Things are heating up in Stuttgart, and it’s not just föhn wind blowing over the Alps. Unlike this warm, allegedly sickness-inducing Mediterranean breeze, Mercedes-Benz is cool and in fine health, with steadily increasing sales and market share. To continue this growth the company is preparing to pounce with a passel of fresh products. The German automaker will launch 30 vehicles between now and 2020. That list includes 13 brand-new models covering segments they don’t compete in right now. Doing the math and converting from metric that works out to a new vehicle every quarter.
|1. Along with a 3.5L V6 engine, for 2013 Mercedes also offers the GLK with a 2.1-liter 4-cylinder diesel engine making 200 hp with a mountain of torque, 369 lb-ft!
2. Fuel economy is rated at 24 MPG city and 33 MPG highway.
3. Diesel models come exclusively with 4MATIC AWD.
4. Base price for the GLK250 BlueTEC 4MATIC is $39,495, including a $905 destination fee.
That list includes cars like the anxiously anticipated CLA compact sedan, as well as a comprehensively redesigned S-Class, the brand’s flagship. Between these bookends are other mainstay models like the ever-popular E-Class as well as an updated version of its midsize SUV, the GLK. “2013 is really a game-changing year for Mercedes-Benz,” said Geoff Day, the company’s director of communications.
This small utility vehicle is a great option but competition in the segment is fierce. For 2013 the folks at Mercedes have made a great product even better, with countless minor changes and one huge upgrade.
The GLK has always been a handsome vehicle, with chiseled good looks and no-nonsense design. The latest version, which went on sale in the United States just a few days ago, features an upgraded body. The headlamps have been altered, the bumpers are new and so are the side mirrors. The vehicle’s grille has also been reworked. These changes are subtle but the overall look is sharp and surprisingly masculine. Perhaps that’s why ladies like the GLK. About 52 percent of buyers are female.
Upgrades to the vehicle’s interior are just as understated but every bit as appreciated. Joe Stauble, product manager for sport utility vehicles at Mercedes-Benz said “Every touch point has been changed.” The cockpit is extremely nice but it’s not overwhelmingly opulent. New air vents add a touch of pizzazz and look like they were inspired by aircraft propellers.
The company’s Attention Assist technology is now standard. It monitors the driver and can detect if they’re starting to get drowsy behind the wheel. The system alerts them with an audible warning, which is better than plowing head-on into a bridge abutment. Short of adding armor plating, the GLK is about as safe as a vehicle can get, but do you really want to test out its crumple zones?
Another high-tech highlight is Distronic Plus adaptive cruise control. It’s finally available on the GLK as part of a $2,950 driver assistance package. Like Ron Popeil’s Showtime Rotisserie just set it and forget it; best of all there’s no greasy spatter or risk of burning your house down to the foundation. Active Parking Assist, which can automatically park the vehicle, is a handy standalone option at $970.
BLUE IS GREEN
Who can argue with easy-to-use technology and generous luxury features? These are integral parts of the 2013 GLK’s winning formula, but they’re by no means its most important highlight. That honor goes to an engineering masterpiece tucked away behind the grille’s imposing three-pointed star.
RESEARCH: See the full specs of the GLK250 BlueTEC
To quote Bachman-Turner Overdrive You Ain’t Seen Notin’ Yet. This rock song’s lyrics may be grammatically defective but they perfectly describe this vehicle’s powertrain. The GLK250 BlueTEC 4MATIC is motivated by a 2.1-liter four-cylinder diesel engine. Yes, diesel… diesel just like 18-wheelers and Amtrak locomotives.
If you think diesel is still a dirty word, then you may also be surprised to learn the South lost and women can now vote.
Cleaning up the tailpipe emissions is Mercedes’ BlueTEC system. Skipping a mind-numbing chemistry lesson this technology works by injecting a special urea solution into the exhaust system, which reacts with all of the bad stuff in there turning it into not-so- bad stuff, like nitrogen and water. Do you smell that? It’s called fresh air.
