Review: 2010 Mercedes-Benz GLK 350 4Matic
By Kevin Miller
Today’s compact luxury crossover utility vehicle (CUV) segment is chock full of little wagons with upright designs and ride heights, mostly with starting prices in the mid- to upper-$30k range, but usually selling for closer to $50k when equipped with the features that buyers are actually looking for. Nameplates like the BMW X3, Volvo XC60, Audi Q5, Lincoln MKX, and Cadillac SRX all are aiming for the same buyer.
Mercedes-Benz’ luxury CUV entry is the GLK 350. The GLK (Geländewagen Luxus Kompaktklasse, to decode the acronym) is based off of the current C-Class Sedan/Wagon platform, with design heavily influenced by it. Stylewise, the GLK wears a large Mercedes star prominently on the grill, while it otherwise tries to looks like a scaled-down version of its big brother, the GL class. At the back, the GLK resembles a first-generation Toyota Highlander. The overall side and front look like a bit crisper take on a Subaru Forester, and the rectangular headlamps with their top-mounted turn indicators channel a Dodge Diplomat, of all things. The only truly special detail on the exterior is the 19-inch wheels, which really set off the bright Mars Red paint job on the example I tested.
With a starting price of just $35,500, the GLK 350 sounds like an absolute bargain price for a CUV wearing the three-pointed star. As with so many other things in life, though, you get what you pay for. In the case of the GLK 350 4Matic, you get a tall wagon with SUV styling so upright that it is almost a parody of an actual SUV. Unfortunately, you also get plenty of low-grade interior materials.
Climbing inside, the first thing I noticed is that the sills on the GLK are incredibly wide – about 9 inches. Because the door sills are also a couple of inches above the floor of the car, getting in and out really requires stepping over it. While this isn’t a problem for me at 6’4”, it might be a hassle for shorter drivers or passengers. The sill extensions outside also manage to collect dirt in inclement weather, and will undoubtedly get pant legs dirty when climbing in and out.
Once situated inside, I found the seats in the GLK to be too firm for my taste, with backrests that were impossible to adjust to a comfortable position. The seat position controls for the driver’s seat consists of cheap-feeling buttons on the door (which require an awkward reach to actuate), yet Mercedes made the curious choice to put the lumbar control on the seat base far from the seat position controls. There’s a puzzling inconsistency too, in that the driver’s seat position controls are on the door, but the front passenger’s controls are found on the side of the seat, where most other cars place them. Unfortunately the black plastic, door-mounted controls feel flimsy, as if a bit too much force would cause one of them to come off. On the side, there are two usable cupholders and a nice, big storage bin between the front seats, and those seats do offer plenty of legroom and a commanding view out.
The back seat is accessed through doors that open wide, and has an airy feeling thanks to the GLK’s panoramic sunroof. While airy, the seat is narrow enough that three people won’t fit comfortably side-by-side. Legroom was average though not extensive; at 6’4” tall I could not “sit behind myself” in the back seat without my knees firmly in with the front seatback. Armrest-mounted drink holders door bins mean that back seat passengers have adequate space to put things, and the LATCH attachment points for car seats were easy to find and use.
The standard interior upholstery in the GLK is touted as “MB-Tex;” other automakers call similar materials “leatherette.” While it does simulate leather, it is a polymeric upholstery. I can remember black vinyl seats of a Plymouth Fury III in summertime from my childhood- they were hot. The same is true of the MB-Tex seats; they get scorching hot when the car sits all afternoon in the sunshine on a 98-degree F day. No ventilated seats are available on the GLK, but they surely would have been appreciated. Upon first climbing in, breathing deeply and looking at the Monroney, my very first logbook comment was “A $46,635 Mercedes with vinyl seats – it smells like the late 1970s in here!” My olfactory system clearly remembered the aroma of Mercedes interior vinyl from that vintage Mercedes, and the MB-Tex still has the same scent.
Among the cheap-looking interior trim parts are black plastic door lock pins atop the door trim (exactly where I’d like to be able to rest my elbow) and the black plastic driver-door-mounted seat controls, which felt flimsy enough that I was genuinely concerned about breaking them, especially the one for headrest adjustment.
Ergonomics don’t seem to have been a primary concern with the design of the GLK’s interior. After just my first drive, I was bothered by the cruise control lever (which is positioned near where most cars put their turn signal actuator), climate controls placed too low on the dash, and unintuitive steering wheel controls for the COMAND system. Dashboard buttons for audio control consist of function keys on the left and a telephonic keypad, each with round chiclet keys of hard, slippery plastic. The buttons are neither ergonomically-shaped nor labeled in a large enough font to make them easy to read at a glance. There is plenty of real estate on the dash; buttons that are easier to read and easier to use would have been appreciated. Too, the fact that there are only ten FM and ten satellite radio memory positions is far too few; an $18k Ford Fiesta has 20 FM and 30 satellite memory locations.
