Luxury brands have gone all-in on compact crossovers, and Mercedes-Benz fields its own GLK-Class in the pitched battle that pits X3 against Q5, SRX against LR2. New in 2010, the GLK is essentially unchanged for the 2012 model year, carrying over its surprisingly carlike handling and tall-wagon packaging.
The GLK delivers the usual blend of strong performance and flexibility, but its buff, rugged appearance casts a conservative shadow. It takes the opposite tack of crossovers like the Q5, the SRX, and Volvo's XC60, and even avers from the softer look adopted by the larger, American-made Mercedes M-Class. The GLK's a clean, distinctive-looking ute, but its styling is something we've had to let grow on us. While the same angular ideas work well on the bigger GL-Class ute, on the small GLK they remind us more of some smaller, lackluster efforts like older Mitsubishi Outlanders and Subaru Foresters. The same doesn't hold true inside, where a dash strikes a more Germanic tone, though it's dressed in some plastics that could bear another layer of refinement. The layout's straightforward, though, and there's a wide swath of wood trim to dress it up.
A turbodiesel's still on hold, so the GLK remains available with a single drivetrain. Its 268-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 engine earns it a GLK350 badge, and gets teamed with a seven-speed automatic and 4MATIC four-wheel drive, which uses anti-lock brakes to dampen wheelspin. The drivetrain's strong enough to give the roughly 4, 100-pound GLK quite good acceleration of 6.7 seconds to 60 mph, and the GLK feels relaxed and swift in everyday driving. On-road performance is striking for its car-like cadence: the GLK scoots to speed quickly, corners neatly, and its steering has the kind of heft and accuracy we like in four-door sedans. The GLK's suspension is tuned to be taut but well damped; it doesn't allow much body motion, but soaks up most roughness while the cabin stays tight and quiet. It's not anything like a hardcore off-roader, but its 4WD system will cut its way through foul weather, delivering power smoothly through muddy ruts and tackling the usual all-weather challenges pretty easily.
Interior room and cargo space are ample in the 2012 GLK. The front seats are supportive and nicely tailored, and finding a comfortable driving position isn't difficult, even for taller drivers. Knee room is fine in the second-row seat, and the angular roofline preserves head room, too. The rear seats fold forward to expand the GLK's cargo bin, leaving 54.7 cubic feet of space if just two passengers are present. The standard upholstery in the GLK is a synthetic, and most passengers will never know the difference; leather is, of course, an option.
The GLK's standard-equipment list leaves no question that it's a luxury vehicle. It includes 19-inch wheels, dual-zone automatic climate control, power front seats, a panoramic sunroof, and Bluetooth connectivity. A six-CD changer, Sirius Satellite Radio; a rear-seat, twin-screen DVD entertainment system; a power liftgate; a navigation system; bi-xenon headlamps with washers; LED taillights; and 20-inch wheels are among the options. For the new model year, Mercedes has-hallelujah!-relocated the USB port from the glove box to the center console.