2013 Mercedes-Benz GLK first drive
Benz sprinkles its diesel magic on GLK compact SUV
La Clusaz, France — The compact GLK is Mercedes-Benz's bestselling SUV; in fact, it's the second most popular three-pointed star after the C-Class. Soon, it may take over that top spot thanks to a refresh for 2013. Besides exterior tweaks and interior renovations, the GLK gets a major overhaul in the engine department. Gone is the previous GLK 350 rear-wheel-drive model, replaced with a long-awaited diesel dubbed the GLK 250 BlueTec 4Matic.
"The GLK 250 BlueTec 4Matic is the world's most powerful four-cylinder diesel for SUVs," boasts Hubert Schneider, Head of Development, GLK. Under the hood is a 2.1-litre twin-turbocharged inline-four diesel. It delivers 190 hp and a whopping 369 lb.-ft. of torque — so if you need to tow a small boat or trailer, it'll do the job easily. Mated to the engine is a smooth shifting, seven-speed automatic transmission.
Small and nimble, but plenty practical
The GLK's compact size makes it easy to drive even along the narrow mountain passages where at times there is barely enough room for one vehicle, let alone two. Unlike diesels of old, the engine is quiet and refined; there's no annoying clatter. The handling is composed as we travel along our 100+ kilometre route from La Clusaz in the French Alps to the heart of Geneva, Switzerland. But along sharp hairpin turns, its tall, narrow body produces some body lean in corners. On the highway, nail the pedal and it accelerates quickly, going from 0-100 km/h in eight seconds.
All the while, the cabin remains comfortable and very quiet with only a trace of wind noise. The fuel consumption is impressive. My GLK 250 BlueTec 4Matic averaged 7.7 L/100 km in combined driving. The official European (NDEC) average is 6.5 L/100 km, but 7.7 litres is still excellent considering my tester is loaded down with three adults and a trunk full of luggage — all 450 litres of cargo space taken up with four suitcases, two briefcases, a purse, which I confess weighs nearly as much as my carry-on luggage, and a bag of goodies including dark Swiss chocolate and a hand-made cheese-cutting board I purchased along the route. Lack of sleep, jetlag, and altitude sparked the spending spree.
More power on hand for gas-powered GLK
If you don't like the diesel (but honestly I couldn't understand why), another model — the GLK 350 4Matic — is available. It gets a new 3.5-litre direct injection V6 engine with 302 hp and 273 lb.-ft. of torque — that's up from 268 hp and 258 lb.-ft. of torque in the current model. A seven-speed automatic transmission returns for 2013, but now the gear selection comes from a small stalk on the steering column, which frees up space in the centre console.
This model is a few seconds faster than the diesel: it will go from zero to 100 km/h in only 6.5 seconds, according to Mercedes. The gas engine also comes with Eco start/stop technology, which I love. When the vehicle is stopped the engine automatically shuts down and restarts when you take your foot off the brake. The result is less fuel consumption and less CO2 emissions. The system isn't as smooth and seamless as a hybrid, but it still works well. Unfortunately, the diesel doesn't get this innovative technology. Both models do, however, come with Mercedes' fourth-generation 4Matic all-wheel drive, which is stable and secure on the rain-slicked roads along our route.