Cars

Mercedes-Benz GLK 350 gets an update

The term “mid-cycle refresh” gets thrown around a lot in automotive circles. It is when a carmaker updates a vehicle halfway through its generation so as not to let it get long in the tooth.

Sometimes those mid-cycle refreshes are subtle tweaks to keep the sales numbers going while a successor is being developed. This is not the case with 2013 Mercedes- Benz GLK-Class. With more than a thousand new parts, this update is carefully thought out and significant.

At first glance, the car’s design continues the same upright, blocky silhouette shared by the rest of the Mercedes-Benz crossover and SUV lineup. However, upon further examination, the new LED headlights, revised lower front grille, and new taillight clusters that feature LEDs and fiber optics become standout visual updates.

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Changes might appear to be subtle, but each new element is a thoughtful application of Mercedes- Benz’s current styling trends. It is when you get behind the wheel that you see just how extensive the revisions are to the GLK.

The interior is an impressive update, highlighted by the burled walnut trim inserts and classic crosshair-style vents. Available ambient lighting provides amber LED accents hidden below the wood trim. Purely from a design perspective, it is a must-have option. These elements conspire to provide all five occupants with a modern interior that captures the true essence of luxury motoring.

As part of the new interior, the shifter has been moved to the steering column, allowing for more usable space in the center console. Interestingly, it does not feature your typical P-R-N-D layout. Perhaps this is to distance it from the column shifters found on American luxury barges of decades past.

On this unit, a tap down puts it in drive, a tap up puts it in reverse, and depressing the button at the end of the stock shifts it into park. This can get confusing, as more than one journalist on our media drive thought the shifter to be the wiper toggle and shifted into neutral while driving. We spent only three days in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains with this vehicle; I expect owners will quickly get used to this feature, but letting a friend borrow the car will require a short tutorial.

The 2013 GLK is filled with the latest incar tech, including Blind Spot Assist, Lane Keeping Assist, Distronic Adaptive Cruise Control, and Attention Assist.

Of note, Attention Assist can tell if you are falling asleep and then alerts you to pull over and get some rest. This system develops a unique profile for the driver within the first 20 minutes of driving. Once that profile is established, it monitors for erratic driving, and compares that to time of day and amount of time spent driving. Contrary to rumors, it does not use cameras to monitor your eyes, but it is accurate enough that you may think it does.

Winding through the Blue Ridge Mountains in the GLK, dozing off was never an issue. The GLK350 starts at $37,070 and features a 3.5-liter V6. It uses direct injection and active stop/start technology to develop more power and consume less fuel. Its 302 horsepower output is an improvement of 34 horsepower, very noticeable when climbing hills and getting up to speed on the highway.

Power is sent through a new seven-speed automatic transmission to the rear wheels or all-wheel-drive in the 4MATIC model, which fetches $39,070. Despite the fuel-saving efforts, expect fuel economy to be in the low 20’s in mixed driving. If that fuel consumption is not to your liking, fret not; a highly efficient, diesel-powered Bluetec model is slated to hit dealerships in early 2013.

Enough about engines. I’m boring you, and you may need Attention Assist even at the kitchen table. Other important notes: The GLK is one inch lower, one inch longer, and the ride is considerably smoother. It coasts along the highway without fuss, soaks up bumps in the road, but can still take a corner with some enthusiasm.

For some, the blocky, upright styling may call to mind a more off-road-oriented vehicle, but the aforementioned activities embody the real world uses of the GLK. The updates made to the vehicle leave it beyondcurrent, and make it an instant front-runner in the compact luxury crossover pack.

Any automaker can throw a lot of technology at a car and call it a day. True craftsmanship is the ability to integrate these features into a package that will have an appealing aesthetic long after the tech features are cutting-edge. With the 2013 GLK-Class, Mercedes-Benz has done just that.

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