First drive: Mercedes-Benz GLK 2009 in Oman
Mercedes-Benz launched the 2009 GLK-Class soft-roader at a 2-day all-expenses-paid press event in Oman.
In these difficult economic times and in the midst of car company meltdowns, launching a new model, especially in the premium segment, is a bold step from Daimler when others like GM have dropped their, admittedly large, SUVs from their product range. Bear in mind that this small SUV is a new model n the market. This should imply, given the economic context that sales would in fact be sales that would otherwise have gone to their competitors. Even the number of competitors has increased to include Volvo (XC60) and Audi (Q5) in addition to BMW (X3) and Land Rover (LR2). One could say that this model is launched late to the market, and I am sure Daimler had reasons for not entering the segment before, but it simply makes sense to enter this segment now, rather than any other time.
The car itself is styled in an aggressively boxy way, borrowed from the G and GL models. Incidentally, it may also be Daimler’s way to segregate this model from the ML, which was not successful, and also not to cannibalize ML sales. We liked the styling, as it did not appear too butch, whilst not appearing to “soft” or girly. In standard trim, the 19 inch wheels look smart and make the car appear smaller than it really is at 4.5m long and 1.7m tall. Also appreciated was the detailing: in the mirrors, the light clusters, the crease lines (better seen on darker colours) and the bold grille mean that the car is nice from far, and nice from near also.
Attractive as the styling is from the front and sides, the rear styling is bland and not instantly distinctive, bar the 3-pointed star. If one did not know better, it could easily be mistaken for any other small SUV. The size also makes it easy to park, secure in the knowledge that the car is based on the C Class platform and hence not much bigger than a regular saloon. The window sills are nice and low so that all round visibility is good. A recommended cosmetic option is the side steps, which also add a bit of convenience to those who are vertically challenged.
The body feels solid and this extends to the excellent fit and finish of the interior. However, the styling of the exterior is echoed within and the look seems dated. Otherwise, the interior contain many highlights: the buttons all operating with the same effort, the traditional Merc handbrake and paddle shifters for the gearbox. A COMAND system control where the handbrake would have been in a regular car, a well positioned LCD screen and auxiliary inputs at the rear are options that should be specified when ordering as they do work well with the car’s intended function. Not liked about the interior was the black headliner making the interior cramped. This was negated to an extent by the twin-sunroofs which lift the interior when the covers are rolled back.
The front is spacious and the seats are comfortable and supportive, however, it failed the sit behind self test of my 6 foot frame. However, given the target buyer of young families with 1-2 children, one could argue that it fulfills its purpose, so that test is irrelevant. It is still cramped at the back (horizontally), even for the shorter folks. Cabin noise was well controlled, especially road noise from the low profile 19 inch tires. The boot is well trimmed with a first aid kit and triangle in traditional Merc fashion, but also included a cargo net and a foldable plastic box. The loading sill is impractical aluminium strips that will undoubtedly scuff when used for its purpose. The bootlid has an electric closing function.
Two engines are on offer, 3.0 and 3.5 V6 engines are the only ones available. No prospective plans are made to develop an AMG model, but surely if one is made, it will be made available in the Middle East. We only sampled the GLK 280, containing the 3.0 V6 and it offers are surprising amount of power given the weight of 1830kg as long as you don’t expect supercar performance from it. It has a throaty growl when pushed, yet refined when cruising or pottering around town. I mentioned the paddle shifters earlier and whilst ergonomic they are totally pointless in this car given the gearlever also has a tipshift function. Nevertheless, both are connected to a 7 speed gearbox which is smooth and seems to know exactly what you want from it, as long as you leave it alone and don’t fiddle. Some may consider that feel is steering feel lacking, but one just has to be a bit more sensitive to feel what the wheels are doing.
The ride was so comfortable on dirt roads that even my peer, who suffers from the slipped disc in his back was happy to drive at high speed down a serious dirt road, and at one point even compared the ride to a Land Cruiser in similar conditions. Thereafter, town driving on smooth asphalt seemed almost like an insult to the development gone into the suspension. Hustling the car through some fast highway sweepers; in Dubai, this could be equated with those giant roundabouts dotted throughout the city, it is truly impressive how agile and drivable the car is. I must recommend that if the car is to be used on the road more than off, keep the standard tyres, or specify the 20 inch rims, as I discovered that when running on the 17 inch off road tyre the car does tend to get the typical SUV “floaty” feeling.
The vehicle’s capability offroad for those who are interested are very good. Some experts that accompanied us commented that the car exceeded their expectations. It does have the necessary gadgets to handle tough terrain. Unfortunately, we were not able to test the vehicle in desert sand, as we could not find any in Salalah.
The car is priced at market rates at Dhs 171,000 for the GLK280 in standard trim and Dhs 180,000 for the GLK 350.
Overall, we enjoyed driving the car, even though SUVs are not particularly liked: it shows that you do not have to be in a particularly fast or sporty car to enjoy driving. This car capable of handling most traffic situations with ease, that even driving nearly 6 hours was not a hassle at all. Mercedes has done their homework and listened to their customers. It scores 7 out of 10.