Coldly uninvolving no longer - Mercedes-Benz Forum

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post #1 of 1 (permalink) Old 03-11-2009, 02:40 PM Thread Starter
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Coldly uninvolving no longer

(bworldonline.con) FOUR-WHEEL DRIVE and off-road are, no doubt, the stuff of Jeeps. But Mercedes Benz? They did make highly specialized four-wheel drive vehicles for the German military and after the war, they made the MB Trac farm tractor and the UNIMOG go-anywhere industrial pick-up.

The new breed of Mercedes is not only agile but also breeds a pleasant, hospitable feeling

We have the Jeep to thank for inspiring today’s popular Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV) segment, members of which are as numerous as the passenger car. SUVs embrace everything from the real deal off-road truck to crossovers, softroaders, SAVs, SAV coupes, mini-SUVs, pick-ups and compact SUVs. The original Jeep lives on in the Wrangler, staying true to its rough n’ tough credo with all the mod cons without the sin of emissions.

So when DaimlerChrysler still existed, all Mercedes had to do was grab a Jeep to expand its range of SUVs.

Even with the NATO issue Mercedes G-wagen and several classes of SUV (ML & GL), Mercedes did not have a compact SUV in the so-called premium compact SUV market. At 500,000 BMW X3s since its Malaga launch in 2003, Mercedes wasn’t going to let BMW take the whole pie. With the X3 defining the abilities and dimensions expected of this class of vehicle, Mercedes needed to meet BMW on its own terms and rebadging any Jeep was not the answer.

Code named X204 — 204 being the W204 third gen C-class sports sedan — the GLK enters a crowded field. There’s the Infiniti EX, Acura RDX, BMW X3, VW Tiguan and the Land Rover LR2 Freelander. Coming soon are the Audi Q5 and Volvo XC60. Lower down the price range, the high quality offerings from Japan — the Mitsubishi Outlander and the Subaru Forester — are too competent to ignore.

Based on the C-class wagon architecture, the GLK has the requisite rise in ground clearance and longer suspension travel, hill descent control, bigger brakes, all weather tires, skid plates and 4-MATIC. The 4-MATIC four-wheel-drive is more of an on-road rather than off-road system that electronically apportions torque delivery to where traction is best and where torque is needed most. This is indispensable in foul-weather driving. It has no differential locks nor low ratio transfer case, so don’t expect any snorkel breathing apparatus. Still, off-road purists are catered to as the GLK has a better than class average 23-degree approach angle, 25-degree departure angle and a 19-degree break-over angle. With customary Mercedes thoroughness, the GLK can ford 300mm deep floods.

The GLK looks like a small version of the full sized GL rather than the sleeker ML. It’s quite a vertical box, almost like the first gen Suzuki Vitara compact SUV. The windshield angle at 58 degrees is far steeper than the ML’s 50-degree tilt as a high perch was a priority in the design brief given to Messrs. Harald Pietschmann and Volker Hellwig. The standard C-class seats had to be ditched in favor of front seats with more backrest bolster to support an SUV-upright driving position.

The high mount dashboard shares the sharp-boxy-upright design theme looking like an evolution of the circa 1979 G-wagen. Our Sport Edition 1 test unit had an interesting aluminum plank on the dash that looked like seashore weathered wood. The Designo cream and black leather interior is quite a tactile treat even if the quality of plastics is more in keeping with Mercedes SUVs rather than its mainstream sedans.

This is a Mercedes so expect as many as nine airbags, which can be deployed selectively depending on the type and severity of the collision, in order to reduce the forces exerted on the occupants. A treat for night driving was the magical Headlight Assist "thinking" illumination that varies intensity with the degree of background light.

On the road, the GLK’s light-touch steering feels even nicer than the C-class sports sedan and adaptive "Agility Control" suspension makes it feel as car-like as a BMW X3. The vehicle dynamics and its upright proportions make punting the GLK in city traffic as easy as driving a little Fiat. Like the C-class ride, the 1,835-kg GLK banishes any abrupt vertical body movement that characterizes earlier BMW 3s & X3s. The F-1style square bottomed steering wheel and paddle shifters of the seven-speed Geartronic feel more sports car than sport ute.

In fact, the handling is in keeping with the overall quick-footed demeanor of the C-class as the GLK 280’s three-liter 231 hp V-6 turns in 0-100 km/h in the mid seven seconds. Pushed to split hairs between German engines, the V-6 is not as willing to rev to the limit like a BMW in-line six. NLEX EC-tag express-lane cruising yielded 11.36 km/liter on 95RON fuel. It’ll take a while before our diesel fuel sulfur levels improve so Stuttgart is holding off release of the even thriftier 187 hp 2.2-liter four and 224 hp 3.0 liter V6 diesel versions.

Like the C-class, the GLK, traditional supple Mercedes ride and all, is beyond the rational and efficient but coldly uninvolving Mercedes of old. The new breed of Mercedes is not only agile but also breeds a pleasant, hospitable feeling, something one doesn’t usually associate with the hard edges, boxy and upright proportions at least on first perusal. It’s all in the intricate weighting of controls where familiarity is almost instant, even if mastering the access to computer data can only be fun to twenty-something cyberfans.

GLKs arriving here are made in Bremen, Germany, while plants in Mexico City and Juiz de fora, Sao Paulo, Brazil will supply the American continent. The GLK was once the Vision Freeside concept two years ago and was supposed to spawn the Smart Formore version but that was axed. CATS Motors, Mercedes Benz importers, wisely bring two fully optioned versions — the Off Road with 17-inch wheels, black corner trim and accents where abrasion is prone — and a Sports Edition 1 with a 20-mm lower suspension, more chrome accents than black and 20-inch wheels. In both versions, the GLK shines as the SUV that can drive like a sports sedan and yet absorb bumps like a Mercedes should.

"If spending money you don't have is the height of stupidity, borrowing money to give it away is the height of insanity." -- anon
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