Friday, July 24, 2009

2010 Mercedes-Benz GLK350

Americans would have been lousy hunters and gatherers. That's why we invented Costco.

The buy-it-by-the-barrelful mentality perpetuates the American need to gather too much stuff while hunting for a deal. I've gone broke saving money at this mega-volume store.

For some, the problem with Costco is the same as the problem with many SUVs: Both offer too much and are just too big for practical purposes.

No one tows a boat to work every day, and no one needs 200 frozen chicken breasts. Downsizing is the new upgrade, but that doesn't mean a new vehicle should not include all of the amenities a driver wanted in his big SUV.

The 2010 Mercedes-Benz GLK350 is nearly perfect compact hauler. Chock-full of all of the high-tech luxuries you'd expect with a Mercedes, it's downsizing made pain-free, at least if you can afford it.

There's no third row or big V-8 in this vehicle. Its narrow, small body makes it an ideal suburban hauler for small families who enjoy quick trips into the city. The all-wheel drive system will help during even the trickiest of weather conditions -- though a slightly less expensive rear-wheel drive model is also available.

But don't let its diminutive nature fool you (it's about the same length as a Honda Civic). There's lots of room inside the cabin -- enough to handle a trip to the aforementioned store in Livonia. There, I overindulged myself on fantastic deals: A case of wine, a few giant cans of coffee and a year's supply of paper towels and toilet paper -- all of which fit easily in the back with the second row folded down. (There's more than 54 cubic feet of storage space available when you put down the seats.)

Really, despite its size, it never felt too small.

It even drives big

The exterior is much more defined than much of its competition, such as the BMW X5. It's as if the sheet metal was stamped twice just to make a point. The cut edges give it a much more truck-like look, and the high roofline helps it avoid looking too much like an oversized station wagon. Even the three-pointed star in the grille looks slightly oversized. It looks and feels like a compact SUV.

It even drives big. While the 3.5-liter V-6 creates 268 horsepower, more than enough juice to get GLK350's 4,000-pound body hitting 60 mph in under seven seconds, it still feels heavy on the road. This could be because I loaded it up with another 200 pounds of groceries in the back, but it's also a combination of the GLK's soft tuning on its independent suspension.

Mercedes uses an agility control system, designed to stiffen the vehicle's ride on smoother roads and loosen it up on Detroit's streets. I did not notice when it identified the road as smooth or rough; the ride always felt soft. The GLK's heavy feel didn't seem to hinder its handling. With its sticky 20-inch optional wheels -- as part of the $970 appearance package (19-inch wheels are standard) -- and its speed-sensitive hydraulic rack-and-pinion steering with variable centering, the GLK felt very agile. The seven-speed automatic transmission was so smooth that you often heard the vehicle shifting but never really felt it.

The vehicle's gas mileage was disappointing, averaging 17 miles per gallon in a mix of typical city and highway driving. The EPA estimates for the GLK350 with all-wheel drive is 16 mpg in the city and 21 mpg on the highway -- in comparison, a four-wheel drive Hummer H3 gets 14 mpg in the city and 18 on the highway. Additionally, the GLK350 requires premium fuel.

My all-wheel drive test GLK seemed to handle itself very well through big sweeping turns and tight city corners. Cruising through the Costco parking lot, its small size allowed me to squeeze into a space most SUVs would never attempt.

A stylish package

The GLK350 is entering its second model year in the U.S., and Mercedes has added a few new features, including an individual tire pressure monitoring system, leather-wrapped steering wheel, a keyless start system and a passenger side mirror that tilts when you shift in reverse.

But it's the features that come standard with the GLK350 that make it begin to feel like a deal -- as much of a deal as Mercedes can offer. The base model GLK starts at $33,900, and the all-wheel drive model starts at $35,900; neither includes $875 shipping. My test vehicle offered nearly $10,000 in options, so its final price was $45,935, which could downsize your wallet more than anything else.

That's certainly not cheap, but the GLK gives you everything you want wrapped in stylish package.

There are the interior features such as the eight-way power adjustable front seats to provide the perfect seating position. The eight speaker stereo system, with an auxiliary jack for a personal music device, to create the exact sound you want and even a dual climate control with dust filter to provide the cleanest air possible. It feels very Mercedes.

From the heavy stitching on the seats to the easy-to-read instrument cluster behind the tilting and telescoping steering wheel, the GLK350 makes you feel important. It caters to your sense of craftsmanship and style. It makes a statement about you that only a Mercedes can make. Elegant and well-to-do, you appreciate the finer things in life. At least that's the message it's supposed to send out to the world.

There also more high-brow features, such as adaptive headlamps that turn when you turn the steering wheel and rain-sensing wipers on the windshield and rear window. Mercedes also loads up the GLK 350 with lots of safety features, including six air bags, electronic stability control, roll-over sensor system and its high strength steel body cage that can protect the people inside the cabin.

Mercedes-Benz GLK350

The GLK350's interior feels very Mercedes, from the leather-wrapped steering wheel to the eight-way power adjustable front seats and dual climate control.
Mercedes-Benz GLK350

2010 Mercedes Benz GLK350 4Matic

Type: Five-passenger, all-wheel drive SUV
Price: $35,900*
Engine: 3.5-liter V-6
Power: 268 horsepower, 258 pound-feet torque
EPA gas mileage : 16 mpg city / 21 mpg highway
* Price does not include $875 shipping

Report Card

Overall: *** 1/2
Exterior: Excellent. Crisp lines and boxy looks give the GLK350 a diminutive trucky look.
Interior: Excellent. Well laid out interior provides all of the comforts you'd expect in a Mercedes.
Performance: Good. All-wheel drive and powerful V-6 gives this SUV lots of get up and go, but vehicle still feels heavy.
Safety: Excellent. Six air bags, electronic stability and traction control. Mercedes' continued focus on safety is deservedly legendary.
Pros: Loaded with lots of content and features, the GLK350 feels luxurious and sporty.
Cons: Can top $45,000 when fully loaded.
Grading scale
**** Excellent *** Good
** Fair * Poor

Mercedes-Benz GLK350

Despite its size, the vehicle never felt too small, with more than 54 cubic feet of storage space available with the seats down

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