First Drive

FIRST DRIVE: 2013 Mercedes-Benz GLK-Class

Fuel-efficient diesel engine adds to new GLK sport ute's appeal

2013 Mercedes-Benz GLK 350 - front 3/4 view
KINGSTON, ON – Mercedes-Benz has good news for compact luxury SUV shoppers. They can now buy a vehicle that meets their demands, including premium amenities, function and flexibility, but also delivers unprecedented fuel economy. 

The German automaker’s popular GLK-Class compact SUV – second only to the C-Class sedan in overall annual sales – is available with a diesel engine for 2013.

 In addition to a new, 3.5-litre, gasoline direct -injection V-6, Mercedes is now offering a 2.1-litre twin-turbo BlueTEC four-cylinder that supplies all the performance most drivers are likely to demand, while posting impressive fuel consumption numbers. 

It’s no secret diesel engines haven’t enjoyed the buzz hybrids and electric vehicles have generated. No doubt the black smoke billowing out of ol’ highway rigs and buses hasn’t done much to boost the diesel’s popularity. Stories of smelly fumes and grimy pumps at service stations hasn’t sweeten the image, either.

Diesel attributes

2013 Mercedes-Benz GLK 350 - rear 3/4 view.JPG
But more consumers are realizing the modern diesel has much going for it, and that those horror stories associated with oil burners are now history. Diesel engines like the one in the 2013 GLK 250 BlueTEC are not only clean-burning, but highly efficient and so satisfying to drive.

After spending time behind the wheel of both the gas-fuelled GLK 350 and a 250 BlueTEC during a two-day media drive from Montreal to Toronto, there’s no question which model I’d choose – the oil-burner in a heartbeat. 

The 250 BlueTEC is rated at 7.2 litres/100 km in combined city/highway driving. 

Typically, most drivers rarely experience the posted consumption ratings, but a colleague and I were able to not only meet, but exceed those numbers during a leisurely drive along the St. Lawrence River. Our oil-sipping four-banger used just 6.9 litres per 100 km – and lest you think this was the result of a couple of hyper-milers testing the limits, another twosome posted 7.0 litres/100 km in a similar GLK 250. 

When Mercedes boasts the 250 BlueTEC has the most efficient combined consumption rating of any compact SUV, it’s not just advertising hype.

Strong performer

2013 Mercedes-Benz GLK 350 - engine compartment.JPG
There are no compromises in performance with the diesel, either. While its peak horsepower is listed as 200, compared to the GLK 350 at 302 horsepower, it has grunt to spare – 369 lb-ft of torque at just 1,600 rpm. The gasoline engine generates 273 lb-ft and it doesn’t peak till 3,500 revs. 

Mercedes says the diesel GLK will launch to 100 km/h in eight seconds flat, while the 350 reaches that velocity in 6.5 seconds. I can’t vouch for those acceleration numbers, but I can say, measuring by the seat of my pants, the difference between the two models was negligible. 

The diesel had more than enough jump to step out smartly from a stoplight and there was plenty of power on tap for passing maneuvers and multi-lane highway merging. 

This was all accomplished with hardly a hint of the diesel clatter one associates with such engines – in fact, it was only at idle that I perceived a faint diesel click.

The gas-powered 350, meanwhile, was totally silent at stop lights – because it is now fitted with a stop-start feature that shuts the engine down when the vehicle is stationary. It fires up instantly when the accelerator is pressed. This fuel-saving feature helps the V-6 achieve a combined rating of 9.7 litres/100 km.

Both GLK powertrains are mated to a seven-speed automatic transmission with sporty paddle shifters mounted behind the steering wheel. Mercedes’ fine 4Matic all-wheel-drive system is standard. 

Smooth and quiet

Interestingly, our route from Montreal to Ottawa and then south to the banks of the St. Lawrence River consisted exclusively of smooth, paved roads, so it’s difficult to speculate about the GLK’s off-road capabilities. 

In reality, though, it’s very unlikely any GLK will ever venture far off a well-travelled path – at worst, perhaps, the trail to the family cottage. 

It did prove itself more than capable of conveying its occupants comfortably on the surfaces where it will likely spend the majority of its life. Close your eyes and you’d be hard-pressed to believe you were riding in an SUV – the GLK feels so much like a C-Class sedan, both in ride comfort and handling. 

Despite its taller profile, body lean was minimal and the beautifully-appointed cabin was quiet. 

Revamped interior

2013 Mercedes-Benz GLK - interior.JPG
The interior features a new instrument panel for 2013 with large, circular air outlets that resemble a jet engine. The instrument cluster has been redesigned and now includes a 4.5-inch full-colour display screen in the centre module.

The new steering wheel is a three-spoke design wrapped in nappa leather and the transmission shift lever has been moved from the centre console to the steering column, freeing up additional storage space. 

Thankfully, the position of the levers for the turn signal and cruise control have been swapped for 2013, minimizing the likelihood one will try to indicate an upcoming turn by activating the cruise control – an annoying situation I’ve experienced too often in past M-B products.

Interior appointments feature man-made Artico faux-leather trim on the well-bolstered seats and door panels, with a choice of aluminum or wood (dark ash or burl walnut) trim on the instrument panel and doors. An upgrade to premium leather is available for $1,950.

Freshened appearance

2013 Mercedes-Benz GLK - front 3/4 high.JPG
The exterior, too, has been freshened for 2013, with a new headlight assembly with halogen lamps (active bi-Xenon lights are optional), redesigned bumpers and lower fascia with a larger air dam and simulated underguard. 

The rear end has been tidied up with a new bumper and lower fascia that hides the mufflers – now twin chrome exhaust tips protrude for a more refined look. 

New LED tail lamps have been added and LED lights also illuminate the rear licence plate. If you opt for the GLK 350, an AMG sport package is included (it’s available on the 250 for $1,100). 

It adds interior upgrades such as stitched Artico door panels and stainless steel studded pedals, plus exterior touches such as 20-inch five-spoke wheels (19-inch wheels are standard), side skirts, a black diffuser panel insert in the rear bumper and a simulated chrome underguard and special AMG front apron design. 

Overall, the 2013 GLK  is an attractive, functional package that will meet the needs of consumers looking for a luxury compact SUV – and especially appealing is the highly efficient 250 BlueTEC variant. One final plus to tilt the decision in the diesel GLK’s favour – it’s less expensive. The starting price for the 250 BlueTEC is $43,500, while the GLK 350 starts at $44,900.

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