Mercedes-Benz gained ground in the prestige market in the United States against Cadillac in the 1970s, although its seats and ride were too stiff for many Americans accustomed to cushy U.S. luxury cars.
But that seems like an eternity ago, and Mercedes vehicles such as its new compact GLK350 crossover fit nicely into the growing luxury crossover market here.
The new GLK350 has a list price of $37,090 with rear-wheel drive and $39,090 with Mercedes’ advanced “4Matic” all-wheel drive. Those are reasonable prices for such a Mercedes with lots of comfort and convenience items, such as dual-zone automatic climate control and power everything.
However, this model’s option packages aren’t cheap. My 2013 test GLK350 4-Matic had a $3,450 package with a panoramic sunroof and power hatch and a $2,790 Multimedia Package with such items as a rear-vision camera for safer backing up.
Standard safety items include electronic stability system and an electronic traction system—besides a bunch of air bags.
The new GLK350 now has a 305-horsepower direct-injection V-6, which gains 34 horsepower from 2012. Also new are updated styling, a more-elegant interior, revised power steering and more standard and optional items.
The 0-60 mph time improves slightly to 6.4 seconds, and there’s always plenty of power on hand. I imagine sustained autobahn cruising at 100 mph is no sweat. A diesel model with 190-horsepower, but gobs of torque, comes later in 2013.
Fuel economy is moderately good for the gas-engine GLK350 that weighs approximately 4,000 pounds. A smooth, responsive 7-speed automatic transmission helps fuel economy but can only help so much.
Estimated economy is 19 mpg in the city and 25 on highways with rear-drive and 19 and 24 with all-wheel drive.
The front cabin of the GLK350 is roomy, with nicely shaped dual power seats that provide good support. But the rear-seat area is tight, and narrow rear doorways make for awkward entry and exit.
The GLK is mainly for singles or young families without kids or for folks who rarely carry rear-seat occupants.
Mercedes models traditionally had rather stark “no-nonsense” interiors. For a long time, the automaker even felt cupholders were silly. But it learned that Americans like their comforts. The new GLK350 thus has a quiet, upgraded interior with more upscale materials, including burl walnut wood trim.
However, there are too many small radio buttons, and it takes some time to get used to the electronic controls.
The rather odd tiny gearshift control stalk near the steering wheel saves front space but can be tricky to operate in a hurry.
The steering is quick, controlled by an easily gripped thick adjustable wheel. The supple, all-independent suspension initially may feel a bit firm. But it easily soaks up nasty bumps, while providing a good ride and fairly agile handling. Strong anti-lock brakes with an assist system are controlled by a pedal with a nice linear action.
Front doors pockets are useful, and there’s a deep covered console bin. But the small rear door pockets are mostly useless, and the plastic cupholders that pop out from the rear center fold-down armrest seem cheap. Front console cupholders are deep and nicely positioned to avoid spills.
There’s a decent, if not overly generous, cargo area. And rear seatbacks fold flat to increase cargo space. While wide, the cargo opening is somewhat high if you must load heavy or awkward objects.
The padded hood opens on twin hydraulic struts, but a huge plastic cover conceals the engine.
The GLK350 manages to retain its distinctive Mercedes “feel,” while giving Americans more of what they want.
Pros: More power. Fast. Solid. Fairly agile. Supple ride. Available all-wheel drive.
Cons: Tight rear seat. Narrow rear doorways. Offbeat shifter. So-so fuel economy.
Bottom Line: The faster new GLK350 compact luxury crossover is mainly for folks who rarely put anyone in its tight back seat.
Dan Jedlicka has been an automotive journalist for more than 40 years. To read more of his new and vintage car reviews, visit: www.danjedlicka.com