I’ve found plenty to fault, but there are good aspects to the interior too. The instrumentation is large and clear in front of the driver. At night, there is nice illumination inside of the GLK. The GLK’s tall, upright windows afford good outward visibility for all maneuvers except reversing. A reverse camera appears in the COMAND screen – but only if the COMAND system is turned on. Note that sonar-type parking sensors are an extra-cost option that was not included on the vehicle I tested.
Mounted at the top of the center stack, the COMAND system display measures about 7.5 inches, with fairly good resolution, though the screen is set in a trapezoidal-shaped bezel that gives the impression that a smaller display was fitted where a larger one was originally intended. The COMAND system controller is ergonomically located at the front of the extended driver’s side arm rest. Unfortunately, its shape and rim texture mimic the audio system’s volume knob in the center of the dash, and I spent much of the week twisting the COMAND knob for volume and twisting the volume knob when the COMAND knob should have been used. The COMAND system displays and offers controls for audio, Bluetooth phone integration, system setup, and navigation functions.
The standard dual-zone climate control is mounted fairly low on the dash (below the head unit) but is otherwise easy to use. It had plenty of work to do cooling the hot, black vinyl interior on those hot summer afternoons, and it did so with a furiously noisy fan. Anticipating the deathly hot interior thanks to black upholstery and large windows/sunroof, the climate control unit has a button marked MAX COOL, which blasts the fan accordingly.
Out back, the cargo area seems small for a car that looks as big as the GLK, and indeed, competitors such as the Volvo XC60 and the Lincoln MKX easily trump the GLK for cargo space. In the GLK’s favor is a flat load floor when the the rear seats are folded forward. There is no cargo cover to hide belongings out back, though the window tint was dark enough that it is unlikely anybody could see your luggage inside. The cargo area has a 110 VAC and a 12 VDC outlet. When the electrically-operated tailgate is open after dark, the ground and cargo opening are nicely illuminated. Also, the tailgate opened high enough for me (at 6’4”) to stand under it.
I’ve spent a lot of time pointing out things aspects of the GLK that I didn’t think were very good. This is not to say that the GLK doesn’t have its good points, such as its powertrain. The 268 HP, 3.5 liter V6 engine feels powerful and is fairly hushed, with quick acceleration. Shifts from the seven-speed automatic gearbox are smooth and quick. Driving quickly – only when the transmission and Agility Control adjustable suspension is in Sport mode – the GLK really comes alive, though it still feels tippy/tall when corners are taken with too much vigor. Underway, the GLK is quiet except for noticeable tire noise.
I found that the steering has too much weight to give a nimble feel, and offers the driver very little feedback. The wheel doesn’t self-center the way most cars do, making it a pain to steer the GLK in tight spots (though it does have an admirably-tight turning radius). The steering wheel is power-adjustable for rake/reach, and it automatically retracts for easy exit from the car.
The GLK350 is rated 16/21 MPG by the EPA for city/highway driving, with a combined rating of 18 MPG. During my week with the GLK, I covered 409 miles with about 50% of them on the highway, at an average speed of 32 MPH, and got a fuel economy of 19.5 MPG according to the trip computer.
As mentioned earlier, the GLK350 starts at $35,500 for a rear-wheel drive version. The all-wheel drive 2010 GLK350 4Matic starts at $36,600. Optional equipment on my test vehicle included Tele Aid for $650, Heated Front Seats for $740, Premium Package for $3150 (includes Auto-dimming Mirrors; Seat/Mirror Memory Package, Rain Sensor; SIRIUS Satellite Radio; Power Liftgate; Panorama Sunroof), Lighting Package for $970 (Bi-Xenon Headlamps with Active Curve Illumination; and washers; LED Taillamps), Multimedia Package for $3350 (Rearview Camera; COMAND System with Hard Drive Navigation and Audio Control; Premium Sound; 6-Disc CD/DVD Changer; 7” Color Display), iPod/MP3 Media Interface and Cable for $300, and Destination/Delivery Fee for $875. The total MSRP was a hefty $46,635, which was a substantial $10,035 more than the base MSRP. Even with that premium, this GLK still didn’t include popular features for the class such as leather upholstery, ventilated seats, or keyless starting.
The Mercedes-Benz GLK350 slots nicely into the luxury CUV segment in the company’s full vehicle lineup. People who always buy Mercedes-Benz vehicles are sure to see a family resemblance with other M-B models (in particular, the full-size GL) and feel right at home in the GLK. Too, there will be conquest sales of entry RWD models to people who want to drive a Mercedes SUV. That being said, I found the powertrain to be the only really compelling feature of the GLK; to my eyes other automakers have more stylish entries in this class. In Mercedes’ quest to expand sales and cover all segments, they have created a luxury CUV that places mid-pack among its peers; I can see no compelling reason to buy one instead of the competing European entries in this class.