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PERFORMANCE | 8 out of 10
The V-6 and seven-speed team well together for brisk acceleration and terrific passing performance
brisk off-the-line acceleration and impressive in-gear performance
may not be the sportiest compact SUV around, like the C350, the GLK350 represents an ideal balance between ride and handling that should please most luxury buyers
a pleasure to drive, thanks to the venerable V6 engine, which is smooth and strong off the line
Although the hefty torque makes the turbodiesel generally quite responsive, in flat-out acceleration it can't match the much larger gasoline engine.
There are two available engines in the 2014 Mercedes-Benz GLK–a direct-injected V-6, and the turbodiesel four-cylinder that it should've come with from day one. We've driven both, and the GLK's excellent road manners remain, even with the now-electric steering. As for the drivetrains, that's all going to be a matter of personal preferences–assuming smaller, boxy and German is your cup of tea.
With a big advantage in fuel economy, the 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. With highway fuel economy of 30 mpg, the GLK is a leader in its class, along with the new Audi Q5 TDI.There's the V-6, which is more in line with expectations to the recent GLK. It's a 3.5-liter V-6, like the engine in previous models, but this six is a new design as of last year--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 previous models.
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.
With electric steering and a more responsive V-6, the GLK's become a little more carlike; we'd still pick the diesel.