2010 Mercedes-Benz GLK 350 4Matic: A head-turning ‘compact’ SUV

2010_mercedes_benz_glk350_4maticWhile most manufacturers are shying away from offering new SUVs, Mercedes-Benz has no less than five, the newest being the “compact” GLK.

The reason compact is in quotes is because it’s intermediate to my eyes although it is classified in the compact class.

But the compact SUV section is where the action is because they appeal to a lot of Canadians who aren’t as keen on large trucks like our American neighbours.

And it could well be Mercedes-Benz has intentionally blurred this line to make it attractive to two sets of buyers.

Visually, it is more upright and squared off at the shoulders than a M-Class or big GL-Class and sculpted in angular lines with a touch of “Jeepness”, a look that North Americans have come to identify with off-roaders.

It seems Mercedes did learn a thing or two from their liaison with Chrysler/Jeep.

The beefy exterior is offset by the luxurious interior that is similar in looks and feel to the M- and GL-Class. Mercedes cut no corners on appointments and materials.

The model we get here will be called the GLK 350 4Matic with the 3.5-litre, DOHC V6 found in just about everything Mercedes builds. In the GLK it produces 268 hp and 258 lb/ft of torque through the now, near standard 7G-Tronic seven-speed automatic/sequential transmission.

For the time being, that’s the only engine offered in Canada but a version with the fuel-sipping BlueTec diesel is rumoured to be close at hand.

If you’ve been following Mercedes-Benz Canada’s fortunes in Canada, that’s just what they are making – a fortune.

While the rest of the Canadian automotive industry is in turmoil, Mercedes Canada is setting sales record after record. In fact, Canada was the ninth most lucrative market for the three-pointed star on the globe in April.

I’ve noted before that the Canadian arm of Mercedes is one of the best at product planning and this is reflected in the 2010 GLK.

The GLK starts with the 3.5-litre and 4Matic all-wheel-drive at $41,800. After that, options are few but one Canadians love is purchasing the base GLK and adding just the 20-inch alloy wheels and aluminum roof rails that come with the Sport Package (a steal at $800) that look even bigger than they are if the truck is painted in black or silver.

Add the $700 optional aluminum running boards and you’ve got a truck that draws stares. If bling is your thing, you can go all the way to the $3,380 sterling sliver (no kidding) 20-in wheels.

There are several color and trim choices. My tester had the very German all charcoal interior with aluminum accents which I find rather cold. I much prefer the sandy beige with low gloss wood trim I tried last year at the press launch of the GLK.

The leather-lined (man-made or real) cabin is sumptuous with the driver and passenger getting Neck-Pro crash-responsive head rests that move forward to cup the head in an accident. Of course there is cruise and power everything, but the Mercedes Thermatic dual-zone climate control is also standard and it really works.

The GLK 350 comes with what Mercedes calls its dynamic handling control system that includes anti-lock braking, Mercedes’ own version of traction control called 4ETS that works in conjunction with the Electronic Stability Control (ESP) and electronic brake assist. There are also sub-systems to this, but the bottom line is you really, and I mean really, have to work to get out of shape and into trouble.

On the highway, the speed sensitive steering firms up nicely and the standard Agility Control (that automatically adapts the shock to changing road conditions) make for a ride more like big E-Class sedan.

Another standard feature is the 4Matic all-wheel-drive system. It goes well beyond simple “slip and grip” systems that really don’t engage until it is sometimes too late. 4matic is permanently engaged with the result the driver doesn’t have to worry about response times. With this knowledge, the driver can contend with adverse road and/or weather conditions without having to switch to all-wheel-drive.

The system is centred on a transfer case with a central differential that is also mated to the seven-speed 7G-Tronic automatic transmission with torque being split 45 front, 55 rear.

Inside the central differential is a twin-plate clutch that locks up the front and rear axles starting when torque starts to exceed 50 Nm (39 lb/ft). This then allows torque to be further split between the two axles based on where grip can be most effective.

Now you might think with all those gears, computers and moving parts, the square and weighty GLK (4,036 lb, 1,830 kg) would be sluggish, but not so.

It can go from 0-100 km/h in 6.7 seconds with a top speed of 210 km/h, yet it scores fuel consumption ratings of 13.3L/100 km city and 9.6L/100 km highway.

In city traffic, the 3.5-litre feels more like a small V8. There is no noticeable body lean even when cornering aggressively thanks to the 4ETS and ESP.

As mentioned, options are relatively few on the Canadian GLKs but my tester did have a few like BiXenon headlights ($1,000), COMAND navigation system ($1,800), premium package ($3,500, sport package ($800), black metallic paint ($890) and a few goodies like Sirius satellite radio and a media interface for connecting things like MP3 players and USBs for a grand total of $52,065.

Of these the Sport Package is a no-brainer and I could live without the Bi-xenon lights. The Premium Package adds a lot of amenities that are certainly enticing like power tailgate, Parktronic that uses sonar to tell you when you’re too close to another object, and the real reason I’d consider it, the panoramic sunroof.

I don’t mind telling you the first generation COMAND navigation system is what put me off all such color monitor/click wheel navi/infotainment systems since. The first one came with an instruction book of some 350 pages. The current COMAND is more intuitive to use but it takes a lot of practice. If I owned the GLK, I’d pass on COMAND.

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