2011 Mercedes-Benz GLK Class Review

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Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
January 23, 2011

The 2011 Mercedes-Benz GLK-Class has the rugged look U.S. shoppers want, in a sensibly sized package. We only wish it were a little more fuel-efficient.

Among crossover utility vehicles, the Mercedes-Benz GLK-Class holds a unique position: A buff and rugged-looking appearance, more boxy than the likes of the BMW X3 and Acura RDX, is paired with a driving feel that's surprisingly carlike, and packaging that feels much like a tall station wagon. As such, the GLK delivers a sweet spot for those who want a rugged look, high seating position, and strong performance.

With what's close to a classic, upright SUV profile, with hard-edged details, the GLK takes the exact opposite tack in design direction compared to most rival brands, except for Land Rover. The GLK doesn't bear much family resemblance to the larger ML-Class from the outside; rather, it looks like a scaled-down version of the big GL-Class. Yet it's not pure box either. The overall look is clean and distinctive, but one that might have to grow on upscale buyers; in the profile, we also see a slightly larger interpretation of the mid-'90s Japanese crossover designs for vehicles such as the Subaru Forester and Mitsubishi Outlander.

Inside, it's more of the same: The GLK's instrument panel bears a striking resemblance to BMW interiors—and a lower-set version of what's used elsewhere in the M-B lineup—but the gauges and controls are remarkably straightforward. A wide swath of wood trim that helps dress up some of the obvious plastics and underscores a vaguely retro tone that lingers through the cabin.

Review continues below

All 2011 Mercedes-Benz GLK-Class models for the U.S. remain powered by a 268-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 engine—and called the GLK350. The V-6 makes 268 horsepower, more than enough to give the roughly 4,100-pound GLK strong acceleration—about 6.7 seconds to 60—and feels relaxed during normal driving. That ample power is transmitted to the road through 4MATIC four-wheel drive and a seven-speed automatic transmission. .

Off-roading is not the GLK's forte. But its four-wheel-drive system adjusts as the various traction systems determine where torque is needed most. What the GLK does do well is get you home safety in foul weather; the 4Matic system excels in distributing power smoothly on a snowy road and avoiding wheelspin.

The GLK's cabin and cargo areas are roomy and upright. In front, the driver and passenger will find the seats supportive and nicely tailored, and taller drivers especially will have no problem finding a comfortable driving position. In the second row, the three-person bench has good enough knee room, and the straight-back roofline affords a lot of headroom—plus the seats flip and fold to create a cargo area of 54.7 cubic feet. The standard upholstery in the GLK320 is a synthetic, which we've found to be just fine, but leather is of course available.

Mercedes-Benz has tuned the GLK's suspension to be taut but well damped; it doesn't allow the GLK much body motion, but the suspension will soak up most roughness from the road and the cabin stays tight and quiet even over rough roads or in high-speed cruising.

The 2011 Mercedes-Benz GLK-Class might be one of the most affordable vehicles from the German automaker, but take even a brief look at the feature set and there's no mistaking it as a luxury vehicle. The GLK's standard equipment list is comprehensive and includes 19-inch wheels, dual-zone automatic climate control, power front seats, leather trim, a panoramic sunroof, and Bluetooth connectivity. A six-CD changer, Sirius Satellite Radio; a rear-seat, twin-screen DVD entertainment system; a power liftgate; a navigation system; bi-xenon headlamps with washers; LED taillights; and 20-inch wheels are among the options.

7

2011 Mercedes-Benz GLK Class

Styling

The look of the 2011 Mercedes-Benz GLK stands in contrast to the smoothed-over appearance of most other lux crossovers, but there’s a lot to like in the design.

The 2011 Mercedes-Benz GLK is a little hard to classify. With its upright, butch styling it's easy to lump in with other more traditional SUVs; but beneath it all it's better described as a taller, more chiseled version of a compact to mid-size wagon.

With what's close to a classic, upright SUV profile, with hard-edged details, the GLK takes the exact opposite tack in design direction compared to most rival brands, except for Land Rover. The GLK doesn't bear much family resemblance to the larger ML-Class from the outside; rather, it looks like a scaled-down version of the big GL-Class. Yet it's not pure box either. The overall look is clean and distinctive, but one that might have to grow on upscale buyers; in the profile, we also see a slightly larger interpretation of the mid-'90s Japanese crossover designs for vehicles such as the Subaru Forester and Mitsubishi Outlander.

Inside, it's more of the same: The GLK's instrument panel bears a striking resemblance to BMW interiors—and a lower-set version of what's used elsewhere in the M-B lineup—but the gauges and controls are remarkably straightforward. A wide swath of wood trim that helps dress up some of the obvious plastics and underscores a vaguely retro tone that lingers through the cabin.

8

2011 Mercedes-Benz GLK Class

Performance

Don’t let the chunky styling of the GLK mislead you; brisk handling, strong acceleration and great on-road performance defy expectations.

All 2011 Mercedes-Benz GLK-Class models for the U.S. remain powered by a 268-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 engine—and called the GLK350. The V-6 makes 268 horsepower, more than enough to give the roughly 4,100-pound GLK strong acceleration—about 6.7 seconds to 60—and feels relaxed during normal driving. That ample power is transmitted to the road through 4MATIC four-wheel drive and a seven-speed automatic transmission.

