Mercedes-Benz has long been known for building transportation that offers comfort, style and a bit of performance.
Its latest SUV, the GLK, certainly fits that profile.
The GLK fills a spot in the Mercedes lineup that is below the midsize M Class, full size GL Class and rugged G Class, and joins a segment of the luxury market - small SUVs - that is growing quickly. You can detect inspiration from the GL in its general shape, with a touch of ancestral boxiness from the G Class. There's also a little Jeep in there - perhaps from the brand's years of association with now-divorced Chrysler. Although the GLK is meant for on-road use by regular folks in civilized places, it attended the corporate equivalent of automotive boot camp. Fire and ice testing takes sample units to the heat of the Namibian desert and the frigid Arctic Circle to see if the company can break the car before you ever see it. As a program graduate, the GLK is the Navy Seal of compact SUVs.
But mind you, it's also a luxury vehicle. Inside, the seats are firm and supportive, putting you in an alert, upright position. The interior, while as angular as the body, still features burl walnut trim, wade swaths of brushed metallic trim garnished with a chrome strip, and the usual range of comfort and convenience features you'd expect.
There's dual-zone automatic climate control, a trip computer, and power windows, locks and mirrors. You get cruise control, a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, and a Bluetooth interface for your phone.
The goal is to offer "Mercedesness" at a reasonable price point and responsible size. As part of that mission, the GLK uses a 3.5-liter V6 that gets 16 mpg city, 21 highway.
The 268-horsepower V6, which runs through a seven-speed automatic, can pull the car from zero to 60 in about 6.5 seconds and tops out at 143 mph.
You can push a button to change the automatic shift patterns. Selecting S (sport) sensitizes accelerator pedal response and moves the shift points for more exciting driving. The C (comfort) setting yields better fuel economy. The automatic has a hill-holder setting.
There are lots of high-tech features that distinguish the GLK from ordinary compact SUVs. The Agility Control suspension provides "amplitude-responsive damping" that changes depending on driving conditions. It keeps the suspension nice and comfortable under normal driving but tightens it up for brisker driving or under evasive maneuvering, for example, when you discover a tree in the road as you round the bend.
Adaptive braking varies stopping response depending on circumstances, and initiates faster than an unassisted drive could. Antilock braking works with Acceleration Skid Control to help you avoid trouble.
Based on Mercedes more than 60 years of research, testing and simulations, the ARAMIS system customizes the car's crash response depending on severity. Front and rear crush zones absorb impact while a strong passenger cell prevents intrusion. A careful collection of airbags steps in to cushion the blow.
Despite being well equipped out the gate, you can add a lot more to a GLK, including everything from Tele Aid emergency system and heated front seats to Premium and Multimedia Packages.
The Premium Package adds things like memory for multiple driver's seat, mirror and steering column settings, autodimming exterior mirrors, a panoramic sunroof, and Sirius satellite radio. The Multimedia package brings in a superb Harman/Kardon audio system, rearview camera, and voice control for the telephone, radio and navigation applications, among other things.
While the GLK's base price starts around $35,900, adding a lot of the aforementioned goodies can take it up to around $46,345. But with the overall quality of the ride and features, that's a fair price.
As Mercedes continues to battle against luxury market rivals such as Audi, BMW and Lexus, its broad product mix is an effective weapon. From the modest C Class sedan all the way up to the S Class sedan, and the SUVs, Mercedes remains a formidable player in the luxury arena.