2011 Mercedes-Benz GLK-Class Driving Impressions

The Mercedes-Benz GLK350 is powered by a 3.5-liter V6 engine that makes 268 horsepower at 6000 rpm, with 258 foot-pounds of torque available from 2400 to 4500 rpm. For off-roaders, 87 percent of that maximum available torque can be accessed as low as 1500 rpm.

Mercedes-Benz officials claim the GLK350 can accelerate from 0-60 mph in an impressive 6.5 seconds with a top speed of 143 mph and expected highway fuel economy of 22 miles per gallon. This is one of the most efficient and sophisticated engines that Mercedes-Benz has ever built, including lightweight casting techniques, forged connecting rods, variable valve timing on both intake and exhaust valves, variable intake tuning, and advanced combustion techniques for cleaner emissions and greater power.

Gears shift smoothly with the 7-speed automatic transmission, which adapts to the driver's driving style and changes shifting patterns accordingly. By analyzing speed-versus-throttle-opening comparisons, the transmission will know whether the GLK is going uphill or downhill and will either delay upshifts or hasten downshifts accordingly. Comfort and Sport shifting modes allow the driver to choose between higher rpm shifting or softer shifts.

Fuel economy for the 2011 Mercedes-Benz GLK350 is rated at 16 mpg city, 23 mpg highway and 18 mpg combined. The 4MATIC version differs only in the highway rating at 21 mpg, a significant difference.

The 4MATIC uses a computer-controlled all-wheel-drive system that employs a 45/55 front/rear torque bias and uses a dual-disc clutch that acts as a locking center differential in difficult traction situations.

The GLK feels more like a car than a truck, with its unit-body construction, quietly soaking up bumps and potholes and other imperfections. It cruises easily at 115 mph with the 3.5-liter engine. Acceleration is very good for a vehicle of this weight, and in seventh-gear overdrive, it just purrs along at about 1800 rpm at 75 mph. We pushed a GLK350 4MATIC as hard as we dared, trying to find flaws in its driving manners, and we came up empty.

The suspension is designed to absorb impacts and vibration for a smoother ride. Agility Control technology provides the benefits of both soft and stiff shock absorbers. Each shock absorber in the GLK is fitted with a hydraulic by-pass piston that acts like a very soft shock absorber to dampen road noise and tire vibration. The by-pass piston is inactive during normal shock absorber operation, to maintain the steering and handling response of a stiffer shock absorber.

On a rugged and challenging off-road course, the GLK350 performed brilliantly through a 35-percent grade and 35-degree side slope. It handled deep water, mud, logs and rocks in stride, without having to back up or back down. The 4MATIC system pulled through even when only one tire was touching ground. The GLK is much better for rugged terrain than the Lexus.

Around town, the compact dimensions of the GLK make parking easier. Shorter than a BMW X3, it takes a little less space to make a U-turn in the Mercedes.

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