2013 Mercedes-Benz GLK250 BlueTec First Drive: Introduction

2013 Mercedes-Benz GLK250 BlueTec First Drive: Introduction

Mercedes-Benz debuted an updated and upgraded 2013 GLK-Class SUV earlier this year, as a GLK350 model with a gasoline V-6 engine and a choice between rear-wheel and 4-wheel drive, the latter iteration dubbed 4Matic. Now, a more fuel-efficient 2013 Mercedes GLK250 BlueTec model has arrived in showrooms, equipped with a twin-turbocharged clean diesel 4-cylinder engine that delivers, according to Mercedes, the best fuel economy in its class, and without a price penalty compared to the GLK350.

Mercedes is no stranger to diesel engines, and its modern BlueTec powertrains combine plenty of torque with impressive mileage. In fact, of all Mercedes models sold in the U.S., 6% are equipped with a BlueTec turbo-diesel engine, a percentage that is sure to climb following the debuts this fall of the 2014 E250 BlueTec Sedan and the refreshed 2014 Sprinter full-size van, each of which will share an engine with the GLK250 BlueTec.

Given the enhancements made to the GLK-Class for the 2013 model year and that the GLK250’s turbo-diesel engine is destined to become a workhorse in the Mercedes lineup, we accepted the automaker’s invitation to learn more about and to take a short test drive in the newest member of the BlueTec family.

2013 Mercedes-Benz GLK250 BlueTec First Drive: Models and Prices

The 2013 Mercedes-Benz GLK250 BlueTec is equipped with standard 4Matic 4-wheel drive and costs $39,495, including a destination charge of $905. That’s $500 less than a GLK350 4Matic, which means there is no price penalty for selecting the turbo-diesel variant.

In addition to 4Matic, the GLK250 BlueTec is equipped with 19-inch aluminum wheels, LED running lights, and dark tinted rear privacy glass. Inside, this Mercedes SUV includes burl walnut wood interior trim, dual-zone automatic climate control, a 10-way power front passenger’s seat, a power tilt-and-telescopic steering wheel, and a cargo cover. Bluetooth connectivity with music streaming capability is also standard, along with HD Radio, a USB port, an auxiliary audio input jack, and a 6-month trial subscription to mBrace2 service.

Everything else is optional, and Mercedes says most buyers select the Premium 1 Package ($3,450 – panoramic sunroof, power liftgate, satellite radio with 6 months of service, MP3 media interface, auto-dimming interior mirror, auto-dimming driver’s side mirror, compass, universal garage door opener, 115-volt household-style power outlet in cargo area) and the Appearance Package ($990 – 5-spoke aluminum wheels, aluminum roof rails).

In addition to these popular selections, Mercedes offers a Leather Package ($2,100 – leather seats, premium interior lighting, comfort head restraints, 10-way power front passenger’s seat), a Multi-Media Package ($2,790 – navigation system with 7-inch dashboard display and 10GB hard-drive music register with Gracenote media database, satellite traffic and weather information, CD/DVD player, SD card reader, enhanced voice control technology, reversing camera), and an AMG Styling Package ($1,990 – Appearance Package with AMG bumper and body styling).

Safety-related technologies are grouped into three different option packages. The Lighting Package ($1,290) contains bi-Xenon headlights with Active Curve Illumination, Adaptive Highbeam Assist, and headlamp washers. The Lane Tracking Package ($850) is affordable, and recommended, given that it contains Blind Spot Assist and Lane Keeping Assist. Active versions of these systems are offered in the Driver Assistance Package ($2,950), which also includes Distronic Plus adaptive cruise control with Pre-Safe Brake, and Pre-Safe predictive occupant protection technology.

Separately available options for the GLK250 BlueTec include Parktronic with Active Parking Assist ($970), a 510-watt Harmon/Kardon premium audio system with 11 speakers ($810), heated front seats ($750), metallic paint ($720), brushed aluminum running boards ($670), Keyless Go passive entry with push-button ignition ($650), and a trailer hitch ($550). Mercedes dealers also offer accessories and service plans, among them a set of 20-inch aluminum wheels ($2,700) and a rear-seat entertainment system ($1,250).

Clearly, if you’re not careful with the options menu, you can significantly increase the price of a GLK250 BlueTec.

