2014 Mercedes GLK-Class BlueTEC (Diesel) Review By Thom Cannell

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2014 Mercedes-Benz GLK-Class BlueTec Diesel

By Thom Cannell
Senior Editor
Michigan Bureau
The Auto Channel

No one has offered diesel cars in the US longer than Mercedes. Their latest diesel, the 2014 GLK-Class, gets an updated exterior, interior, and a diesel engine that costs less than the premium V-6—while delivering better fuel economy and more torque.

We’re very excited about this new-to-North America engine as it will soon power the new CLA-Class where the 200 horses and 369 kick-butt pounds of torque will make it an economy hot rod. But back to today, with a historical sidetrack for Mercedes-Benz can reasonably claim to have invented the diesel passenger car having delivered its first in 1936. It brought the memorable 170D to the US in 1949 and continued to deliver diesel passenger cars almost every year since.

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Students of powertrain history may remember the BlueTec announcement of 2006 when Mercedes, Volkswagen, and Daimler-Chrysler stood together at the Los Angeles Auto show to announce the return of diesel engines following the change in fuel quality. That improvement, greatly reduced sulfur contaminant permitted long-lived particulate filters and SCR/Urea down stream NOx reduction, and adherence to increasingly stringent emissions regulations.

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The 2014 GLK is fresher looking, more dynamic and adds a bit more bling. There’s a redesigned knife edge bumperlets filled with daylight running LEDs over the foglight blackout, headlamps that are surrounded by an LED eyebrow, new LED-enhanced mirrors, new bumpers front and rear, Optional 19” alloy wheels complete a very appealing makeover, and to our eyes, it’s part of the new evolution of style at M-B.

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Upgrades and changes continue inside where the formerly rather utilitarian interior becomes brighter, ruled by circular—and quiet— air vents at mid-chest hight.
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More air, quieter air, cool. Last year’s instruments are colorized and the steering wheel is completely changed gaining control over most functions of the in-dash display/navigation/audio system. Conveniently, the instrument cluster display located between speedometer and tachometer can provide a choice of advising you of FM station or CD track, navigation, or other choices. What you’ll notice most is the relocation of the shifter, presumably by-wire electronically controlled, to the steering column. All seven speed on the column. Anyone remember three?

We discussed these changes with M-B executives, who say that globally, the movement is from counting cylinders to regarding luxury as an experience, one that engine downsizing does not affect as long as appropriate power is delivered. For instance this tiny engine delivers the same torque as a normally aspirated V-8 engine modified by in-house tuner AMG (think money, power, control) did just five years ago.

We also asked if their increasingly cutting edge designs were an advantage, or could high design lead to a shorter lifetime compared to a more sedate and classic style? Product Manager Bart Herring told us “We study the impact of design and you have to grow, look for something new without abandoning the old… understanding what people appreciate about your design that makes them think that's what a Mercedes Benz should be. What we found is that (we could be) more dynamic and more aggressive without losing those traditional customers. You see, it is a calculated exercise in bringing the brand forward for this new customer while maintaining M-B values in reputation. Brand is one of the greatest reasons for purchase, design is close behind. We feel like it is a success as it feels like a Mercedes when you drive it, but it has a more dynamic look.”

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Under the hood, the 2.0-liter inline four cylinder motor is very modern and quiet with roller bearing mounted balance shafts to smooth out engine vibration. The motor uses the latest Bosch fuel system with piezoelectric injectors pumped up to 2000 bar (29,000 psi) and capable of delivering five fuel pulses per cycle. That’s where the quietness and particulate abatement starts, with extremely precise fuel and air control. The engine is intercooled and uses a dual stage turbocharger to eliminate any lag between application of what we occasionally call the “loud pedal” and a stern push to the back. It’s thrust that continues about as long as you’re willing to bet your license!

Our first impression of the car was of little noise, though parked next to a building. That old diesel knock was totally missing—and we don’t miss it! The second thing, once we’d stepped on the “gas”, was torque, more torque, and even more torque! The GLK really moves you forward at any speed, mostly without a kick-down. Interestingly, and obviously for fuel economy, you can’t easily get the seven-speed transmission to downshift several gears if you floor the throttle.

Steering is very self-centering in a way some of us find somewhat rubbery. Very stiff rubber, like the black tubing at the health club and not wimpy. Nonetheless, until over 50 mph it feels modestly heavy, rather like bending a wooden bow or the first pull on a compound bow.

Road manners on poor surfaces are tasty, firm with dual stages to let minor imperfections glide by rather than jar. Over some really rough road we felt compression and rebound that’s very well controlled and solid.

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We had trouble enlarging the map view, often accomplished with a knob or touching the screen; no such luck. Oddly, as far as we yet know, it’s only done with the voice command “Zoom Out,” or “Zoom In”). Another oddity, perhaps induced by a tightly programmed route, was that the navigation system would announce “Turn Left - - in one quarter mile” instead of the reverse, which is normal. Hmm, on the freeway not so bad. In the city? Confusing. Other than that, electronics were very easy to use and the system could easily advise you of all the commands available or those applicable to every area of control. That’s how I found out the Zoom In thing!

I may have had reservations about the Navigation but it clearly showed the map, splitting the screen to show any directional turn, often providing a sliding bar graph to show proximity to the turn. I call that belt, suspenders, and safety pins. So a very pleasant car to drive, one you could quickly adapt to with ease and we look forward to our scheduled extended test.

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