuel capacity: 17.4 gallons

Fuel economy: 19 mpg city, 24 mpg highway

Fuel type: Regular