2013 Mercedes-Benz GLK-Class Driving Impressions

We've driven GLK350 and GLK350 4MATIC versions and found them to be delightful whether on winding roads and on open highways. These cars are easy to drive, smooth but well-controlled, not floaty like a Lexus RX. They are very stable at high speeds. Our co-driver felt sufficiently comfortable to cruise at 95 mph on a winding Interstate through West Virginia while carrying on a conversation.

Handling is very responsive: It feels like driving a sedan with a slightly higher seating position. We had no issues with the feel or responsiveness of the electromechanical steering, an emerging technology intended to improve fuel economy, among other things. We found the brakes easy to modulate for smooth, precise stops. Wind and road noise are well muted.

The GLK350 delivers plenty of power, and arguably leads the class in terms of acceleration performance. The GLK350 4MATIC can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in just 6.4 seconds, according to Mercedes-Benz North America, which is quite quick. The GLK350 comes with a 3.5-liter V6 engine rated at 302 horsepower at 6500 rpm and 273 pound-feet of torque at 3500-5250 rpm. By comparison, the 2013 Acura RDX with its 3.5-liter V6 makes just 273 horsepower at 6100 rpm and 251 pound-feet of torque at a 5000 rpm. The comparably priced BMW X3 xDrive28i with its inline-6 rates 240 horsepower and 221 pound-feet of torque, while the significantly more expensive, turbocharged X3 xDrive35i delivers 300 horsepower at 5800 rpm and 300 pound-feet of torque at 1300-5000 rpm.

Fuel economy for the GLK350 2WD is an EPA-estimated 16/23 mpg City/Highway (or 18 miles per gallon for the EPA Combined rating). GLK350 4MATIC is rated 16/21 mpg (or 18 mpg in the EPA Combined rating). Those numbers are poor by the standards of the class. By comparison, the 2013 Acura RDX AWD gets an EPA-estimated 19/27 mpg, while the BMW X3 is EPA-rated at 19/26 mpg. Premium gasoline is recommended for the GLK350. Also, a Start/Stop feature is included that shuts off the engine when stopped (e.g., at intersections), then quickly restarts the engine when the accelerator is depressed.

The 7-speed automatic transmission is smooth and responsive. We felt no need to use the semi-manual shifting features. We put it in Drive and it shifted up and down smoothly and correctly on winding roads peppered with elevation changes.

The GLK250 4MATIC can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 7.9 seconds, which is average performance, neither particularly quick nor particularly slow. Fuel economy estimates were not available when we went to press. The GLK250 BlueTEC is rated at 190 horsepower at 6500 rpm and 369 pound-feet of torque at 1600-1800 rpm. That torque figure is very impressive, suggesting the GLK250 will feel very responsive around town. The GLK250 uses the same 7-speed automatic with the same gear ratios as the GLK350.

4MATIC all-wheel drive improves traction and stability in slippery conditions. We recommend getting 4MATIC, particularly for drivers who face snow and ice but it's beneficial on wet pavement or on unpaved roads. The all-wheel drive could pay off in just one critical moment for folks in the sunshine states and it will likely make the car more attractive when trading in or selling. The driver need do nothing to invoke 4MATIC; it's on all the time, ready to step in and send power to the front tires whenever the rear tires lose traction. While driving on dry roads, we could not discern an appreciable difference between a GLK350 with rear-wheel drive and one with 4MATIC all-wheel drive. Fuel economy is about the same around town with 4MATIC all-wheel drive, but it does reduce mileage on the highway a bit.

Several tire and wheel sizes are available. We couldn't tell much difference on the road in ride quality, feel or handling between the 19-inch and 20-inch sizes. Clearly, the engineers did a great job with suspension tuning and tire choices.

A number of safety features come standard or optional on the GLK. Attention Assist can alert a drowsy driver with an audible alert and a warning message on the dash and a coffee cup icon in the instrument cluster. It's a good feature, though the cars we drove always seemed to be displaying the coffee cup icon. Blind Spot Assist warns the driver another vehicle is alongside whenever the turn signals are used; Active Blind Spot Assist actually corrects the driver's input if he or she tries to steer a car in the adjoining lane. Lane Keeping Assist vibrates the steering wheel when the driver drifts out of his or her lane. Active Lane Keeping Assist adds an intervention feature, correcting the car's course if the driver doesn't heed the initial warning.

Parktronic is a useful option when parking, displaying the proximity of obstacles on the screen with a bar graph that shows the closeness of objects the way a weather map shows the intensity of storms; the system also delivers audible warnings when you get close to stuff. Active Parking Assist will steer the car for you as you parallel park; the driver just works the gas and brakes. The best parking aid is the rearview camera that comes with the navigation system in the MultiMedia Package because it can help the driver spot a small child behind the car when backing up.

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