The 2010 Mercedes-Benz GLK350 seems like an odd duck in the company's model lineup. It has the same five-seat SUV configuration as the M-class, but angular styling that comes closer to the G-class. But the GLK350 serves a very relevant purpose, given the current economic situation: it's a well-equipped but affordable model, similar to the C-class update launched in 2007.
Although there is no end of competitors in the small SUV segment, the GLK350 has a certain level of luxury going for it that sets it apart from these others, as befits a Mercedes-Benz. It uses an updated package of cabin tech superior to that found in much more expensive models from the same company, offering, for example, a hard drive-based navigation system with a few gigabytes left over for music storage, along with full iPod integration. Our GLK350 also had Mercedes-Benz's all-wheel-drive system, but the car felt more designed for inclement weather than real off-roading.
On the road
Hitting the road with the 2010 Mercedes-Benz GLK350, it became instantly apparent that we were in a lower grade Benz. The seats didn't massage us, the cruise control didn't adapt to slower traffic, and no lights warned us of cars in our blind spots, all features that the CL550 we recently tested could boast. On the flip side, the GLK350 had a better stereo and Bluetooth phone system than that much more expensive car.
Driving the GLK350 over miles of freeway and highway, we concluded that there is absolutely nothing remarkable about the driving experience, besides how easy it is to operate. The steering wheel has just a little play, enough to make long stretches of reasonably straight road easy to drive. The 3.5-liter V-6 has enough oomph to keep the car running at a good clip, even as we started to climb into the foothills of the Sierra Nevada.
Standard in the GLK350 is a seven-speed automatic transmission, the smooth shifting of which contributed to the completely unremarkable drive. But then we found the Sport setting, selectable with a button on the console. We pushed this button, which toggles between Comfort and Sport modes, at a stop light, and hit the gas when it turned green. The acceleration was good, if not pin-you-to-your-seat dramatic, and the engine produced an excellent growling sound, a welcome change from the miles of quiet operation.
When we set our route back to headquarters, we got in a little argument with the navigation system over lunch. We wanted to treat ourselves to an In-N-Out burger and had a look at the POI database. It only let us look in our immediate location, around our destination, or any city we might specify, but didn't have an option to look along the route. Furthermore, it didn't let us search for our burger joint of choice, merely presenting a list of all restaurants within 10 miles. Disappointed, we settled for an inferior choice, and became a bit incensed when we saw a red and yellow In-N-Out sign some 40 miles further down the road.
Coming back into the Bay Area, we chose a winding route through the Oakland hills, giving the GLK350 a last chance to prove it could be exciting. The high center of gravity gave us initial trepidation in the corners, so we moderated our driving and were impressed by how well mannered the car behaved. The steering tracked well, and the all-wheel-drive in our model proved helpful on some corners. The traction control light lit up when appropriate, although we didn't feel the car slipping much.
Despite its off-putting body style, the GLK350 felt very solid. It's not the kind of car you want to push hard, but it will inspire confidence on ski trips, while providing enough room for cargo and people over a weekend.
In the cabin
Although there are familiar elements inside the 2010 Mercedes-Benz GLK350, the overall design is a little more squared off than we're used to seeing in a Benz. It looks like Mercedes-Benz either licensed the car from another automaker, or the designers put a little too much work in during Oktoberfest. The switchgear has some obvious Mercedes-Benz trademarks, such as the seat controls on the door (the best configuration in the business), the monochrome LCD in the middle of the speedometer, and the COMAND knob on the console.
We mentioned some issues with finding POIs in the navigation system above. Beyond that, this system has a lot to recommend it. The route guidance, although it lacks text to speech, is really good, with very clear graphics and lane directions. We like the resolution of the maps, but aren't particularly pleased that you have to zoom in all the way to see street names.