Our GLK350 didn't show traffic on the navigation system, and Mercedes-Benz forces you to make some odd choices to get traffic. You can either choose the Multimedia package, which gets you hard-drive-based navigation, a Harmon Kardon Logic 7 audio system, and six gigabytes of space for onboard music storage, present on our car. Or you can choose the Universal Media Interface option, which gives you a navigation system with lifetime traffic and a connection for "a range of portable devices," according to Mercedes-Benz. Not having tested the latter system, we can't judge it, but the lack of traffic reporting in the Multimedia package is problematic.
The iPod connection that you can get as an option with the Multimedia package works great, giving full access to albums, artists, and genres using the COMAND knob and the onscreen interface in the car. Our one small complaint stems from having the connection cable in the glove compartment. A port in a console compartment would be much easier for the driver to reach.
The Multimedia package also gives you plenty of space to store music on the car's hard drive. You can rip any standard CD to the car, which uses an onboard Gracenote database to properly tag all the tracks. The interface for the Music Register, as Mercedes-Benz calls it, is similar to the iPod interface. A six-disc, in-dash player also handles MP3 CDs and DVDs. Satellite radio is from Sirius.
We were pleased with the audio quality from the Harmon Kardon audio system, which produces 5.1-channel surround sound from 12 speakers, including a subwoofer and centerfill, with 600 watts of power. We wouldn't consider this system one of the best, as it produces somewhat muddy sound, but it is well-balanced and solid.
The phone system is the best Mercedes-Benz has to offer, using Bluetooth to easily connect to a variety of phones. We paired an iPhone and had no trouble making calls with the onscreen interface. However, the system didn't download the phone's contact list, and there's no way to push contacts from the phone.
Under the hood
As we noted above, the engine puts out enough power to move the GLK350 easily, but doesn't produce spectacular acceleration. It's a 3.5-liter V-6 that makes 268 horsepower at 6,000rpm and 258 pound-feet of torque between 2,400 and 5,000rpm. Mercedes-Benz claims a respectable 6.5 seconds to 60 mph, a number we wouldn't doubt, given the way the car moved with the transmission in Sport mode.
Mercedes-Benz standardized on this seven-speed automatic for most of its model lineup, and it works well in the GLK350. We didn't feel any gear hunting, and we like the options for Comfort, Sport, and manual mode. Shift times under manual mode showed an expected amount of lag, as the torque converter engaged the new gear. The step down to a passing gear under heavy acceleration was also typical.
This transmission has an interesting feature where it disengages when the car is stopped, reducing the load on the engine. It works seamlessly: when the brake is released, the car creeps forward as you would expect from an automatic.
The 4Matic all-wheel-drive system defaults to a ratio of 45 percent torque to the front wheels and 55 percent to the rear. That, combined with the car's stability program and traction control, helps it in slippery conditions.
Despite having a tall highway gear and decoupling the engine when stopped, the GLK350's fuel economy is mediocre, with an EPA rating of 16 mpg in the city and 21 mpg on the highway. We saw an average of 19.3 mpg with driving biased toward the highway. Segments of pure freeway driving came in at around 23 mpg, but city driving kills the economy.
The 2010 Mercedes-Benz GLK350 4Matic bases at $35,900. Our car came with the Premium package, adding Sirius satellite radio, a power lift-gate, and sundry other convenience options, for $3,150. The Multimedia package, with navigation, the Harmon Kardon audio system, and voice command, cost an additional $3,350, while a la carte iPod integration was $300. Along with a number of other options, the total price of our GLK350 ran up to $46,345.
For a lot less money, you can get the Mercury Mariner Hybrid, which has better cabin tech and will cost far less to operate, especially in urban areas. Another small SUV we like is the Volkswagen Tiguan, featuring sprightly handling, but inferior cabin tech.
When considering the cabin tech for the GLK350, we gave it good marks for the digital-music options and the audio system. The lack of advanced features on the navigation system held it back a little. We were generally pleased with the car's performance, and gave it an excellent rating. The GLK350 requires little effort to drive, with smooth handling and power-train operation, but the fuel economy is a little weak. For our design rating, we can only consider the GLK350 average. The badge and grille are a little too big and the side sculpting seems overdone, but it is a practical configuration.
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