Sometimes it’s fun to compare car brands to people. For instance, I would equate Toyota to be Ben Stein. Smart and likeable, but ultimately, the dullest automaker in the business save for a couple of models in their Lexus brand. They don’t offer much to excite the senses.
BMW would be Kanye West. Brilliant, creative, and innovative. They set the standard. But like Kanye they are also hopelessly cocky, conceited and is the brand everyone loves to hate. They know they make awesome cars and are not shy to let the world know it.
Audi is considered to be much of the same only without the same negative stereotypes painted towards BMW and Audi’s cockiness is somehow less offensive, more accepted and almost encouraged for some reason. Therefore, Audi is the Muhammad Ali of the car business.
So what about Mercedes-Benz? It’s the brand that always gets shout outs in rap songs/videos, yet its core market is driven towards middle-aged/more seasoned individuals. The brand can hold its own in the performance department with its AMG division and McLaren partnership, but overall its known more for luxury than performance.
The GLK is a perfect example of this.
Being the newest member of the crowded compact luxury ute market, the GLK definitely stands out. It sits lower than its rivals, has a wide aggressive front facia, eye catching 20 inch wheels and a rather sedate looking rear that is reminiscent the previous generation Toyota Highlander. There’s no question that Mercedes wants this vehicle to stand out, yet does not wish to appear too flashy, alienating its key customer base. It’s quite rugged looking but I still think Volvo’s XC60 that I tested earlier is the best looking in the segment.
The interior reminds me of a modern day interpretation of my dad’s old Volvo 240. It has the same sharp-angle theme throughout the cabin, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, just unexpected for a Benz. It comes standard with all the luxury goodies you’d expect including tasteful brushed aluminum accents throughout but also a rip off of BMW’s iDrive system which isn’t something you should want to copy. It took me literally five minutes to figure out how to turn on the radio, and I wouldn’t consider myself to be technically challenged. Sound quality is adequate, but again, the XC60 wins in this area as well. To be fair, Mercedes offers upscale sound systems as an option for the GLK.
Cargo room is decent . There is about 25 cubic feet with the seats up. But Volvo can squeeze 31 cubic feet out of their XC60 with the seats up and the cargo area seems more airy and spacious.
One area where the Benz and Volvo are quite similar is their desire to make us all believe that despite being a wannabe SUV, they can still hold their own performance-wise, specifically in the handling department.
Neither of them can do this.
Despite Volvo’s suspension altering system first introduced on the S60R which allows you to choose three modes of firmness, that’s all it did -make the suspension firmer which just made it uncomfortable, not sporty. The same can be said for the Benz but their system chooses the firmness for you, depending on your driving style. If it senses that you suddenly have heightened testosterone levels, it will firm up the suspension to adjust to your aggressive driving. If it senses that you are driving as if you have hemorrhoids and just want to take it easy, it provides for a smooth pothole easing ride. The truth is, it can only do the latter well. It seems the suspension doesn’t firm up quite enough for the type of driving Mercedes claims the GLK can handle. There’s still quite a bit of body roll in corners, and despite the large wheels and low stance, it feels like the GLK could loose grip at any moment, which then scares you back into driving it normally. This is the unfortunate result of pretending that a vehicle has off-road potential when it is really nothing more than a pricier, and lifted, station wagon.
The GLK uses a 3.5 litre V6 to get you from 0-100 in just under seven seconds. The power is always there when you need it, but you’ll definitely pay for it at the pumps. Rated at 13.3 l/100 kms city, it isn’t exactly a fuel miser, which is discouraging considering its size. Especially since Mercedes has justified the existence of the GLK partially on M-class or E-class drivers looking for something more efficient. It would be nice to see a four-cylinder turbo-diesel option.
I always like to take these vehicles off-road to see how they fair, and the GLK fairs about as well as the Toronto Maple Leafs’ opening season this year. It was horrible. Horrible in the sense that the GLK’s adaptive suspension just doesn’t know what to do when it encounters an anti-asphalt situation. It’s almost as if it suddenly becomes epileptic and goes from firm to soft then repeats. Only it does it so rapidly that the GLK’s ride becomes very jolty and uncomfortable. The 4MATIC AWD system helps the GLK retain some credibility though because it’s one of the best in the business. A salesman back at the dealership told me “you don’t buy a Benz to take it off-road anyway”. Fair enough. But why build and market it as if it can?
Just about the only category where the GLK beats the XC60 is price. You can get one nicely equipped for $45K. Volvo’s base price seems reasonable, but option it out to match the GLK and you’ll easily be spending 5 grand more. Despite this, I would still take the Volvo as it can outperform the GLK in almost every way. That’s not to say the GLK is a bad car though.
“Volvos are for old guys. Young guys like you shouldn’t be seen in Volvos. I mean come on, this is a Benz!” This was the salesman’s reaction at the mere mention of the XC60. It appears BMW aren’t the only ones with a cocky self-entitled attitude. Apparently they only consider the BMW X3, Lexus RX, and the Land Rover LR2 to be the GLK’s main competition.
So, to reuse my personification metaphor, who would Mercedes be? I’m going to say Madonna. Like Madonna they’ve built up a name, image, and prestige, but also like Madonna and her lack of singing abilities, Mercedes still manages to get by even if outperformed.
Case in point: the GLK.
Summary: Like striploin steak it’s delicious, but it’s no filet mignion
Price as tested: $45,775
Exterior Styling: 7/10 Unlike any of its competition, but it’s still trying too hard
Interior Styling: 8/10 Unique modern spin on an old theme, but the iDrive plagiarism is not cool
Engine: 6/10 Does particularly well on the highway with decent pick up, though can have slight lag. Too thirsty.
Transmission: 7/10 In manumatic mode shifting gears by moving the stick side-to-side instead of up-and-down gets some getting used to, but fairly clean shifts otherwise
Audio/Visual: 5/10 Audio quality could be better, two display screens is too busy and distracting
Value: 8/10 Similarly equipped models from the competition are a few thousand more