2013 Mercedes-Benz GLK350 4MATIC First Drive

2013 Mercedes-Benz GLK-Class continues to bring refinement, comfort to active adults and their busy lifestyles.

What It Is
A premium compact crossover for singles and child-free couples with an active lifestyle.
Best Thing
Surprisingly airy interior with excellent visibility especially in the rear.
Worst Thing
Soft brakes.
Snap Judgment
Active adults looking for luxurious transport to their favorite activities will enjoy the 2013 Mercede-Benz GLK-Class

Our flight from Atlanta, Georgia had been delayed for nearly four hours as the airline discovered a problem with our plane, tried to repair it (first delay), couldn't figure out what was wrong (more delay), then flew in another plane. From another state. We arrived in Greensboro, VA, airport hungry and miffed we missed a fine dinner, laughter with our hosts and fellow journalists, and copious amount of fine alcohol. Mercedes-Benz staff, though, kept our flagging spirits high, shuttling us to our destination in a luxurious S-Class, with its heated and massaging seats, excellent Bang & Olufsen audio system, and a patient driver whom probably thought we had lost our marbles given our typical inane banter throughout the two hour trip ("Was that a frog hopping across the road?").

Then the 2013 Mercedes-Benz GLK-Class greeted us at our destination like a pouncing bear, its white "eyes" stabbing brightly through our S-Class' rain-streaked windshield. I tried to get a look at Mercedes' entry-level crossover at the hotel's circular drive-way, but the dark sky and light rainfall hid all but the headlights and the eyebrow LED accent lights as the S-Class backed up into the dark driveway.

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The Mercedes-Benz GLK-Class made its debut in 2009 as a 2010 model, rolling out to take on other Fatherland rivals (Audi Q5, BMW X3) as well as those from the land of the rising sun (Acura RDX, Lexus RX). Now Motor City offered the Cadillac SRX to vie for the growing premium mid-sized crossover segment. How did the Mercedes GLK-Class stand in the segment? What were the new changes, if any, for model year 2013? And were they enough to catch the eye of an increasingly discriminating buyer? These questions, as well as room service, rolled in my head as we opened the wooden doors of the Primland Resort and were greeted by the famous Southern charm of the staff and the dancing lights of the nearby hearth


Weather reports showed rain and even thunderstorms during the three-day 2013 Mercedes-Benz GLK-Class ride and drive event. They were wrong, of course. Blue skies punctuated with puffs of white clouds greeted us as the window curtains in our rooms rolled up throughout the near floor-to-ceiling, wood-framed windows of the hotel foyer and dining areas.

The GLK-Class crossovers filled the resort's circular driveway like hunting hounds of yore, metal, chrome, and plastic a near sheen from the rising humidity. The Mercedes-Benz possesses a distinctive design among midsized crossovers, appearing more box-like than the curvaceous form characterizing most of the competitions' offerings. Mercedes says the GLK-Class draws inspiration from the larger G-Class, which was originally designed by the automaker and manufacturing companies Puch and Steyr. Both vehicles' square shapes elicit strong reaction from viewers, and we find the GLK-Class' retro angles makes it stand out even against the Cadillac SRX, which is also noted for its angular design. GLK-Class fans will note Mercedes-Benz, for 2013, refreshed the crossover's front grille and headlights to match the rest of its car, crossover and SUV lineup, and gave it a dual-taillight system for a more distinctive rear. From a functional standpoint, we've always likened the Mercedes GLK-Class to a tall wagon, with available headroom and cargo space in both the front and rear rows, and expansive rear windows to minimize driver's blindspots. In contrast, the coupe-like roofs of some of today's crossovers make blind-spot detectors a near-necessity. Finally, many of today's crossovers say they can go off road, and even have the parts to do it; the Mercedes-Benz GLK-Class is not only capable of doing so, but actually looks like it wants to lop through, splash, and play in the streams and rivers meandering through the Old Dominion state.

At nearly $55,000, our GLK-Class crossovers were fully loaded with available packages with most aimed to keep its occupants safe, comfortable, and even stylish with the AMG Styling package. Potential buyers can opt for fewer packages; Mercedes says most GLK-Class sell in the low to mid $40,000s with the leather ($2,100) and multimedia ($3,450) packages. Safety is your priority as you brave urban traffic? Opt for the Lane Tracking ($850) and Driver Assistance ($2,950) packages: the latter's DISTRONIC PLUS active cruise control literally driving your GLK-Class. Not sure on those rims? The Appearance package ($990) adds 20-inch wheels and throws in a couple of aluminum roof rails. There are a few standalone options as well including satellite radio ($460) and trailer hitch ($550).

Sitting Down

We think we heard a distinct titter from the watching Mercedes PR members and vehicle managers as we thunked closed our blue 2013 Mercedes-Benz GLK-Class. Humidity was rising in the Virginia morning, and you could see wisps of miniature clouds rising like smoke from the pines, oak, spruce, and willow forests covering the hills around Primland. Droplets were also forming on our cheeks and brow to our discomfort, and the amusement of the staff. We turned on the crossover's engine--our model didn't include pushbutton start-stop--and looked around while the climate control system lowered the interior temperature to a more comfortable 68 degrees.

