2014 Mercedes-Benz GLK-Class Driving Impressions

We've driven all variants of the 2014 Mercedes-Benz GLK and found them to be delightful, whether on winding roads or open highways. They're easy to drive, smooth and well-controlled, not floaty (like a Lexus RX, for example). They also feel stable at high speeds; our co-driver felt sufficiently comfortable to cruise at 95 mph on a winding Interstate through West Virginia while carrying on a conversation.

Handling is responsive, and because of its sedan-based architecture, the GLK drives like a car with a slightly higher seating position, which is why crossovers have become such compelling choices over traditional body-on-frame SUVs. We had no issues with the feel or responsiveness of the electromechanical steering, and we found the brakes easy to modulate for smooth, precise stops. Wind and road noise are well muted.

The GLK350 delivers plenty of power, and arguably leads the class in terms of acceleration performance. The GLK350 4MATIC goes from 0-60 mph in just 6.4 seconds according to Mercedes-Benz North America. It's 3.5-liter V6 makes 302 hp at and 273 pound-feet of torque. That's more than the Acura RDX with its 3.5-liter V6 that makes 273 horsepower 251 lb.-ft. of torque, as well as the comparably priced BMW X3 xDrive28i, with its inline-6 that makes 240 hp 221 lb.-ft. The turbocharged X3 xDrive35i delivers 300 horsepower at 5800 rpm and 300 pound-feet of torque at 1300-5000 rpm, but its base price is more than the GLK350.

The 7-speed automatic transmission is smooth and responsive. We felt no need to use the semi-manual shifting features. We put it in Drive and it shifted up and down smoothly and correctly on winding roads peppered with elevation changes.

Mercedes-Benz's 4Matic all-wheel drive system improves traction and stability in slippery conditions. It's not only good for snow and ice, but also for wet pavement or on unpaved roads.

Despite gas-saving technology like a stop/start function, fuel economy falls a bit short for the 2014 GLK350 with 18/25 mpg on 2WD versions and City/Highway and 19/25 mpg City/Highway with all-wheel-drive. By comparison, the Acura RDX AWD gets an EPA-estimated 19/27 mpg, while the BMW X3 is EPA-rated at 19/26 mpg.

Most efficient is the GLK250 Bluetec diesel. Introduced late in the 2013 model year, it uses a four-cylinder diesel engine designed to meet strict U.S. emissions regulations. The 2.2-liter turbocharged diesel is rated 190 hp and 369 lb.-ft. of torque, which kicks in low between 1600 and 1800 rpm. It's mated to the same 7-speed automatic as the GLK350 and comes only with 4Matic all-wheel drive.

For road trips and long freeway commutes, we're a fan of the GLK250's clean-diesel engine, which offers plenty of range and low-end grunt and an EPA-estimated 24/33 mpg City/Highway, making it the most fuel-friendly choice of the GLK lineup.

Though the characteristic ticking of the diesel engine was audible from outside the vehicle and in the cabin at lower speeds, we didn't find it obtrusive. Acceleration is smoother and quieter than one might expect, and the low-end torque typical of diesels didn't disappoint.

Several tire and wheel sizes are available on the GLK. We couldn't tell much difference on the road in ride quality, feel or handling between the 19-inch and 20-inch sizes. Clearly, the engineers did a great job with suspension tuning and tire choices.

A number of safety features come standard or optional on the GLK. Attention Assist can alert a drowsy driver with an audible alert and a warning message on the dash and a coffee cup icon in the instrument cluster. It's a good feature, though the cars we drove always seemed to be displaying the coffee cup icon. Blind Spot Assist warns the driver another vehicle is alongside whenever the turn signals are used; Active Blind Spot Assist actually corrects the driver's input if he or she tries to steer a car in the adjoining lane. Lane Keeping Assist vibrates the steering wheel when the driver drifts out of his or her lane. Active Lane Keeping Assist adds an intervention feature, correcting the car's course if the driver doesn't heed the initial warning.

Parking is made easy with the optional backup camera and audible sensors to help drivers avoid obstacles while parking. For those who want the car to park itself, the Active Parking Assist will steer the car automatically into a parallel parking spot; the driver just works the gas and brakes.

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