Executive wheels: a marvy Mercedes

2010 MERCEDES GLK 350 4MATIC

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As I have said many times over the years, the world is divided into two distinct groups: Mercedes people and BMW people. Mercedes is elegance and class with performance, while BMW is performance with elegance and class. The order of these traits matter because it is the former that drives people into either camp, with the latter the add-on that satisfies. Count me as a Mercedes person. I like performance as much as the next man, but I don’t crave it. On the other hand, I want to be swaddled in class, and just about every Mercedes I have ever driven does just that.

Especially this GLK 350, the line’s smaller SUV that debuted with the 2010 model I test-drove and continues now with the same edition for 2011. Not only is this a classy vehicle, it may just be one of the better values in any vehicle and in any line of automobiles on the market today. Before it gets too popular and the price inevitably rises, go test drive one yourself, and buy it. I am making the recommendation right up front before any of my experiences because I have rarely been more wowed.

As a car reviewer now for more than 25 years, people are always asking me what is the best car I have ever driven, or more pointedly, what is the best car on the market these days. For many years now my standard answer has been the Mercedes E Class – starting with the E-320 a few years ago, and now on the market as the E-350.

 I would choose the car with the 4Matic all-wheel-drive option, and I have driven it over the years several times, in good weather and bad, up in the mountains, out on the plains, and in the city, and I can personally attest that it is a classy, well-built car, perfect in the snow (a tank!), roomy, comfortable, powerful, with wonderful handling, and one that will hold its value over time. I wouldn’t hesitate, for instance, to buy an E-350 or E-320 4Matic that is several years old in the used car market. Indeed, I have made this recommendation to friends and acquaintances many times, a few times successfully, and these people still thank me.
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My love for the E-Class (you can get one in a sport wagon and with a bigger engine) is what leads me to believe this GLK 350 is among the best vehicles on the market today.

First of all, it is a small SUV, a type of vehicle I like very much, but what really hit me right off the bat was that it is very much like the E-Class sedan. Pretty much the same size, or at least feel, with the same engine so it is more than proven in the marketplace, and sitting in the driver’s seat and actually driving it it has the same kind of handling and feel. So, right there it is on my favorite list. But what really struck me was the value: The 2011 E-350 sedan carries a base price of $49,400, and then you add in the 4Matic feature for another $2,500; the GLK 350, on the other hand, carries a base price of just $35,500, with the 4Matic option available for another $2,000. You’re looking here at a $14,000-plus price difference for a vehicle, I believe, of the same quality and performance characteristics.

Now, as I said the GLK has the same feel as the E-350, but there are some differences, I discovered. They each carry 268 hp, which in both feels more powerful, however the sedan carries a relatively significant advantage in miles-per-gallon: the GLK goes 16/21 mpg city/highway (with AWD), while the sedan is rated at 18/26 (no AWD). The GLK is a bit heavier – 3979 lbs. verses 3825 lbs. For wheelbase, the E is 113.1″ versus 108.5″, and the E is longer – 191.7″ versus 178.2″. Also, and as you might expect, the GLK, as an SUV, was taller – 66.9″ versus 57.7″ – and had more ground clearance – 7.9″ versus 4.1″.

So there are differences which might explain the price variance, but to be honest I didn’t see it. I have driven the E this year (a 2010 model), and loved it, but the GLK just felt every bit as substantial, and by every visceral measure just as valuable, which, of course, makes it at the price difference much more valuable.

I loved everything about the GLK. The engine is powerful and responsive with a 7-speed automatic transmission that is very smooth. I loaded it up with people and golf clubs, drove it on mountain stretches, and never felt it tire or struggle. The GLK is also one of the more quiet vehicles I have ever driven, a true sign of luxury, and the panorama sunroof (part of an option package) is cool beyond belief – it opens fully up front, is glass over the back seat, and there is an automatic sliding cover for the whole thing.

The GLK handles beautifully, as well. Many small SUVs handle like trucks, with a limited turning radius, and they feel top-heavy and tippy. Not the GLK – it corners great, with very little lean, is nimble in traffic, easy to park, and has great visibility.

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I especially liked the look of the vehicle. It’s a little boxy, but has a light appearance, very trim, and is easy to get in and out of – up front and for the rear-seat passengers. If there was one negative, it was the room in the rear deck. This area, behind a very easy-to-use, automatic liftgate, was not quite wide enough or deep enough for my golf bag, so I was forced to lower the 40 part of the 60/40 split rear seat to accommodate the bags. For almost everything else – luggage, groceries, gear – the space was quite adequate, and this wouldn’t be a deal breaker.

My test-drive model was Mars Red – a very bright, handsome color, which I recommend – and featured beautiful, and quite comfortable, almond/black leather upholstery. The base price, with 4Matic, was $36,600 on the sticker, and they added on another $9,000 with a variety of things that included many luxury items, among them a Multimedia package that included a Harmon Kardon stereo (wonderful), Sirrius satellite radio, DVD with 7″ screen, a 6-gi hard drive for music, navigation, iPod interface – the works.

The bottom line is that this GLK carried a sticker of $45,665, nearly $15,000 less than a similarly equipped E-350, which, for my money, makes this the best value in any vehicle on the market today.

The GLK 350 is my new favorite vehicle, and will for now be the answer to all those questions I get.

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