Monday, March 16, 2009

Test Drive: 2010 Mercedes GLK

The 2010 Mercedes GLK350 is an entry level SUV which competes with the likes of Volvo's new XC60. Our manager told us to take one for a test drive today. This was a good idea as several customer's have been comparing the two in the last ten days. As you can imagine, my loyalties are with the Volvo. But I tried to keep an open mind as I compared the two earlier this afternoon. Here's a list of my first impressions.

GOOD

BAD

· navigation system

· plenty of power

· dual sunroof w/screen

· nice audio system

· non-rusting plastic wheel wells

· uncomfortable seats

· soft handling

· rear leg room

· transmission holds gears too long

My first impression was that the GLK was a cute Jeep look-a-like. Jim Vanek, another Volvo salesman, thought it looked like a cross between Mercedes' GL320 and G550 models. That's a pretty good description as the GLK is rounded like the GL but has the long hood and boxy look of the G-class. In any event, the new GLK is a nice looking small SUV which looks best with the optional 20 inch wheels.

The interior of the GLK is typical Mercedes with nicely appointed trim and a well laid-out dashboard. One of the first things you notice when you turn the key is the quality sound and navigation system. The navigation system show you a colorful map in the center console which is very easy to read. And it also displays the street name and compass direction on the message screen inside your gauge cluster. That is a nice touch.

Unfortunately, these specialties are overshadowed by uncomfortable seats. Instead of sinking into luxurious leather cushions, I found myself thinking I was in an entry-level vinyl seat. It just didn't seem right for a Mercedes product. Craig Thompson, a salesman at Leikin Mercedes, explained that the seats are designed with firm cushions and perforations for the sake of longevity. Whatever you decide about the seats, they are power adjustable and fit my 6' 3" frame with no problem. But adjusting the front seat backward led to a problem for anyone wanting to sit in the second row.

Later on, as I pulled out of the parking lot, there was no doubt that this was a powerful machine. The GLK comes with a 268 hp (258 lb/ft) naturally aspirated V6 engine coupled to a 7 speed automatic transmission. Our test vehicle was also fitted with the 4MATIC 4WD system. As I pressed down the accelerator, the car had no problem jumping forward. I tried again when we took the entrance ramp to I-90 east bound. The GLK had plenty of power and hit 80 mph before we entered the freeway. Add to that the sporty sound of the exhaust and there's little to complain about.

At city speeds, however, we noticed that the transmission liked to hold the gear longer than expected. It almost felt as if the car was stuck in a gear. The GLK would accelerate quickly, revving up to 5500 rpm, but when you let your foot off of the accelerator, it would remain in the same gear and slowly decelerate. Craig Thompson explained that the GLK has a sport and comfort setting. The latter tends to hold the gears longer for a smoother ride. We also noticed that the suspension seemed a bit loose compared to other vehicles we've driven. It was never so much that the vehicle seemed unsafe. It was just not quite as tight as would have been expected. Perhaps this was also due to the vehicle being in comfort mode.

Overall, we liked the 2010 Mercedes GLK350. It has many positive attributes and just a few negatives. It accelerates and handles well in normal driving conditions. It looks good, is well built, and has a good list of optional equipment. And if you can look past the seats (or just add a pair of comfortable sheepskins) this would make a fun and stylish entry-level cross over vehicle.

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