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Review | Mercedes GLK 350

Mercedes GLK 350 isn't a beauty but it performs

If ever you needed a reason to shoot out the light in your garage, may I present the 2010 Mercedes-Benz GLK 350, a vivacious and elegant little ute disguised as a vandalized Subaru Forester. What's the deal here?

The exterior is a veritable food fight of odd angles and curious proportions, fender swells and dissonant accent lines, and all of it buttoned by a hilariously oversized, nay, desperate grille. The GLK suggests a Dadaist collage of the company's styling portfolio.

It's the result of Gorden Wagener, Mercedes' new chief of global design, trying to synthesize the blustery outdoor looks of the vast GL and the C-Class compact sedan, upon which the GLK is mechanically based.

Oh yes, looks matter. The premium compact SUV segment (luxe-cute-ute) was once the sole domain of BMW's X3, which debuted in 2003. Rising fuel prices and cultural disapproval started a downsizing trend, and manufacturers are responding: Acura RDX, Infiniti EX35, Land Rover LR2, the new VW Tiguan and the soon-to-drop Audi Q5 and Volvo XC60. All are prettier than the GLK.

How about the interior styling? The GLK has a strange dash assembly — a thick, angular aluminum section intrudes between the upper and lower consoles as if one dash is being pushed through the other. The center-stacked climate and audio controls are the same functional but not particularly gracious bits from the C-Class sedan; the overall tactile experience is one of stiff and durable cost-conscious plastics and coated foam.

So as the GLK hits showrooms, it has already lost the segment's swimsuit competition. Good thing it's a gem mechanically.

Basically a C-Class in hiking boots, the GLK has the C's die-cast solidity and innate sense of soundness. The chassis is stiff and without noise or flex. The doors and liftgate close with a Stuttgart-worthy whoompf. By my built-in sound meter, the GLK offers the quietest cabin ambience of any of the luxe-cute-utes. Wind noise is likewise attenuated.

The tensed eagerness and muscularity of the 3.5-liter V-6 power plant, the transparent gearshifts, the lovely resonance at high rpm — all of that which is true in the C sedan is true in the GLK. This is what a gas-powered Swiss watch would sound like.

However, there's no denying the 421 extra pounds in steel and glass the GLK must tote around (compared with the two-wheel drive C350 Sport), and so the GLK is slightly less quick than the sedan (6.5 seconds to 60 mph vs. 6.1). The GLK doesn't get particularly good fuel economy either: 16 city, 21 highway.

There is also no denying the extra 12 inches of height that the GLK imposes on the C-class chassis, and there are moments the higher center of gravity pulls at the GLK in unhappy ways. But for the most part, the GLK handles beautifully.

Meanwhile, the ride quality is quite good, even with the crazy Pirelli Scorpions wrapped around the wheels.

Personally, I would prefer the C-Class over the GLK: better fuel economy, better handling and better styling. That said, the GLK did grow on me: Two large child car seats fit in the back with no trouble. The upright seating position offers a commanding view.

And it might just be that — like other quirky styling exercises, such as the old Gelandewagen or even the Subaru Forester — people will see the GLK as endearingly awkward, ugly cute.

It has always worked for me.

2010 Mercedes-Benz GLK 350 4Matic

Base price: $35,900

Price as tested: $51,175

Powertrain: 3.5-liter, 24-valve V-6 with variable valve timing; seven-speed automatic transmission; all-wheel drive

Horsepower: 268 at 6,000 rpm

Torque: 248 pound-feet at 2,400-5,000 rpm

Curb weight: 4,036 pounds

0-60 mph: 6.5 seconds

Wheelbase: 108.5 inches

Overall length: 178.2 inches

EPA fuel economy: 16 miles per gallon city, 21 mpg highway

Final thoughts: Park in the dark

Mercedes GLK 350 isn't a beauty but it performs 02/13/09 [Last modified: Friday, February 13, 2009 3:51pm]
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