2013 Mercedes-Benz GLK250 BlueTec First Drive: Styling and Design

Mercedes says the GLK is restyled inside and out, but it takes a trained eye to spot the differences, as the SUV retains its signature boxy silhouette. Up front, the bumper, grille, and headlights are new, and the GLK gets standard LED running lights in front. Around the back, the bumper is updated and new LED taillights are added. A choice between three 19-inch aluminum wheel designs is offered from the factory.

Inside, the 2013 GLK gets a new steering wheel, a freshened dashboard with color instrumentation, and a broad plank of Burl Walnut wood punctuated by bold, circular, art-deco-style air vents. The gear selector moves to the steering column, taking the form of the Direct Select lever found in other Mercedes products, and in its place in the center console there is a storage bin with a tamboured sliding door to keep valuables from prying eyes. Ambient cabin lighting is a new option for 2013.

The net effect of the styling and design updates is a positive one, especially inside the vehicle, but the enormous silver plastic “mouth” that is a part of the AMG Styling Package (seen in the photos) is far too large on what is a small vehicle. Good thing it’s optional.

2013 Mercedes-Benz GLK250 BlueTec First Drive: Comfort and Controls

Though the GLK250 BlueTec’s interior remains angular in theme, the new dashboard elements give the cabin a distinctive and modern flavor. While driving along Sunset Boulevard in Beverly Hills, I noted the quality of the GLK’s materials. While running west on the Ventura Freeway, I discovered how quiet and solidly constructed the GLK is. And when passing through Malibu’s mountain tunnels, I marveled at the clarity and brilliance of the gauge cluster lighting. Unquestionably, the GLK250 BlueTec looks, sounds, and feels good on the inside.

Still, there is room for improvement. I like to sit high, with lots of thigh support, and I couldn’t get that combination from the GLK’s 10-way power adjustable driver’s seat. I also like side bolstering that helps to hold me in place when taking a corner with enthusiasm, which a small German SUV with standard 19-inch wheels encourages, but the GLK’s front chairs lack bolstering for lateral support, making it difficult to take full advantage of dynamic capabilities. I’m also a fan of looking at a dashboard or a display screen and figuring out where something is and how it operates with a minimum of effort, but when I glance at the controls on the GLK’s center stack, all I can muster is a muttered “Duh,” and not just because they’re located so far down on the center stack as to cause distraction.

And don’t get me started on the number of control stalks jutting from the GLK’s steering column, three of which are grouped together on the left side. I couldn’t make power steering column adjustments without accidentally engaging the cruise control.

Space for passengers, cargo and storage is at a premium. The rear seat itself is comfortable, but taller people’ legs come into full contact with the SUV’s hard front seatbacks. There aren’t many places to stash stuff in this vehicle, and the cargo space measures on the small side. Behind the 60/40-split folding rear seats, the GLK provides 23.3 cu.-ft. of cargo space, and with them folded down the little Benz sport-ute swallows 54.7 cu.-ft. of cargo.

2013 Mercedes-Benz GLK250 BlueTec First Drive: Safety and Technology

With Mbrace2 technology, which is standard for every GLK model and includes 6 free months of service when you buy or lease one, owners can take advantage of a wide variety of services and conveniences.

For example, Mbrace2 operates mobile applications via a paired smartphone and the COMAND system inside the vehicle; provides concierge, roadside assistance, and emergency services; and allows an owner to remotely monitor or find the vehicle, perform diagnostic checks, and to send a destination to the navigation system. Owners with young drivers in the household can also program geographic boundaries and maximum speed alerts, and with Mercedes-Benz Apps, Google Local Search, Facebook updates, and more are accessible right from the COMAND screen.

If they’re willing to spend some extra coin, Mercedes-Benz GLK buyers can benefit from several safety and infotainment technologies, most of which are included in one of the GLK’s numerous option packages. To equip a GLK250 BlueTec with a navigation system, a premium Harmon/Kardon audio system, push-button ignition, a reversing camera, active bi-Xenon headlights with automatic high-beams, lane departure warning and blind spot information systems, adaptive cruise control, and pre-collision preparation technology requires an outlay amounting to nearly $11,300. And that sum does not include an Active Park Assist system. Load a GLK250 BlueTec with all of these goodies, and the price rises to $52,405.

