2013 Mercedes GLK 250BlueTEC One Road Trip to CHI - An Elegant Diesel Experience.
By Thom Cannell
The Auto Channel
Bullet Points: No attempt at completeness, simply comments on one week’s driving experience—balanced against decades of experience and hundreds of comparisons.
We reassessed our test GLK250 BlueTEC diesel round trip from central Michigan to Chicago, enough distance to confirm the accuracy of our first assessments of its strengths, and its weaknesses. We maintain our appreciation for the updated exterior, specifically improvements in headlamp integration into the fenders, smoother and more definitive grille and under-bumper valance sculptures. Together they create a more keenly chiseled and finely honed image edgy as a cage fight and far less lounging at the country club. We are mixed on the LED daylight running lamps, point-source lights (those little bright dot Audi so loves around their headlamps) just don’t do it for us. But that is a tiny matter. Under every 2013 GLK hood is either a V6 gasoline or I4 diesel engine.
We are only concerned with the 2.0-liter diesel it shares with a surprising array of other M-B products. While a base GLK 2WD is priced competitively in segment at $37,090 and with 4MATIC AWD $39,090, our GLK 250 BlueTEC 4MATIC was base priced at $38,590.
What we liked most about this is, although lower priced, the diesel option improves tow capability and it will save you a significant portion of your monthly payment. Nail that fact to the CAFE bulletin board.
The interior is simply handsome and fitting for a luxury vehicle. Ours was accented in black woods that appeared Ebony or stained Walnut. Thankfully it was not the trendy piano black we think appropriate on Steinways. No, this was more a charcoal gray which evoked elegance, not glare. Driving position felt very comfortable for 200+ mile journeys, as did the seats themselves. Small features like abundant in-door and elsewhere cup holders, easy to use HVAC controls, a stellar audio system, and useful center storage were at hand and appreciated. A quick shout-out for the harmon/kardon LOGIC7 audio system: regardless source, be it CD, iPod, HD radio, or satellite, classic or electro-tango, Pit Bull or Diana Krall, it excelled across the spectrum.
Elsewhere in the cabin four large air distribution nozzles deliver huge volumes of air quietly and where needed. With quietness a sales point for luxury vehicles, on a sweltering afternoon, cruising at 60 mph on Chicago's Lakeshore drive, we could hear waves crashing on the breakwater and the tinkling of mooring lines as they slapped the buoys. There was no tire noise from our GLK. Super quietness.
Mercedes is always a forerunner in electronics, particularly those designed for safety. The GLK's center stack controls and displays are echoed in the instrument panel to prevent distraction. Revealed with successive toggling of steering wheel controls are items as diverse as door locking settings, navigational arrows, pairing and dialing the phone, audio system information, almost anything that you can find on the more-distracting center screen you can call to the center. What you’ll notice most about the GLK cabin is the relocation of the shifter to the steering column and electronically controlled over an in-car network. All seven speeds automatically available on the column.
While we’re in "Facebook liking" mode, thumbs-up to the new 19” alloy wheels which hit the perfect mix of air and solid; chic yet robust. Also the new rear bumper with smoothly glowing LEDs is tasty indeed, creating a campfire glow more natural than a gaggle of light bulbs. We think the more sculpted face is part of Mercedes decision to reach younger in its outlook, yet it regards both customers enough to offer classic and sport facades in more traditional sedans, the E Class coming to mind. Another solid feature is the large sunroof with disappearing shades, it creates a sunny day when skies are gray. Despite its massive size it slides with little noise.
Mercedes is proceeding swiftly to prepare for “look ma, no hands” autonomous driving. Our car was equipped with expected technologies like stability control and brake assist with adaptive brake technology which can preposition brake pads when it thinks a crash is eminent, as well as Attention Assist which monitors 70 driver behavior parameters to detect drowsiness, then attempts to make enough ruckus to alter the driver. Brake Hold would, with a second tap of the brake when stopped, set the brakes and keep the tail lamps lit which is great for stop-and-go or freeway parking lots. It was not equipped with automatic parking, lane keeping assist, nor some of the other bleeding edge technologies, nor did we try Mercedes apps, their mbrace2 suite of news, Facebook, Yelp, local search and others.
A “needs improvement” we’d mentioned in a previous report became more apparent on the longer trip. The IP simply disappears unless backlit at night or when the sun is over your shoulder. Otherwise it’s as thought the panel was viewed through fog. The information display between those is unaffected: it’s backlit. Another is the navigation system, though it grew on us with use and we even figured out how to scale the map without voice command. What galled us was an occasional necessity to yell to achieve voice recognition although the GLK is a quiet vehicle. The Command System—what Mercedes calls its integrated audio/nav/services system—takes a while to learn even with its own 100+page manual. We know you’ll compare it to your smart phone, and your personal device will win for simplicity. The onboard system will win for screen size, repeated destinations, and overriding any conversation that might make you miss a turn.
Another surprise when loading for our trip was the GLK’s modest capacity behind the rear seat. Yes, it is a compact CUV, but there is less space than the GLK's overall size might indicate. At 23.3 cubic feet with all seats up, a BMW X3 betters it at 27.6 cubes, and Volvo’s XC60 comes in at 30.8 cubic feet. That’s a big suitcase! We suspect the compromise was towards passenger comfort. The GLK’s back seat verges on enormous and that leg room and comfortable seating means a reduction of trunk volume.
So GLK's new styling looks tremendous. And of course it has a diesel engine. Quoting from our first review, “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!” For our documented 598.3 miles trip overall fuel economy was 36.2 miles per gallon. On the freeways we set the cruise at 76 mph and we managed about 10-15% of those miles in the city. That's fantastic fuel economy for a 4,000 pound vehicle.
Conclusions? The 2013 Mercedes GLK250 BlueTEC 4MATIC rates as a 36 mpg CUV, amazing fuel economy for the luxury segment. It rides and drives tautly and quietly, easily consuming four robust passengers or five more modestly sized. Just a few tweaks would nudge it towards perfection.
Here’s My 2013 Mercedes GLK250 BlueTEC 4MATIC Bullet Points
>Overall great driving experience
>Accurate, powerful stereo
>Superb and quite driving comfort despite really big tires
>Precise steering though it will build your shoulders.
>Needs better cargo volume, instrument illumination, simplified navigation destination input and voice recognition.