Halfway into its life cycle, the Mercedes-Benz GLK drops its sole engine offering and factors in two new powerplants: a direct-injected V-6 with the same displacement and more power, and a turbodiesel four-cylinder we've been waiting for since the GLK was new in the 2010 model year.
We've driven both versions overseas, prior to their U.S. on-sale dates of August for the gas engine, and early 2013 for the diesel. The road manners haven't changed much at all, despite the switch to electric steering. The drivetrains? There's much to decide, if you're narrowing down your crossover choices to something boxy and German.
First the V-6, since it's on sale sooner, and is more in line with expectations to the recent GLK. It's a 3.5-liter V-6, like the engine in last year's model, but this six is a new design--one shared with the E-Class. With direct injection and standard stop/start technology, the more efficient V-6 also knocks out more horsepower--302 hp, versus the 268 hp of the 2012 model. Coupled to the carried-over seven-speed automatic, which gets paddle controls and a shifter on the steering column instead of the console, the new V-6 feels gutsy and vibrant. It sounds it, too, noticeably more throaty at full bore, but just as smooth and responsive. Mercedes quotes a 0-60 mph time of about 6.5 seconds this time, a couple of tenths quicker than before, with a top end of 130 mph identical to the 2012 model. Gas mileage is unreleased as of yet, but a couple of miles per gallon on either cycle isn't out of the question.
For a leap forward in fuel economy, the coming diesel's the clear choice. The 2.1-liter turbocharged diesel four spins out only 190 horsepower, but typical of diesels, it's a torqueaholic at 369 pound-feet. With standard all-wheel drive and the paddle-shifted seven-speed automatic, the burbly four pushes the GLK to 60 mph in an estimated 8.0 seconds, with a moderate amount of the classic oil-burner vibration and noise. Top speed's also limited to 130 mph. Fuel economy won't be published until the diesel goes on sale in early 2013, but a highway figure of 30 mpg seems like an easy target--which would make the GLK a leader in its class compared to vehicles like the turbocharged Range Rover Evoque, and a reality on the ground well before the long-discussed Audi Q5 Hybrid.
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. We liked the GLK's light but precise and well-weighted steering feel when it was hydraulically actuated; now that it's made the switch to efficient electric power steering, it's lighter and a little less precise, but reasonably dialed in to what's happening under the tire treads.
Adding 4MATIC all-wheel drive doesn't dampen the GLK's enthusiasm too much. The queasy body motions and pitchiness you find in some other comparable vehicles during abrupt maneuvers is remarkably absent here. If anything, the GLK has lots of lateral ride stiffness, which you'll feel as side-to-side head toss on rough pavement. Otherwise, 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.
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.