The GLK looks like an SUV and is billed as a luxury compact SUV, but its performance leans much more toward large sedan—that is, it accelerates faster and turns better than its styling would lead you to expect. Our editors, in fact, tend to like the GLK's light but precise and well-weighted steering feel as well or better than in M-B's cars. The queasy body motions and pitchiness you find in some other comparable vehicles during abrupt maneuvers is remarkably absent here. Shift paddles and an aggressive throttle tip-in also underscore that this crossover SUV is truly meant for the open road, not the boulder-strewn one.

Off-roading is not the GLK's forte. But its four-wheel-drive system adjusts as the various traction systems determine where torque is needed most. What the GLK does do well is get you home safety in foul weather; the 4Matic system excels in distributing power smoothly on a snowy road and avoiding wheelspin.

8

2011 Mercedes-Benz GLK Class

Comfort & Quality

A quiet, comfortable ride, excellent seats, and impressive cargo space make the 2011 Mercedes-Benz GLK320 one of the best compact crossovers for long trips.

The GLK's cabin and cargo areas are roomy and upright. In front, the driver and passenger will find the seats supportive and nicely tailored, and taller drivers especially will have no problem finding a comfortable driving position. In the second row, the three-person bench has good enough knee room, and the straight-back roofline affords a lot of headroom—plus the seats flip and fold to create a cargo area of 54.7 cubic feet. The standard upholstery in the GLK320 is a synthetic, which we've found to be just fine, but leather is of course available.

Cargo space is ample—and aided by Mercedes-Benz's choice to reserve three-row seating for larger vehicles. With the seats folded forward, the cargo space is almost perfectly flat and measures nearly 66 inches long; and with the back seat up there's still a very respectable 23.3 cubic feet.

The Mercedes-Benz GLK combines a high-quality interior with a comfortable and usable cabin that luxury buyers will appreciate. There's nice trim and detailing throughout; though given the lower price point, it's not surprising that the interior appointments, up close, aren't quite up to the level of those in M-B's larger and more expensive SUVs.

Mercedes-Benz has tuned the GLK's suspension to be taut but well damped; it doesn't allow the GLK much body motion, but the suspension will soak up most roughness from the road and the cabin stays tight and quiet even over rough roads or in high-speed cruising.

9

2011 Mercedes-Benz GLK Class

Safety

Those in the 2011 Mercedes-Benz GLK350 will feel safe and secure—and rightly so, given current safety information and the brand’s reputation for occupant protection.

Mercedes-Benz has long been a front-runner with respect to safety, and it hasn't yielded any ground with the GLK350, which benefits from decades of work in this department.

While the Mercedes-Benz GLK-Class hasn't been tested—and probably won't—by the federal government, it's earned excellent ratings from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS)—including top 'good' ratings in all subcategories, an overall 'good' rating, and a Top Safety Pick accolade for 2011.

There are no major safety features missing in the 2011 GLK350. Front side airbags, side-curtain bags, anti-lock brakes, electronic stability control, and active front head restraints are all included, and the GLK has emergency systems that will automatically contact emergency dispatch if you're in a severe crash.

Thanks to the relatively high seating position and low shoulder line, the Mercedes-Benz GLK350 has impressive outward visibility—better than most other luxury crossovers.

9

2011 Mercedes-Benz GLK Class

Features

The 2011 Mercedes-Benz GLK is a compact vehicle, but it has all the connectivity and entertainment features of the brand’s larger utes.

The 2011 Mercedes-Benz GLK-Class might be one of the most affordable vehicles from the German automaker, but take even a brief look at the feature set and there's no mistaking it as a luxury vehicle. The GLK's standard equipment list is comprehensive and includes 19-inch wheels, dual-zone automatic climate control, power front seats, leather trim, a panoramic sunroof, and Bluetooth connectivity.

Mercedes-Benz has been a tech pioneer for quite some time in the automotive industry, combining cutting-edge features with an impeccable luxury finish. In addition to a set of controls and displays that also bring the feeling you're in a luxury vehicle, the twin sunroof design lets a lot of light in and the high-end Harman/Kardon audio system has awesome sound and the ability to connect to an iPod and USB stick at the same time.

A six-CD changer, Sirius Satellite Radio; a rear-seat, twin-screen DVD entertainment system; a power liftgate; a navigation system; bi-xenon headlamps with washers; LED taillights; and 20-inch wheels are among the options.

5

2011 Mercedes-Benz GLK Class

Fuel Economy

The GLK350’s 16-mpg EPA city rating will punt it off the list of anyone who’s thinking about fuel-efficiency and sustainability.

The 2011 Mercedes-Benz GLK is really a compact—not mid-size crossover wagon—yet it has the fuel-economy ratings of a mid-size or larger ute. Whether you get the GLK350 with rear-wheel drive or the 4Matic all-wheel drive system, it's rated at a not-at-all-green 16 mpg city, and highway ratings are either 21 or 23.

Part of the issue, of course, is that the GLK only comes in GLK350 guise, with its comparatively large-displacement V-6. And it's quite heavy. Mercedes-Benz has suggested that it is considering adding a four-cylinder turbo-diesel model to the GLK lineup in a future model year, but no official announcements have yet been made.

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Styling 7.0
Performance 8.0
Comfort & Quality 8.0
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Features 9.0
Fuel Economy 5.0
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