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Mercedes GLK350 (2008) review

Published:21 April 2008

Mercedes GLK350 (2008) review
  • At a glance
  • 4 out of 5
  • 4 out of 5
  • 5 out of 5
  • 4 out of 5
  • 4 out of 5

By Georg Kacher

European editor, secrets uncoverer, futurist, first man behind any wheel

By Georg Kacher

European editor, secrets uncoverer, futurist, first man behind any wheel

It's been a long wait, but we've finally driven Mercedes' new junior off-roader, the GLK. And we can confidently say Stuttgart’s latest offering is an off-roader because CAR has been mud-plugging in the GLK - and beating its big brother M-class driven by Mercedes’ own instructors.

Still, the GLK has to prove an awful lot if it’s to compete in the burgeoning mid-sized SUV sector. Surprisingly - for Mercedes - the GLK is very late to market (don't forget the original M-class was launched before the BMW X5 and its ilk). But BMW retaliated with the prescient X3, and everyone from Chevrolet to Volkswagen now has something to offer in this market.

A new X3 is also under development, and Audi has just unveiled its Q5. Tough times ahead for the GLK? We’re about to find out...

Just what is the Mercedes GLK all about?

Think of it as the smaller offspring of the iconic G-class. Although there are hints of current GL in the looks, it strikes us as very 1980s. The GLK is very boxy and it's a little too aggressive for our tastes, with those box-flat sides and distinctive creases. But for some it might be the perfect car, with looks to scare other mums on the school run.

Boxy on the outside, boxy on the inside?

Of course. The interior is slightly more subtle than the exterior - but it still looks as if it's built from bricks. A lot of the parts are lifted from the C-class, so the ergonomics are fundamentally sound. And there are improvements over the C-class too, such as the door-mounted seat controls. Much more intuitive.

The (optional) multi-media Comand screen now sits integrated into the top of the dashboard, unlike the C-class’s pop-out-and-up item. Space and practicality nearly match the M-class, but unfortunately the GLK is let down by materials that aren’t deserving of this class.

Right, the GLK's an off-roader but I don’t care about plugging mud. What’s it like trundling along?

Pretty darn good. The biggest surprise is the ride comfort, which is soft and cosseting, despite the GLK having impeccable body control. Thank Mercedes’ Agility Control system (think fancy shock absorbers) which know when to smoothe and soothe, and when to tighten and firm. Combine the clever shocks with decent mechanical grip, the 4Matic’s four-wheel drive traction and 45:55 rear-bias, and the GLK is surprisingly entertaining to drive.

Click 'Next' below to read the rest of our Mercedes GLK 350 drive

Click here to see the first official pictures of the Audi Q5

Click here to read why the GLK will be  built in right-hand drive

So the Merc GLK is a 4x4 that actually has four-wheel drive then?

Of course. You can’t sell a premium product in this market without it; Audi has quattro, BMW has Xdrive and Mercedes has 4Matic. For the GLK the system is loosely based on the all-wheel drive, left-hooker only C-class estate. Even though the furthest you might venture off-road is mounting the kerb in the school playground, it’s there as a safety net, and as a confidence booster in the wet.

And if you properly go off-road then the GLK’s short overhangs and 200mm of ground clearance mean it’ll do the basics just fine. Mercedes will offer an Off-Road pack for the GLK with all-season tyres, underbody cladding, hill descent control and an intriguing G button.

I’m sorry, the what? I thought you said…

A G button. Yes we did. It’s a slight gimmick, and nowhere near Land Rover’s Terrain Response dial, but push the G button and the GLK dons its wellington boots. The throttle response becomes less aggressive, the seven-speed auto’s shift points change and the ESP system allows more slip so the torque keeps coming and you keep ploughing through that muddy field at school Sports Day.

Is the GLK 350 the one to go for?

No. It’s not the engine to have in the C-class, and in a heavier 4x4 it becomes even less sensible. But if you want a powerful petrol off-roader then the 268bhp 3.5-litre nearly matches the 272bhp in the BMW X3, but and is quicker to 62mph, has a higher top speed and produces 230g/km CO2 to the BMW’s 243g/km. But the X3 does best the GLK on fuel economy (28mpg plays 27.1mpg).

A GLK 280 with a 3.0-litre petrol V6 is also available, but power and performance suffer, and economy isn't much better. Better to go for the GLK 320 CDI, for now. The badging lies - it’s a 3.0-litre, but with 224bhp and more torque than any other GLK engine it’s the one to have. That is until we get the recently announced 2.1-litre diesel that will come in 170bhp 220 CDI form with 41mpg.

Verdict

Initial impressions of the Mercedes GLK are very promising. It’s more than decent to drive, pretty much ideal for its target market, and will give BMW and Audi a lot to think about.

If you’re in the market for a premium but compact 4x4 you’d be foolish to overlook it, but with its aggressive looks and unless there’s a CDI badge on the back everyone else will treat you as a pariah.

Click here to see the first official pictures of the Audi Q5

Click here to read why the GLK will be  built in right-hand drive

Specs

Price when new: £40,000
On sale in the UK:
Engine: 3498cc V6 24v, 268bhp
Transmission: Seven-speed automatic, four-wheel drive
Performance: 6.7secs 0-62mph, 144mph, 27.2mpg, 230g/km
Weight / material: 1830kg/steel
Dimensions (length/width/height in mm):

Rivals

Other Models

Mercedes-Benz GL-Class Cars for Sale

View all Mercedes-Benz GL-Class Cars for Sale

Photo Gallery

  • Mercedes GLK 350 interior
  • Mercedes GLK 350 rear three-quarter
  • Mercedes GLK 350 front three-quarter
  • Mercedes GLK 350 interior
  • Mercedes GLK 350 interior

By Georg Kacher

European editor, secrets uncoverer, futurist, first man behind any wheel

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