Since it was introduced as a 2010 model, the GLK has been one of Mercedes-Benz's leading sellers. Mercedes decided that some nips and tucks were in order, and a refreshed 2013 Mercedes-Benz GLK landed in my driveway, begging to be driven. The 2013 Mercedes-Benz GLK350 4MATIC arrived with a base price of $39,090 ($48,555 as tested), a 4-year/50,000-mile warranty and EPA fuel economy estimates of 19 mpg city/24 mpg highway. Let's drive.
I had to study photos of the 2012 GLK side-by-side with the 2013 GLK to find the changes that Mercedes claims resulted in "bolder exterior styling." If you squint, you can see that the new GLK is a little more truckish, a little crisper than before. Never mind the difference -- GLK is a good looking crossover. Based on the platform that underlies M-B's successful C-Class sedan, GLK is not nearly as big in person as it appears in photographs. My favorite features of the exterior design are the short overhangs, both front and rear. There's precious little GLK hanging out beyond the standard 19" alloy wheels, which makes the vehicle extremely easy to maneuver and park in tight spaces.
You definitely get what you pay for with GLK. Fit and finish on the exterior of the vehicle is superb, with deep glossy paint and shiny chrome. Every line is crisp, every gap is even, and things fit together like jewelry. My test vehicle wore a coat of a premium paint color, Cuprite Brown, which looked like a deep deep metallic chocolate. I'm not usually a fan of brown cars, but this brown is the new black, just gorgeous.
In the Driver's Seat
Inside the GLK, the changes are a little easier to spot. Most significantly, the gear selector has been moved and changed. It used to be a conventional lever in the middle of the center console, set up in the linear "PRND" fashion. The gear selector is now a branch off of the steering column tree, which frees up the center console space for a shallow storage bin/ash tray, covered by a sliding tambour top. The new gear selector takes a little bit of getting used to. It's not linear anymore -- you push up for reverse, pull down for drive, and depress a button for park. Additionally, you can take manual control of the seven-speed automatic transmission with flappy paddles on the steering wheel.
Other features on the dash have been upgraded as well. The new round air conditioning vents are great, quickly and easily adjusted to redirect airflow, bringing to mind a luxury airplane vent. I have to applaud the M-B designers for resisting the temptation to replicate the Mercedes-Benz badge in the vent -- I probably would have blinged it out that way, and I'm sure the aftermarket will have a go.
M-B Tex seat coverings, which could fool a lot of people with their real leather look and feel, are standard on the GLK. Close inspection gives away M-B Tex's secret, but the synthetic material is worlds away from vinyl seats of old. I still prefer real leather -- but maybe not at the $2,100 package price that Mercedes demands on the GLK. Also, when you select the "Leather Package," you also have to select the $3,450 "Premium Package," which means that the cost of your GLK just jumped over five and a half grand just to feed your leather fetish. Maybe you've got a problem.
My test vehicle was equipped with a $2,790 "Multi-Media Package" of options that included Mercedes' COMAND system with navigation, audio, and voice control centralized with single knob in the center console and a 7" color display mounted at the top of the center stack, right where it belongs. It works pretty well, but tends to send you hunting for buttons a little too often. I frequently had to give up on a function while the car was moving, because the hunt for the right input was too distracting. COMAND would be easier to operate with practice, but some operations are still just too fiddly.
On the Road
In one important respect, GLK actually is all-new for 2013. The new 3.5-liter V6 engine that lurks beneath the hood is a narrower, 60-degree unit with a high compression ratio. The old GLK engine was also a 3.5-liter V6, but its cylinders were arranged at a 90 degree angle, which is a less compact arrangement. The new engine produces 302 hp and 273 lb-ft of torque, up from 268 hp and 258 lb-ft for the old lump. And thanks to direct injection, which atomizes fuel for more efficient combustion, the new GLK is faster and more fuel-efficient than the old one, despite identical curb weights and dimensions.
GLK also gets an interesting standard feature, ECO Start/Stop, a defeatable feature that is activated by default every time you start the vehicle. When you're at a stop and you'd expect GLK to settle in to a slow idle, the engine stops instead. The climate control continues to operate, the radio still plays, you can open the windows, but the engine isn't running. Step on the gas, and the engine comes to life instantly, and you're back in the swing. ECO Start/Stop is nearly transparent. I barely noticed it in operation. We're going to see this feature, which is already common on hybrids, spreading more and more to conventional gasoline-only vehicles. When it works as seamlessly as it does on the GLK, it's a great way to save gas.
My test vehicle came equipped with Mercedes' all-wheel drive system, 4MATIC, which adds about $2,000 to the bottom line over the rear-wheel drive GLK. Mercedes is rightfully proud of the standard safety features that come with GLK, including advanced airbags, active headrests, ESP, ABS, BAS, adaptive brakes and more. GLK even gets Attention Assist, which monitors your steering and throttle inputs to determine whether or not a cup of coffee is in order. Unfortunately, GLK will not serve the coffee -- you have to pull off the road and get your own. Maybe the next generation vehicle will remedy that...
I'm attracted to a lot of the 2013 GLK's features, some of which I haven't even mentioned in this review yet. I really like the crossover's exhaust note -- a beefy, throaty growl that's much lustier than expected. Handling is good, with decent steering feel and a nimble suspension. The tweaks and upgrades that GLK received have all pushed it further toward luxury. But a few flaws remain, particularly away from the driver's seat. The second row is too tight, with insufficient legroom for adults. Step-over into the passenger cabin is too high, with tall sills that require a lot of leg lift in order to enter and exit. Then, there's the question of value. Add a few options, like heated seats ($750), a "Lane Tracking Package" ($850), a "Premium Package" ($3,450) and "Multimedia Package" ($2,790), and you're closer to $50,000 than $40,000 in a hurry. And still, you don't get a proximity key, leather seating surfaces or special wheels.
The competition is pretty stiff in the luxury crossover field. BMW's X3, Audi's Q5, Cadillac's SRX, Land Rover's Range Rover Evoque, Acura's RDX, Infiniti's FX and Lexus' RX all compete on the same playing field. It would be a fun few weeks trying to decide between all of the competitors.
I could definitely live with the GLK, especially with the fine performance that the new engine delivers. But being a bottom-line buyer, I'd have to really fall in love with the whole package, and find a GLK that was equipped with exactly the features that I knew I'd use -- and nothing extra -- before I would plunk down my cash.