LA CLUSAZ, FRANCE - As is standard practice in the automotive industry, Mercedes-Benz's’ butch little GLK premium compact SUV is getting a requisite mid-cycle refresh. But in this case it goes further than mere cosmetics.
Introduced as a 2010 model, the sharply-styled and easy-driving GLK was aggressively priced and jumped to the top of its respective sales chart. The 2013 GLK sees a new snout with blingy LED running lights, a revised derriere with LED tail lamps and an all-new (and welcomed) instrument panel/console
But the bigger news is found just aft of the grille.
The previous 3.5L V-6 (268 hp/258 lb-ft) makes way for Mercedes’ new, more efficient W276 direct-injection 3.5L V6 (302 hp/273 lb-ft) with standard auto stop/start function. In addition, a diesel engine is now on the menu – good news for us in the Great While North who typically have a European appetite for compression engines.
It's probably good news for Mercedes-Benz Canada as well, given that the current diesel take-rate on the larger ML and GL class SUVs runs between 70 and 80%.
Dubbed the 250 BlueTec, the GLK's diesel is a 2.1L twin-turbo four that makes 190 horsepower at 4200 rpm and a substantial 369 lb-ft of torque from 1600-1800 rpm.
Like its bigger diesel V-6 brethren, it uses the AdBlue system that injects urea into the exhaust stream to clean up those pesky NOx emissions.
The 250 also features standard auto stop/start function and, like the 350, it is mated to a 7G-Tronic Plus seven-speed automatic transmission. All 2013 GLKs sold in Canada will have 4Matic permanent all-wheel-drive.
Torque-rich and fuel-efficient
Having just driven the GLK 250 BlueTec over some rather spectacular French Alpine roads and a stretch of Swiss motorway, I predict this diesel ute will be a big hit – assuming the financial "hit" for the engine won’t be too much.
The 2013 GLK 350 arrives in the summer, but we have to wait until late 2012 for the 250 BlueTec. Pricing will be announced closer to the on-sale dates.
If you’re familiar with the effortless low-end torque of the modern turbo-diesel engine, then you’ll know what I mean when I say the GLK 250 loafs along in the relaxed lower reaches of the tachometer, but offers a pleasing reserve of grunt with a brush of throttle.
There is the typical diesel gruffness when accelerating briskly from a stop, but in all other aspects this ute is as quiet and refined as a graduate from a Swiss finishing school.
The big benefit of the 250, of course, is parsimonious fuel sippage. After a few hours of varied motoring which included mountain switchbacks, some in-town stop-and-go and a stretch of motorway where we cruised between 120 and 140 km/h, the on-board computer showed 6.8 L/100 km. Ain’t diesel technology wonderful?
You can beat on this Merc like a rented mule, and unlike most hybrids, it will return consistently great fuel economy. Yes, the AdBlue reservoir has to be filled on occasion but Mercedes says that is done at your regular service intervals.
The published European combined fuel economy for this vehicle is 6.5-6.1 L/100km. The 2013 GLK 350 4Matic shows a combined 8.6-8.1 L/100km.
The GLK is still a smooth rider, which means handling remains linear and competent, but not particularly sporting. The electric steering has decent heft but it won’t cut into a corner like the BMW X3. This relaxed demeanor certainly hasn’t hurt sales, so Mercedes is sticking with its winning formula.
Fresh interior digs elevate the cabin from just okay to "Yeah, I’m driving a Mercedes." The new instrument panel is made of richer materials, features the retro-round air vents currently invading the brand and a big swath of either wood, piano black or aluminum trim that runs from door to door.
There’s also a new three-spoke steering wheel and the cruise control and multi-function stalks have finally switched positions for more intuitive operation.
I still find the seats too flat and unsupportive, and as with the original GLK (and most lower-level Mercs), the major gauge cluster can be frustratingly hard to read in some lighting conditions. This car really needs some clear backlit gauges like you’ll find in an Audi or Infiniti.
With just 450 litres of storage space behind the rear seats, the GLK trails most competitors in that metric.
The 2013 GLK 350 4Matic comes standard with the AMG exterior design package which has the body adorned with side skirts, more aggressive front and rear fascias, and it rides on 20-inch wheels.
Other standard kit includes auto dimming interior and exterior mirrors, power folding mirrors, Attention Assist, adaptive brakes with hold function, Artico leather door panels and stainless steel sport pedals.
If you want a rear-view camera, that requires shelling out for the Comand Navigation Package that also includes garage door opener, compass, Nav and 6-disc changer. No pricing for the packages were given.
The GLK 250 BlueTec gets 19-inch alloys and lacks the AMG styling, although that package is optional.
New for the GLK is the available Advanced Driving Package that adds M-B’s latest safety systems: Distronic Plus adaptive cruise, Active Blind Spot Assist, Active Lane Keep Assist, BAS Plus and Pre Safe that immediately preps the car if a crash is eminent.
The Premium Package (currently $3700 for the 2012 model) layers on park assist, sunroof, media interface, Sirius radio, powered lift gate and interior and exterior lighting package.
And so it goes. There is a bi-xenon light package, and if you want seat memory, shell out for the convenience package that also adds, powered and heated steering wheel, proximity key with push button start, "fully" powered driver and passenger seat with powered lumbar, storage box under the driver’s seat and a 115V outlet.
For 2013 Mercedes-Benz is giving the option of loading up its refreshed GLK to premium vehicle levels, thus catering to the increasing number of luxury car buyers who are downsizing but still want all the toys.
With the seemingly endless escalation of fuel prices, the diesel 250 BlueTec’s drivability and exceptional fuel economy will appeal right across the consumer spectrum.