The Mercedes-Benz GLK makes a great first impression, a dissapointing second one, and then recovers on the third. After that, whether you like it or not depends a lot on what your Match.com profile says you're looking for in a long term traveling partner.
First, the good stuff. Among the cute 'utes, the GLK is an absolutely smoking hottie. Its trim body chiseled like a model from a Bowflex ad. It may not be the best-looking Benz ever, but is one of the most striking, featuring a long hood, short tail profile that's more SL sports car than ML sport utility vehicle. In fact, the proportions are so close to those of the Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren supercar that if the two were parked next to each other you'd be hard pressed to tell them apart. (Before you write in to say how ridiculous that notion is, please look up the definition of the word 'hyperbole').
In any case, I've never driven a truckvestite that's gotten more attention that this one. I'm not just talking about turning heads - though they were seen spinning in abundance – but break the fourth wall, approach and engage conversation. It's a looker, and I guess it looks easy.
Click here for photos of the GLK350
It’s also a petite one, and that's the second impression. The GLK is small. Sarah Jessica Parker small. And I’m not referring to her post-“Sex and the City” career. This makes some sense because the GLK had its coming out party during a product placement in the film version of that TV show. An endeavor that the folks in Stuttgart were proudly complicit in.
There is plenty of room available for the driver, but take advantage of it all and the back seat turns into a parcel shelf devoid of legroom and useless for passengers. Worse, the cargo bay, while finely appointed in the same rich carpeting and materials found up front, is smaller than the one in the Honda Fit subcompact when they both have the rear seats folded down. Up, there are 20 cubic feet behind the second row. A third is not an option.
So not much utility, but what about the sport?
File that impression in column three.
The GLK is built on the same platform as the C-Class sedan, and uses Mercedes-Benz's ubiquitous 268 horsepower 3.5 liter V6 engine. Channeled through a 7-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive, the power is sufficient to get the GLK from 0-60 in 6.5 seconds and on to a top speed over 140 mph. This should help shorten your morning commute, and soothe your tension on the way. It does the latter by pumping a deep, affectionate growl into the cabin. I rarely engage in the folly of manually shifting automatic transmissions, but often kicked the one in the GLK down a few cogs just to turn up the volume of this glorious sound. Fourth gear on the highway put my two year-old son to sleep every time.
The driver is presented with a choice of Comfort and Sport modes that adjust the shift programming of said transmission and the stiffness of the suspension in unison, and that's too bad. While the change in damping isn't too dramatic, you'll probably want to keep it in the softer setting most of the time. The same can't be said of the gearbox.
Seven speeds are a lot to deal with, and in Comfort mode the GLK is a little lazy shifting down when you want to pass. In the big picture, it’s quick and responsive enough, but the Sport mode works so much better that I preferred it all the time, even during unsporting driving.
Along with being more relaxed, the Comfort setting does have the advantage of maximizing fuel economy, but at 17 mpg city/21 highway, nice try. One could argue that people who buy Mercedes-Benzes don't care about the economy, fuel or otherwise, but starting at $35,900 ($33,900 for the rear-wheel drive only version), the GLK is aggressively priced and aimed at the cost conscious among them. That's several thousand dollars less than the slightly larger competition from BMW, Audi and even Lexus, not to mention the Mercedes-Benz C350 sedan.
Size aside, you won't feel short-changed. The GLK performs as closely to a low-slung car as you could ever imagine a compact SUV could. I expected it to bob and weave at least a little bit, but the Capri Blue example I spent the better part of a week with was unflappable on all road surfaces. In fact the ride quality may have been almost too much like a sports sedan on the generally lousy roads in and around New York City. The optional 20-inch wheels were likely the culprit of the occasional harshness felt, and I'm sure I would have been quite happy with the standard 19’s.
Speaking of options, my test car was literally loaded with them, including a $3,150 package featuring a dual pane sunroof which is very handy in skyscraper-strewn Manhattan, an integrated garage door opener which is not, and memory for the driver's seat, side view mirrors and steering column because I let so many people drive my cars that I can't keep track of the settings myself.
Add to that a $3,350 multimedia stereo navigation system, the $300 iPod connector that doesn't come with it, $740 for heated seats, $660 for difficult to step over running boards that may be the largest single item on the vehicle, and an assortment of other goodies, and the grand total for the GLK comes to $50,165.
That's without the $1,750 leather seats.
My first reaction to seeing that bottom line, after picking my jaw out of my lap, was that fifty grand is an enormous amount of money to spend on a 4-wheel gadfly like this. And it is. You can get any number of larger vehicles for that kind of money, including a base ML350 with a couple of thousand dollars left over for expensive options. But that is beside the point.
Buying a Mercedes-Benz is an unnecessary something you do because it is special, like going to a spa, playing a round of golf at Pebble Beach, or dropping $200 on a pair of sneakers. For many, bigger isn't always better, and for those looking for very personal transportation with outstanding road manners and sheetmetal that would fit right in on a Heeresfuhrngskommando base one day, but still impress the Samantha Joneses of the world when it pulls up to the her house in the Hamptons the next, the GLK scores on both counts.
If your life goals include 4 kids and a dog, better luck next time.
2010 Mercedes-Benz GLK 4Matic
Base price: $35,900
As tested: $50,165
Engine: 3.5L V6
Power: 268 hp, 258 lb-ft torque
Transmission: 7-speed automatic
MPG: 16 city/21 highway
What do you think of the GLK?
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Gary Gastelu is FoxNews.com's Automotive Editor.