Mini Mercedes: 2010 Mercedes-Benz GLK350

February 10, 2009, 12:09 AM UTC

mercedes_benz_glk3502The model-year designation of the latest Mercedes took me by surprise. Here we are just half-way into 2009’s second month and a 2010 model just showed up.

The alpha-numeric designation only adds to the confusion. The GLK isn’t so much a smaller version of the truck-like GL SUV but a crossover vehicle built on the same platform as a C-class sedan. Its appearance further confuses the question of heritage. The boxy lines of the GLK are directly derived from the iconic G-class, also know as the Geländewagen, an archaic SUV once described as having the charisma of an ammo shack.

Questions of genealogy and nomenclature aside, what is the GLK really like? It is Mercedes’ answer to BMW’s X-3 and any number of other compact-sized crossovers in this increasingly popular segment. Besides the three-pointed star emblazoned on its grille, it is distinguished from its competitors by its upright stance. With its boxy greenhouse and ten-spoke alloy wheels, it reminded me of nothing so much as a Conestoga wagon.

Functionally, the GLK feels and runs like every Mercedes. As I do in all low-end Mercedes, I found the interior austere and off-putting. All the stalks and switches are in the same places where it seems they have been for decades. Idle question: Does Mercedes believe that it has so perfectly optimized its ergonomics that it feels no need to improve them?

Once underway, the GLK delivers on its brand promise. Acceleration is smooth and unhurried. The GLK has been clocked at less than seven seconds in getting to 60 miles per hour, yet it felt a tad less comfortable arriving there than in the last mid-size ML SUV I drove.

The GLK bristles with electronic controls to keep the driver from getting into trouble, though I had no opportunity to test the 4matic system in snow, where I’ve encountered trouble with two-wheel-drive Mercedes in the past. Fuel economy is rated at 16 city/21 highway; I averaged a smidgen over 20 mpg in several hundred miles of driving.

As with any Mercedes, the big question is always how much? The GLK carried a beguiling base price of $37,775 including delivery, but the Capri Blue paint cost another $720 and the add-ons sent it up from there. After including the premium lighting, multimedia, and sport appearance packages, the bottom line on my test model read “$50,165.”

For those who are determined to park a Mercedes in their driveway, that may not be too much to pay, and by 2010 it may even seem reasonable. For everyone else in the economically-challenged year of 2009, it may give pause.