It really doesn’t matter which vehicle wins this comparison test, for as cliché as it sounds, it’s the Canadian consumers shopping this segment who are winning. Both of these compact luxury utility vehicles are outstanding. Each is an overachiever in fuel efficiency, yet gives up little in the name of style, all-season practicality or comfort. In fact, we as North Americans should be getting down on our knees and thanking BMW and Mercedes for finally bringing really good – and reasonably priced – diesel offerings to our shores.
To put it another way, I really, really like these two little rigs, and I generally dislike sport utility vehicles with considerable intensity.
Last year I spent a week driving the then-new diesel offering in the compact Mercedes-Benz GLK 250 Bluetec and fell in love with it, calling it an absolute winner in the compact luxury crossover field.
So when word came that BMW wanted to join the party with a diesel version of their popular X3 compact “sport activity vehicle”, calls were placed and emails sent to set this comparison in motion.
2015 BMW X3 xDrive28d vs 2015 Mercedes-Benz GLK 250 Bluetec. Click image to enlarge
Hey, I get it, styling is a subjective thing, no debate here. But sometimes the look of a vehicle just puts it head and shoulders above the rest of the competition, standing out as a beauty amongst the beasts, like spotting Charlize Theron in an Oklahoma Walmart.
Between these two, there really isn’t a clear winner. Each one is handsome and wears the family face well, but they’re utility vehicles, not sleek coupes, and so “sexy” is not a descriptive one would toss around when discussing the GLK or X3.
Both vehicles are in their second generation now and although BMW’s refresh happened two years earlier (2011 for North America), it was a much more thorough overhaul. Consequently the X3 with its strong X5 resemblance is the more contemporarily styled machine.
It takes a keen eye to spot the differences in appearance between a 2012 GLK and a 2013 model. The lights, front and rear, are the only immediate giveaway, with even the wheels fitted to my press car having been around for the previous generation.
And yet, despite wearing essentially the same duds it showed up to the party with in 2010, it’s still my preferred style of the two. It’s square-jawed and purposeful in a class that’s usually shaped after organic food things. It does not require one to squint too much to see the GL-Class or even G-Wagen lineage here, and of course, for those buying a premium product, the huge three-pointed star on the nose declares to all that you’re most certainly not driving some plebian brand car.
Inside, the Benz takes the lead and runs with it. Clearly the older design of the two, the GLK’s dashboard is dressed in high quality materials, highlighted by the broad swath of dark-stained, high gloss wood and distinct circular vents.
2015 BMW X3 xDrive28d, 2015 Mercedes-Benz GLK 250 Bluetec dashboard & navigation. Click image to enlarge
By comparison, the BMW lacks some of the luxury feel, though giving up nothing in actual quality of switchgear. It’s just that the Bimmer’s designers decided that rather than a luxurious and stylish accent, they’d simply present a wall of soft-touch, expensive looking plastic dashboard material with a small splash of cold, aluminum trim. The centre console is dominated by brushed aluminum, which is likely to give drivers and passengers a few tactile surprises if the car has been sitting in either the blazing sun or frigid winter weather. BMW’s pleather seats do a less convincing job of trickery than the Benz’s faux bovine Artico hides.
This GLK was my driving companion’s first time piloting a Mercedes and he claimed that it delivered on his expectation of what a Benz should be: solid and luxurious. The BMW, he suggested, could be rebadged as a modern day Korean brand and not surprise him. This is intended less as an insult to the BMW and more a credit to how far the Korean brands have come, but does speak to a lack of individuality or specialness the GLK possesses.