Still young by new-model standards, Mercedes Benz’s 2011 GLK350 is carving a place for itself among luxury SUVs. Still in its first generation (the vehicle made its debut in 2009, as a 2010 model), its robust package of toughness and luxury combines with a competitive sticker price that appeals to status-conscious buyers on an entry-lux budget.
The test model this week in our Autonet labs (by which I mean ‘the streets’, as we don’t have actual labs) is showing off its capable four-wheel drive system along with its premium interior during some low-temperature urban driving.
The overall size is very manageable in city use (the C-class based GLK is the smallest of the Benz sport-ute family), with agile handling and tight, connected steering feel that inspires confidence on the slippery motorways.
One nice thing about the full-time four-wheel system (which MB brands “4Matic” and I always confuse with Volkswagen’s “4Motion” system) is that it allows me to be the gallant one when encountering oncoming cars on streets narrowed by snow banks. When I encounter some terrified citizen coming toward me in a 2WD subcompact on streets with no room to pass, it’s easy to just crawl up onto the banks and let him/her by.
Riding on a suspension tuned to straddle the line between on-road and off (they’ve named the system Agility Control Suspension), the GLK is at its smoothest when traveling at higher speeds; the slower I go the more I feel the bumps and crags of the streets.
The feel of the pedals, either brake or accelerator, is the stiff, performance-oriented feel that I find in virtually all Mercedes products; supremely responsive and not difficult to get used to.
Power comes from a 3.5 litre gasoline engine capable of 268 horsepower (and potential 258 lb.-ft. of torque). My GLK tester has no problems getting up to speed, and the climb to highway velocity is quick, smooth and near-seamless with the vehicle’s standard-issue seven-speed automatic transmission.
The outward appearance of the ute is one of the best interpretations of utility vehicles Mercedes makes. The company has kept the proportions under control, without trying to overwhelm the eye with faux-tough guy oversized fenders or front end; but the GLK still exudes toughness from the faceted and cleanly sculpted sheetmetal.
The cabin, especially the front seats, reminds a driver what Benz is all about: executive comfort and tinges of understated luxury. High quality materials abound, with metal-flecked accents glinting on the dash and console letting occupants know they’re experiencing an upscale machine.
A panoramic, power moonroof yawns over both rows, providing light throughout and without compromising headroom in the vehicle. The second row seats, while getting decent overhead space, are a bit short-changed in the legroom department; though I suppose that’s dependent on the size of the passengers.
Of course, all the techno-trappings of a luxury vehicle are on display in the GLK cabin; Bluetooth connectivity, backup camera, large screen display for the human-machine interface (which can get somewhat fiddly to navigate around in, using primarily a console-mounted knob-and-switch affair that will be familiar to most people who have driven German vehicles from a number of makers) and a hard drive based navigation module.
The GLK is proving itself to be a nice combination all around of readiness and roadworthiness, in a manoeuvrable, right-sized package that doesn’t come at a painful price for people shopping premium utility vehicles.
Available in basically one trim, the GLK350 4Matic can be optioned higher with add-ons and packages (like a 600 watt LOGIC7 sound system, if you simply must have one), but starts at a competitive price point for this segment. Our test model, without additional toys, sports a sticker of $43,500, which competes well against similarly appointed luxury midsize utes whether from Japan, Germany or North America.