The reality is that you don’t need most of this stuff. My recommendation is to get the Multimedia Package, get the Lane Tracking Package, get the upgraded Harmon/Kardon audio, and spend the rest of your budget on leather, heated front seats, and metallic paint, keeping the window sticker under $51,000. And rest easy knowing that the 2013 Mercedes GLK-Class is rated a “Top Safety Pick” by the IIHS.

2013 Mercedes-Benz GLK250 BlueTec First Drive: Engines and Fuel Economy

The heart of the 2013 Mercedes GLK250 BlueTec is its new 2.1-liter, twin-turbocharged, clean diesel 4-cylinder engine. This B5 bio-diesel-compatible powerplant generates 200 horsepower at 3,800 rpm, which might not sound very impressive in a 4,321-pound SUV. Let’s not forget about torque output, which measures a healthy 369 lb.-ft. between 1,600 and 1,800 rpm.

Translated, the GLK250 BlueTec feels plenty quick, and Mercedes claims it will accelerate to 60 mph in 7.9 seconds while returning 24 mpg in the city and 33 mpg on the highway for a total range of more than 500 miles. I averaged 28.2 mpg in a mix of driving that was heavily skewed to city and mountain roads, which bodes very well for the accuracy of those quoted figures.

A 7-speed automatic transmission with Efficiency and Sport modes is standard, and includes paddle shifters for manual control over gear changes. A 4Matic 4-wheel-drive system is also standard, splitting power 45% to the front wheels and 55% to the rears. Towing capacity measures 3,500 lbs.

2013 Mercedes-Benz GLK250 BlueTec First Drive: Driving Impressions

During a short drive in the suburbs and mountains northwest of Los Angeles, the GLK250 BlueTec did a great job of pretending not to be a diesel. The SUV’s cabin was remarkably quiet both at idle and while accelerating, with none of the expected diesel clatter making its way inside. That said, there was no masking the fact that the engine was a 4-cylinder rather than a V-6, despite the frequent swells of turbo whoosh.

Feeling solid, heavy, and secure while pounding over the crumbling pavement that is Sunset Boulevard (in parts, anyway), I found the GLK250 BlueTec’s ride quality to be bouncy at times, perhaps a function of its short wheelbase and big tires. Nevertheless, the turbo-diesel engine had no trouble outpacing traffic and then powering up and over the hill from Beverly Hills to Sherman Oaks. With maximum torque available so low in the engine’s rev range, the GLK feels lively, responsive, almost surging forth if the driver really pushes down on the accelerator pedal.

Unfortunately, the brake pedal is not as rewarding to depress, feeling a tad artificial in terms of its calibration. During the course of my drive, complaints kept surfacing in my notes, ranging from weak response to an inability to use the pedal to fine-tune braking pressure. At one point, I referred to the GLK’s brakes as “sticky and unpleasant.”

Dynamically, brake pedal feel and modulation produced my only complaints about driving the GLK250 BlueTec. This SUV handles confidently, proving sure-footed on tight, winding canyon roads, the steering wheel requiring deliberate action while delivering satisfying heft. But it is clearly the 2.1-liter turbo-diesel that is the star of the GLK250 BlueTec show.

No matter where I drove, or how I drove, I rode a swell of torque that made it easy to lead traffic from light to light, to climb mountain grades, and to merge with fast-moving traffic. Only once did I detect enough turbo lag to cause concern, and that was during a traffic merge with the Efficiency mode engaged. Based on my experience, Sport mode definitely helps with regard to responsiveness, and those standard paddle shifters help the driver to keep the engine operating in the thick of its powerband.

2013 Mercedes-Benz GLK250 BlueTec First Drive: Final Thoughts

If you’re thinking about skipping the GLK250 BlueTec in favor of the slightly more expensive GLK350 4Matic, and for no other reason than you don’t think a 2.1-liter 4-cylinder engine rated to make 200 horsepower can possibly be appealing, even if it gets 28.2 mpg without trying, then you are doing yourself a tremendous disservice. Though the GLK itself is not without flaws, its twin-turbocharged clean engine is remarkably refined, efficient, and endowed with torque.

Count me as a fan.

Mercedes-Benz invited Autobytel to participate in a media ride-and-drive event to facilitate this first drive article

2013 Mercedes-Benz GLK250 BlueTec photos by Christian Wardlaw

By Christian Wardlaw