Mercedes-Benz trumps competition with turbo-diesel option G-class

The Mercedes-Benz GLK 250's torque-rich engine suits the crossover's mission to a tee as swift-but-safe family transportation.

There are plenty of advantages when you arrive late to a party. Looking back now, Mercedes-Benz seems to have benefited from not being one of the first to crash the luxury compact crossover festivities started almost a decade ago.

Arguably following the lead set by BMW with its successful X3 in 2004, Mercedes waited six years before jumping into the burgeoning segment with its five-passenger GLK-Class, where it quickly become Mercedes’ second-best selling model in Canada, only behind the sedan it’s roughly based on, the C-Class. And except for the top-selling Lexus RX, the Benz outsells rivals from Acura, Audi, BMW, Cadillac, Infiniti, Lincoln, and Volvo.

With this sales success, we didn’t expect Mercedes to reinvent the GLK for its 2013 mid-life makeover.

And it didn’t.

But beyond its requisite upgrades to its exterior and interior styling and new infotainment and safety features, the big news for the 2013 GLK lineup is the addition of a class-first diesel engine option.

The new 2013 GLK 250 BlueTec is powered by a new, 2.1-litre twin-turbocharged inline four-cylinder diesel.

If you still want a gas engine in your GLK, last year’s GLK 350 returns with an updated version of its 3.5 L V6. It now benefits from direct-injection, and a stop/start system (that shuts down the engine when the vehicle is at rest) among other engineering changes.

As well, the rear-wheel-drive GLK 350 has been canned. So all GLKs for 2013 whether diesel or gas will get the brand’s 4MATIC all-wheel-drive system as standard kit and a carry-over seven-speed automatic as the only transmission choice.

Mercedes-Benz Canada is still working on pricing for the 2013 GLK lineup. Logic says the new diesel GLK will demand a premium over the gas version (i.e. the $57,900 gas Mercedes ML SUV versus the $59,400 diesel version). But the automaker is still working on equipment packages, so we’ll have to wait until closer to the GLK”s June on-sale date to get final pricing.

As a baseline, though, know that the starting point for the 2013 GLK 350 4MATIC isn’t expected to change much from the 2012 model’s $43,800 MSRP.

Even if the diesel GLK comes at a similar price premium over the gas model as its larger ML sibling does, it’s hard to argue against it.

Yes, the diesel loses out to the gas GLK in the horsepower department ‘ 190 to 302 ‘ resulting in the GLK 250 taking 1.5 seconds longer to go from 0 to 100 km than the 6.5 seconds the GLK 350 takes.

But the diesel GLK stomps the gas GLK when it comes to torque: 369 versus 273. And more importantly for the typical luxury crossover buyer, the GLK 250’s 7.5 L/100 km city, and 5.5 L highway European cycle fuel economy ratings (Transport Canada has yet to confirm Canadian model ratings) trounces the GLK 350’s 10.8 and 7.3 respective numbers.

Plus, the turbo-diesel moves the sold GLK down the road in a much more satisfying nature than the gas will.

Over the course of two days of driving between the Swiss city of Geneva and the French ski report town of La Clusaz, the GLK 250’s torque-rich engine suits the crossover’s mission to a tee as swift-but-safe family transportation.

It only takes a few metres from rest to discover the diesel feels stronger than the gas V6 from rest. And pulling away from numerous French autoroute toll booths during my drive was met with a wave of undulating forward motion, without the GLK 350’s sometimes unharmonious sounds.

Driving enthusiasts should note that the new GLK’s driving characteristics remain tilted toward luxury not to sports sedan buyers. When hustled, the Benz doesn’t feel terribly light, agile, or co-ordinated. The Mercedes is not the type of utility vehicle that can string together corners in a car-like fashion, say like an Audi Q5, BMW X1, or Infiniti EX35.

Even with the AMG sport package (optional on the GLK 250, standard on the GLK 350) that adds one-inch larger 20-inch tires and wheels, the Mercedes crossover prefers a more deliberate style of driving.

Instead, the GLK is best suited to around town errand hopping, highways, and long arcing two lanes, where its comfortable ride and lazier responses are better appreciated. And whatever the quality of the pavement underneath, the Mercedes always feels bank vault-solid.

Maybe we’ll have to wait until the smaller, B-Class-based crossover arrives in the next year or so before a truly, fun-to-drive small Mercedes crossover arrives.

Beyond the new engines and slightly softened exterior styling, including fashionable LED lighting front and back, the remaining of the ‘new’ in the new 2013 GLK can be found inside, plus new safety technologies.

Like when the current generation of C-Class sedan arrived in 2008, the original 2010 GLK was criticized for a cabin full of hard angles and sharp pieces of plastic. To rectify that, there’s a new dash design that includes updated driver’s instrumentation with a 11.5-centimetre colour display embedded in the speedometer, ambient lighting throughout the cabin, three-spoke leather covered steering wheel, separate colour central display screen, and the addition of prominent circular air vents that are migrating into every new Mercedes from the SLS super car.

Optional packages allow the new GLK to be equipped with many of the advanced safety features found on pricier E- and S-Class Mercedes.

What hasn’t changed is the GLK’s comparatively lack of interior space. It’s one of the shortest and narrowest in its class. Three adults in its second-row seating is tight. While cargo room behind those seats remains near the back of the class too.

Regardless of its faults, the new GLK for 2013 should continue down its current path of success.

Its interior upgrades and new features should keep exiting customers coming back. While the availability of the turbo-diesel gives the Mercedes something the competition can’t offer.

Despite its tardiness, the GLK has become the life of the luxury small crossover party.

EST. BASE PRICES: $41,800/$43,800

ENGINES: 2.1 L turbo-diesel I4/3.5 L V6

POWER: 190/302 hp

TORQUE: 369/ 273 lb.-ft.

TRANSMISSION: Seven-speed automatic

FUEL ECONOMY: L/100km: 10.8/7.5 city, 7.3/5.5 highway

COMPETITION: Acura RDX, Audi Q5, BMW X1/X3, Cadillac SRX, Infiniti EX35, Lexus RX, Lincoln MKX, Range Rover Evoque, Volvo XC60

WHAT?S BEST: Class-exclusive diesel engine; relatively low entry price for the Mercedes bad; solid highway ride

WHAT?S WORST: Rivals offer more interior room, and better driving dynamics.

WHAT?S INTERESTING: The GLK is Mercedes? second most popular vehicle in Canada.

  • Mercedes-Benz trumps competition with turbo-diesel option G-class
  • Mercedes-Benz trumps competition with turbo-diesel option G-class
  • Mercedes-Benz trumps competition with turbo-diesel option G-class
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