Entering and existing the 2013 Mercedes-Benz GLK-Class is extremely easy thanks to the wide doors and consistently high roofline. Taller drivers didn't feel like they were bowing when entering the crossover, no matter the row, while shorter drivers found the GLK-Class actually easy to step up into. Seats were wide with adequate bolstering, with just enough give in the cushions for a plush ride. We spent over six hours in our GLK-Class on the road and never suffered seat discomfort. The rear row, as most vehicles in this class, is best for two adults; Mercedes says that while the seats can accommodate up to two child car seats in a pinch, the GLK-class is aimed at active pre-and-post baby boomer generation, i.e., affluent singles, childless couples, and retirees.

We hate to use superlatives, but we found the materials used in the GLK-Class to be top-notch and worthy of a luxury vehicle. Even the so-called "MB-Tex" faux leather felt premium, though we can see most potential buyers opting for the real deal (and paying the extra $2,100 price tag). Soft plastics on the upper dash, aluminum and wood inserts, and even the chrome inner door handles and lockable glove compartment box all looked and felt substantial. Same with materials used on the GLK-Class' chrome-rimmed climate controls, audio system, and control knob for mbrace2, Mercedes' updated infotainment system. (As an aside, we're more than surprised that car enthusiasts haven't complained about the buttons found on most Mercedes-Benz center console stacks, which are nearly as numerous as those found on Honda/Acura vehicles, the so-called "poster children" for control button chaos. Do we detect a slight bias towards all things "ultimate driving", no matter the German brand?)

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Mercedes made two major changes in the GLK-Class for model year 2013. First was the redesign of the air vents to a more circular form. Based off the retro-styled SLS AMG coupe and convertible/roadster, the new vents add to the crossover's distinctiveness. More importantly, we found them easy to use in directing cold air from the air conditioning.

The second changes involves moving the GLK-Class' transmission shifter from its former position in the center console to a stalk on the steering column. Mercedes redesigned the now available space as a tray to hold objects like coins, MP3 players, gum, pencils, pens, energy "gel" packs, thumb drives, pins, paper clips, earbuds, floss, toothpicks, power bars, and other small objects. A stylish lid covers the tray when not in use. We liked it, finding the new storage unit not only useful, but an acknowledgement that Americans, especially active ones, use their vehicles as storage as well as modes of transport. However, there are still no spaces in the GLK-Class' side pockets for water bottles, preferably chilled.


Automakers usually have three types of drives for journalists and reporters on press events: "you can go around the block" short; "drive here, have lunch, and we'll shuttle you back to the airport" long; and "golly gee, that's real drivin', you know what I mean" super-long. Mercedes-Benz went with the third option with the 2013 GLK-Class, granting the press three distinct opportunities to evaluate the vehicle's capabilities: a 90-minute drive from the airport to resort; a 6-hour drive from the resort to Virginia and back; and another 90-minute drive from the resort to airport. Because we missed the first route due to our delayed flight, we were determined to see if Mercedes' entry level crossover would still be enjoyable on hour 6 as it was on hour 1.

We needn't have worried. While the automaker amped up the GLK-Class for model year 2013 with an additional 34 horsepower, it remembered buyers' active lifestyles meant hiking, camping, kayaking, and zipping to airports, not illegally racing down long stretches of near empty roads; there are other Mercedes-Benz products for that pastime. We quickly discovered our hosts had laid out a route chock-full of different driving conditions and scenery, from the well-maintained Virginia roads and highways (near-impossibly smooth by California and Detroit standards), mountain switchbacks to engage in "follow the crossover" with fellow reporters; to scenery full of tall foliage, quaint houses on huge lots, and fields of methane-producing cows. Lots of cows.

Road and wind noise was well-controlled in the Mercedes-Benz GLK-Class' airy interior even at freeway speeds. Engine sounds were luxury-level quiet, only penetrating our consciousness and conversations about the latest turkey sighting when we had to bypass an eighteen wheeler or slow car in the fast lane. Power delivery was smooth during those times, with the crossover always feeling planted on the many two-lane roads thanks to the all-wheel drive system. Some of us briefly played with the GLK-Class' paddle shifters to row through the crossover's seven gears but found the automatic system did a much better job. The crossover's adaptive steering always stayed on the light side, making it easy to park the vehicle while discouraging maneuvers more appropriate to the SLS AMG. Note that didn't stop a few journalists from trying. On the other hands, the Mercedes-Benz GLK-Class' braking system also felt on the soft side, requiring more pressure to slow and stop the crossover than what we felt was appropriate. Regardless, we always could step out of the Mercedes-Benz GLK-Class for coffee, lunch, and bathroom breaks, feeling relaxed and fresh like we did when first sliding in the crossover that morning.


We barely glanced at our GLK-Class as we dropped it off at the airport, the bright afternoon sun above us a sharp contrast to the wet night sky scarcely two days ago. And that's a good thing. The 2013 Mercedes-Benz GLK-Class fulfilled its primary duty as luxurious transport, fading into the background as we admired deer crossing the road, gasped as a motorist rode a scooter sans helmet, and awed by living trees blanketing the land to the horizon, a sharp contrast to California and its bare hills and mountains. Regardless, you get a unique-looking vehicle, a smooth and quiet ride, and available power when you need it.

Basic Specs

3.5-liter direct injection V-6 gasoline engine, seven-speed automatic transmission, all-wheel drive, 302-horsepower, starting price $39,965 ($54,875 as test. Both prices include destination and handling), EPA-estimated mpg TBD

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