2nd Place: 2013 Mercedes-Benz GLK 350, by Jeff Wilson

2013 Mercedes-Benz GLK 350
2013 Mercedes-Benz GLK 350
2013 Mercedes-Benz GLK 350. Click image to enlarge

The rest of the compact luxury SUVs in this test seem to have styling inspired by garden vegetables and dinner rolls. An Infiniti Turnip here; an Audi Crusty Bun there.  Not so the GLK 350, which is clearly a mechanical beast, rugged and macho with its purposeful stance and hard edges.

It’s no surprise then that our GLK 350 tester was the runaway favourite for exterior styling in this group.  Although updated for 2013, the GLK is still immediately recognizable as not only the son of Gelandewagen with its military-precise creases, but assuredly a Mercedes-Benz thanks to its dinner plate–sized three-pointed star on the grille.  This latter point is of immeasurable importance when showing off for the neighbours or tossing the keys to the valet at your favourite fancy restaurant.

Inside the little Benz is a looker too.  A broad swath of gorgeous dark stained ash spans the dashboard and contrasts brilliantly with the circular metallic vents reminiscent of a sniper’s reticle.  While the Infiniti and Acura’s interior may offer a more modern-looking and high-tech cockpit, there is simplicity and classic, unmistakable Benz-ness here.  The shape and support of the seats ensure they will be comfortable for a broad spectrum of driver shapes and sizes, and like the rest of the interior materials, simply feel as if they’ve been hewn from solid stuff.

It takes more than sexy styling to woo this crowd, though, and the Benz delivers on performance, too.  Winning the drivetrain category against some very impressive competition, the venerable 302-hp V6 is smooth and strong, and makes a sophisticated soundtrack without being loud.  Plus, with the Eco start/stop function, the GLK achieved an average consumption rate of 12.8 L/100 km – just barely behind the smaller and much less powerful BMW turbocharged four-cylinder.

The seven-speed automatic transmission shifts cleanly and is well matched for the engine, keeping revs (and consumption) down when possible, but quick to call up the power when needed.

Despite a new Agility Control suspension designed to deliver a more supple ride than the previous generation GLK, this ute still produces what I found to be the firmest ride (though consensus pegs the RDX as least comfortable), also largely attributed to the handsome, but impractically large 20-inch wheels.  This firmness, coupled with a granite-like platform rigidity, produces a planted feel on the road and makes for an overall sense of quality and solidity.  Though it’s unlikely many GLKs will ever venture further off-road than the gravel cottage laneway, it feels as if it could take a serious pounding without complaint, delicate wheels notwithstanding.

2013 Mercedes-Benz GLK 3502013 Mercedes-Benz GLK 3502013 Mercedes-Benz GLK 3502013 Mercedes-Benz GLK 350
2013 Mercedes-Benz GLK 350. Click image to enlarge

The GLK 350 is a strong performer across the board, either winning or placing mid-pack in every crucial area.  Its distinctive squared-off shape serves passengers well for both ingress and egress and provides great sightlines for parking without the dependency on rearview cameras as with some of the GLK’s competitors.

Once nestled inside, a pair of rear passengers are as likely to find comfort in the little Benz as in the Audi or larger Acura (and notably better than in the Infiniti).  With three side-by-side, none of these SUVs will provide Escalade-sized spaciousness, but the GLK ranked average in this group, as it did in cargo space.

The GLK 350 wins one more blue ribbon in this group, claiming the most votes for ‘emotional appeal’.  With its good looks, tremendous powertrain and, of course, that legendary Mercedes-Benz brand cachet, is it any wonder?

Pricing: 2013 Mercedes-Benz GLK 350 4Matic
Base price (GLK 350 4Matic): $44,900
Options: Driving Assistance Package – $800; Bi-Xenon Headlamps Package – $1,000; COMAND Navigation Package – $2,400; Premium Package – $3,600; Diamond Silver Paint – $890
Freight: $2,075
A/C Tax: $100
Price as tested: $55,765

Observed fuel consumption: 12.8 L/100 km

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