One keen point off-roaders need to know before stepping up for a GLK: all the vehicles on my drive were outfitted with an Off-Road Engineering package that won't come to the U.S. That package includes a version of hill descent control, called Downhill Speed Regulation, along with a set of off-road tires. Mercedes execs says U.S. customers haven't warmed up to the off-road packages on other vehicles like the GL-Class, so the extra hardware won't be offered on the smaller, softer GLK.
With the package, on the intentionally rutted trail, the GLK moved impressively through a set of engineered traps. The GLK uses the latest version of 4Matic, which Mercedes first put on the ML-Class ten years ago. Essentially an open-differential system where wheelspin is limited by anti-lock braking--working as virtual locking diffs--the newest version has processors that work faster and brakes that clamp harder, giving more precise traction control in a variety of situations. The power is split usually at 45:55, but adjusts as the various traction systems determine where torque is needed most. It's no Land Rover LR2, in that the emphasis inside and out isn't on off-roading, but the GLK acquits itself nearly as well off-road as the last LR2 I drove. It's quite close, in fact, to the feel of the LR2 and the BMW X3, with light-touch steering that doesn't wrench out of your hands when crossing obstacles. The lone objection, were you to use it extensively off-road, is that the V-6's torque band isn't the best solution to smooth, effortless crawling.
There's a diesel version on display, though, which does offer the kind of low-end torque off-road drivers love. It also offers the kind of fuel economy U.S. drivers are beginning to love, and indeed, Mercedes says it's likely the turbodiesel will come to the U.S. market sometime after the GLK is launched in America early next year.
After more on-road driving time this afternoon, I'll put together our Bottom Line on the new GLK so you'll get TheCarConnection.com's take on its styling, performance, comfort and quality, safety and features. In the meantime, here's a quick video clip of the GLK moving through a classic articulation exercise, and catching some serious air under each of its wheels: