2009 Mercedes-Benz GLK | road test

Posted on Feb 10, 2009 by

The GLK, which went on sale in Dubai and rest of the Middle East in December 2008, is Mercedes’ most ambitious product launch of the year. This compact SUV joins its range of luxury SUV line up right at the door step. Smallest of the lot and a late comer to the Compact SUV segment, the GLK is up against the likes of BMW X3, Land Rover LR2, and Audi’s Q5 – yet to be launched in the region; amongst its German siblings and goes head on with the Japanese warriors from Lexus – the RX and EX from Infiniti. Although this bunch is technically a mix of industry defined segments – Compact SUV’s and Crossovers, I doubt if any of us mortals actually sets out buying a vehicle based on industry defined segments – Do you really say to yourself – I’m looking for a Crossover, which one is the best buy? You don’t.

Based on the C Class platform to the core, the GLK is a crossover, but folks at Mercedes like to call it a compact SUV mainly because of it’s off road capabilities. A luxury compact SUV and off road don’t blend well – or so I thought as we set on to the post lunch off road course in the rocky hills alongside Salalah coast lines in Oman.  A while later, I found myself and co-driver Raj Warrior from Automan, Oman steering the GLK through some deep recesses and gut wrenching climbs on the specially chalked out 4×4 course that reminded me of the tagline of a very famous Sci-fi serial Star Trek – To boldly go where no man has gone before.

A gentle push on a button in the dashboard activated the optional downhill speed regulator of the GLK. Using the cruise control stock on the steering wheel, I shuffled the speed from 4km/h – 6km/h. While conventional systems on other SUV’s can only maintain the set speed, Mercedes system makes it possible to vary the decent speed. Once activated, the GLK’s electronics kick in, slow it down to crawl at the set speed and control power distribution to all four wheels to maintain traction. All that had to be done then was to carefully steer the GLK through the terrain to safety. With a bit of guidance, even a novice could have done that.

Thanks to the basic split of 45:55 on the drive torque between the front and rear wheels and an army of clever electronics that keep the GLK steady and well planted in rough terrain, an average driver can perform gymnastics on a trail that would pose challenge to even professionals.

The GLK is more of a car converted into SUV, one that is designed well and performs above expectations off the tar,  a reason why its 201mm ground clearance is less of a match to that of competition like the LR2 with its 220mm. But then would you rather have a SUV that drives like an SUV or an SUV that drives like a car, considering that most time spent by such vehicles is on the black top rather than off it?

Driving on a hard packed rough surface is a lot different than a drive through slippery, soft sand. The play of wheels, steering, braking, chassis, and all the electronics changes substantially and since this drive was on hard packed dirt and rubble surface, I would hold my call on GLK’s driving abilities in the sand.

The drive itself was just a bit over 300km and took us over blacktop, rubbles and some unchartered rocky terrain in the 4×4 section. Lovely sunny weather and non crowded Omani roads were certainly a blessing, never-the-less we were soundly briefed of the free floating livestock and camels that do not obey traffic rules, nor demonstrate any road sense; and some local drivers who might get an adrenaline rush looking at the convoy of swanky GLK’s passing by.

Mercedes GLK took three years from design boards to production. The fact that most components under its skin are shared with the new C Class made this journey possible in a very short time and allowed the German auto maker to position the GLK at a very competitive price range of US$ 46,000 – US$50,000. Now that’s an attractive price tag for an entry level Mercedes SUV.

 

 

The GLK differs from the rest of the Mercedes SUV lineup. Designer Steffen Köhl and his team gave the GLK a boxy look to set it apart from the crowded SUV market, as well as from Mercedes’ own M-Class. The ‘G’ in GLK refers to the classic Mercedes G Class. GLK’s squared off design is also a reflection of the G Class exterior and gives this SUV a rugged utilitarian look.

Inside, the GLK feels like a Mercedes with ample of space all round. It shares most components with the C Class right from the seats onwards – majority unchanged, some modified.  The dashboard is a bunch of straight lines. The interior, while on one side comes out as uninspiring, boring and unlike what one would expect in a luxury SUV; is more a reflection of utilitarian design. Now why would I want that in a luxury SUV, and if this a priority, there is a bunch of utilitarian, rugged SUV’s on the block.

Mercedes is way past the quality issues and quality of fitments inside is definitely Premium. The GLK is well endowed with modern amenities and technology with features such as permanent 4-wheel drive and seven-speed automatic transmission with comfort and sport mode as standard on board. Dynamic suspension, ABS and adaptive airbags are reassuringly safe for its occupants.

Exterior sports package and Off Road package offer personalization options to buyers.  With the off road package comes the option of manual mode on the transmission case in addition to the Comfort and Sports mode offered as standard. Two 6 cylinder power plants are offered for the Middle East markets. The GLK 280 comes with 231 horses while the 3.4 liter 272 horsepower GLK 350 delivery more sporty performance.  This engine package makes the GLK livelier. The difference in performance, although more pronounced in the rough, can easily be disguised by the car-like performance on tar. Most GLK buyers are unlikely to venture off the black top. With 231 horses on the GLK280, it makes a compelling buy over its more powerful brethren.

One point that Mercedes clearly harped on during this drive event, something that most of automotive publications in this part of the world have talked highly about too, is the off road capabilities of the GLK. Clearly Mercedes PR machinery has done a fantastic job of getting the desired tone. Let’s think for a moment here – is GLK mainly about off road capabilities? Should a potential buyer swing their decision in its favor based on off road capabilities?

I wonder what the buyer profile of this SUV could be.  Most likely – young adults, urban living, contemporary lifestyle, couples with small children, women. Now where does off road fit in all this and to what degree? Are these kind of buyers going to base their decision to buy this SUV on the off road capabilities of the GLK? Are they the types who will be using the GLK for venturing off road frequently? Would you want to take the GLK off road frequently? I don’t think so.

It’s the utility, comfort, quality, size, the Mercedes assurance with the social status that the brand brings to its owner, with a sweetener of off road capabilities that make it more attractive for potential buyers to bite on. Above all the attractive price point of the GLK is more likely to get their attention. Add its boxy, distinctive style, that is either a turn on or off – and you have a set of answers that are likely to get the sales charts roaring or see similar fate as some competitors, notably the X3 – somewhat extinct species in this part of the world.

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