In the last month or so I have seen a shift in my brand preferences regarding cars, admittedly this is something that does tend to happen every few months (and ultimately I always end up back wanting a BMW) but my current manufacturer crush is on Mercedes Benz and it’s three pointed star. I’ve never disliked any of the models that MB have produced, and as one of the world’s most prolific and historic car manufacturers I have been exposed to their cars and advertising for much of my life, but I can’t say that many of their models have fuelled me with desire in the way that other German machinery has.
Well that’s not entirely true…I’ve always liked the ML (thank Jurassic Park for that), the S Class is the best luxury car in the world bar none, and in fact the SLS is one of the few supercars that I actually desire. But the C Class? E Class? or the questionably styled A? None would be my first choice as a daily driver in each category. However the last few weeks have presented me with even more exposure to the brand’s cars than usual and as a result I am pretty hooked! Watching Bruce Willis drive over lots of Russian traffic in a G Wagen is probably part of this shift, as is my sitting in (and actually driving) the famous Ruby, but I suspect that my current fascination boils down to my mind being set on a second generation ML as my next car. But what about their other products? Well one of the current objects of my affection is a car I have briefly mentioned before, and I thought I’d try and take a closer look and the diminutive GLK in this review.
The GLK actually came up in a conversation I was having the other day and this surprised me; it’s actually pretty rare for most UK consumers to have heard of Mercedes’ smallest SUV, as the only time it is seen on British roads is being driven by European holidaymakers (so pretty rare then!). But given the opportunity, I feel that the British public would have taken to the GLK like a duck to water…or whatever that pointless saying is. Basically we’re looking at Mercedes’ rival to the BMW X3 and Audi Q5; more boxy than either and offering powerful yet economical diesel engines the GLK could have found a niche with those who thought the Q5 a little soft and the original X3 too ugly. I’ll admit that the current generation Bimmer has ironed out much of the faults that afflicted it’s predacessor (inside and out), but the GLK remains a competitive and distinctive option in a relatively crowded market segment. OK distinctive is being kind maybe, but let’s face it the MB badge would have sold the car to alot of buyers and it looks alot more butch than either competitor.
The reviews and pictures I have seen have been abit conflicted regarding the car’s interior. On one hand we have a relatively simple layout that makes the car’s technology easier to get to grips with than the other German two-some. Boot space is competitive for the class, and there is an overall feel of luxury and refinement which grips the driver from the word go. But there are plenty of negatives too; whilst the tech may be easier to use, it also lacks some of the features and extravagant extras which reside in both the BMW and Audi (such as Google Maps or 3D building rendering). Another big no-no is the apparent lack of rear space, made worse by a small door opening and footwell. The overall design of the controls and dashboard appears a little cheap too, I mean yes it is shared with the C Class (and has a similar design to the SLS) but I am not really feeling the vast expanse of blank plastic surrounding the radio controls, though this has been remedied in the 2012 update.
On the road things are similarly mixed; the short and tall body do not make for a ride that can match Mercedes’ saloon models, but it is surprisingly sprightly in terms of handling even though it lacks the sophisticated adaptive suspension of rivals. Engine options are pretty much standard MB-fare, you have various 4-cylinder diesels and a V6 diesel and petrol, although the latter is primarily sold in the US and Chinese markets, where it sells pretty well. In excess of 40mpg is readily achievable from either gearbox too; a 6 speed manual and the 7G automatic gave a relaxed driving experience that suits the car’s nature and target market. All this is available for a price that is competitive with the X3 and Q5…so around €36k for the base manual.
But it’s price which has prevented Mercedes from launching the GLK in the UK and other RHD markets. It seems that the AWD system that features in much of MB’s lineup (including the C and E Classes) is engineered in such a way that the driver’s footwell would be severely intruded if the RHD switch was made. Fixing this would mean substantial cost being added to the price of each car and as a result they’ve decided against it…probably wise but ultimately disappointing considering the glaring gap in Mercedes’ UK lineup. Apparently the next generation GLK will be engineered so that it can be had in RHD, not too surprising considering that BMW has decided to offer some AWD models alongside it’s SUV’s (something that Mercedes will presumably do too). Presumably the next generation will expand on this positives that this current model offers, but in the meantime buyers after a small Merc will have to stare longingly across the ocean.