These oil-burning powerplants are a bit of a Swabian specialty. “Diesel is something that is very close to Mercedes-Benz’s heart” said Day. The company has had a very long romance with compression-ignition. They’ve been building diesel-powered passenger cars since the mid 1930s, and they’ve been selling them in the U.S. since the ‘50s.
The oil-burner powering BlueTEC GLKs puts out 200 horsepower with a class-leading 369 lb-ft of torque. This is enough juice to accelerate the vehicle from a standstill to a mile a minute in less than 8.0 seconds.
Performance is one thing but “The main story is efficiency” said Peter Lückert, director of diesel powertrain development at Mercedes-Benz. According to him advanced diesels can be up to 15 percent more efficient than lean-burn gasoline engines. In simple terms that equates better fuel economy for the average consumer.
Even with the added weight and friction of standard all-wheel-drive the GLK250 stickers at 24 miles per gallon in urban driving and up to 33 on the highway or 28 mpg combined. While just short of the Lexus RX450h’s 30 mpg combined rating, during AutoGuide’s test drive the car beat those already impressive numbers. After two hours on some of southern Michigan’s twisting rural roads the car topped 35 miles per gallon.
If there is a down-side to the BlueTEC system, it’s that it does require that you replace the urea, though Mercedes has timed it to conveniently coincide with oil changes.
Putting it all in motion the GLK doesn’t feel fast but it’s perfectly adequate for just about any driving situation.
Like runners in a relay race the two turbos work together, handing off the boost baton as the vehicle accelerates. A small turbo starts things off. It gets spinning very quickly at low speeds so there’s little lag during acceleration. After the vehicle is moving the small blower hands off to a larger one that provides more airflow for greater power. This forced-induction duet helps make the engine flexible, giving it great low-end torque without sacrificing high-speed power.
Thankfully this is about the only time it betrays its oil-burning ways. As soon as you get underway the powerplant becomes smoother than melted milk chocolate.
The only other give-away is the short-shifting transmission. At wide-open throttle gear-changes take place a little past 4000 RPM. The typical gasoline engine can spin freely to six-grand and beyond.
A familiar seven-speed automatic is the only gearbox available in the GLK250 BlueTEC. This transmission has been in production for a number of years and it feels like Mercedes has perfected it. It shifts quickly and seamlessly. No wonder it’s spread across the company’s lineup faster than pinkeye in third grade; it is a great gearbox.
DRIVEN TO SUCCEED
The rest of the GLK driving experience can be summed up with just one word: solid. The car’s body feels like an Egyptian pharos’s tomb. There are no creaks, rattles or jiggles, even when bombing around the mitten state’s crumbling infrastructure.
The steering is surprisingly tight as well, without any sloppiness or unwanted vibration. Dare we say the GLK is fun to drive? Yeah, we’d go that far. It’s also quiet and comfortable.
Further enhancing the drive is unusually good outward visibility. The roof pillars are pretty small, which means the GLK is easy to see out of. There’s also a generous amount of glass. Over the last few years automakers have been reducing the size of vehicle windows in an attempt to make their cars look sporty and low-slung. For the most part it works, but understandably it cuts into visibility. Have you ever tried to back up a Chevy Camaro? The glass may as well be smeared with tar because you can’t see anything.
The 2013 Mercedes GLK is a stylish, comfortable vehicle. In diesel trim it’s an entertaining drive and delivers fuel economy that beats even the thriftiest of small cars.
Base price for the GLK250 BlueTEC 4MATIC is $39,495, including $905 in destination and delivery fees (it takes a lot of stamps to mail a car from Germany). That’s only a couple bucks more than the entry-level gasoline-powered GLK350.
Unfortunately, regardless of which version you choose, this sport utility vehicle is hardly a screaming value. But the same is true of other things in life. For instance, why is divorce so expensive? Because it’s worth it! It’s the same story with the GLK.