If many of you out there have found the crossover SUV niche a ridiculously pointless one, I perfectly understand your sentiments. I’ve always thought it’s a segment that’s neither here nor there, offering a lot less space than full-blown SUVs, but carrying price tags that are bigger than those of mid-size saloons. They cannot carry any more than four adults in comfort, and most of these being all-wheel drives, they aren’t great on fuel either. Baffling as it was initially, after sampling a few recent examples like the Audi Q3 and the Nissan Juke, I think I’ve started seeing the point.
Engineered right, a crossover SUV can be the closest thing to a sporty saloon when it comes to driving dynamics, making a perfect compromise for buyers who like SUV looks without the usual baggage of body roll, squat and dive. So when Daimler Middle East gave me the key to the 2013 Mercedes-Benz GLK 350 last weekend, I was eager to see how similar it was to the carmaker’s brilliant C 350 saloon.
Turns out they’re very similar. First, they share a platform. And surprisingly, the GLK’s 4,536mm overall length and 2,755mm wheelbase are in fact slightly smaller than those of the C 350 saloon’s. It’s wider though, and taller by more than 200mm. That means while the GLK matches the C-Class in manoeuvrability, it offers more room inside for passengers and cargo, with a more commanding view of the road.
For the 2013 update, the GLK’s looks have also been refreshed to bring it in line with the new Mercedes family look that we’ve seen in the new C-Class and bigger SUVs like the ML and the GL. Changes up front include a sleeker headlight design with an integrated LED strip, a revised radiator grille and a more chiselled front bumper with LED daytime running lights above the lower side vents. Meanwhile, the rear gets a new bumper, chrome exhaust tips and new taillights that are also embellished with LEDs now. These, along with a smattering of chrome give the GLK an aura of being bolder and more upscale than before.
The cabin also receives a host of significant upgrades. The dashboard has been reworked and had a generous dose of burled walnut in my test car, and featured new SLS-style circular brushed aluminium AC vents and LED ambient lighting. A 5.0in colour monitor takes pride of place on the dashboard while the gear lever has been moved from the centre console and is now in stalk form on the steering column, just like in the flagship S-Class saloon.
Well-bolstered mocha brown leather seats do their job quite well by hugging you tight around bends and keeping you fresh and fatigue-free on the highway. Front legroom is good enough for six-footers. The same can’t be said about the rear seats though, which could feel a bit crammed with two tall people occupying the front. The updates are not just cosmetic.
Under the bonnet is the same new 3.5-litre direct-injection V6 that we loved in the
C 350 saloon. With 306bhp at 6,500rpm and 370Nm of torque available from 3,500rpm, it helps the GLK reach the benchmark 100kph figure in just 6.5 seconds. Now built with a 60-degree banking instead of the previous 90-degrees, it’s a smooth operator that sends power to all four wheels via a seven-speed automatic transmission. It also features a minimally intrusive stop-start mode for better fuel economy, which incidentally is quite impressive for a 1,845kg crossover, averaging slightly over 10 litres-per-100km.
The best bit about GLK is its manoeuvrability around town. The new electromechanical steering allows effortless turning at traffic U-turns and while slotting it into a tight parking space. It also adapts brilliantly to increasing speeds, tightening up for better feedback. In fact, the new GLK handles more like a C-Class than an SUV. While the suspension is soft enough to smoothen out bumps and potholes, it resolutely keeps the car planted around corners.
A lot of kit comes standard in the GCC package, including reversing camera, a panoramic sunroof, Comand online, AMG sports package for the exterior and the interior, rubber-studded aluminium-look running boards and active parking assist with Parktronic. However, the diamond white metallic bright paint on our tester was a Dh5,300 option, while the mocha brown leather upholstery costs Dh5,640. Add Dh3,400 and you can spec your ride with the same 20in AMG five-twin-spoke alloy wheels you see here. However, these options take the Dh190K GLK to an altogether different price range. So it’s up to you whether you want to tick those boxes or not.
The 2013 GLK might look like a mild update, but it is a huge step up from the previous model, and with its C-Class-like handling and that peach of a V6 under its bonnet, makes a strong enough case for a small crossover SUV. Even if you’re one of those who still don’t see the point, go give the GLK 350 a try, it might well change the way you look at crossovers forever.