COAL: 2013 Mercedes-Benz GLK 350 4Matic – Teutonic Proficiency

Despite having now owned her 2013 Mercedes GLK for four and a half years, it recently occurred to me that I haven’t written much about Mom’s current daily driver, except for in comments and briefly in my mother’s day tribute to her a few years back. Especially considering that a new addition will soon be arriving in our driveway, I thought there was no better time than now to give the Benz a proper review.

Purchased in June 2013, this GLK 350 4Matic was Mom’s first brand-new car in a decade, and her first brand-new car from a luxury make, as the 2007 BMW X3 she traded in for it was purchased certified pre-owned back in March 2010. It was Mom’s self-proclaimed retirement gift to herself, as a good portion of the downpayment came from the reimbursement check she received from her employer, paying her for all her unused sick days accumulated in her 37-year teaching career.

Always a major criteria in her past vehicle purchases, the styling of the GLK was the driving force for what originally got Mom interested in it several years prior. Remaining in at the top of her shortlist for next cars, the GLK was in fact the first car we looked at, with the intent of test driving the X3 and Q5 after. Mom, however, loved how it drove, loved the interior, and decided that it was the car. The dealer was able to locate her preferred Steel Gray Metallic over Almond MB-Tex with the panoramic moonroof out of state for her, and in about a week Mom had her new Mercedes.

Though not fully-spec’d out, the GLK came with some nice additions new to Mom such as Bluetooth for phone and audio, satellite radio, the “basic” Becker map pilot navigation system, power tailgate, power adjustable steering column, as well as amenities she had grown accustomed to like heated front seats, power lumbar support, and the moonroof which she had to have but still has never used to this day. I’m still glad she opted for it, as I prefer the shade open for greater light, and do in fact open it year round for air.

As stated, the GLK’s exterior styling was a major reason for its purchase. Boxy and upright in a world where most CUVs, including its GLC successor, conform to the same basic curvy shape, the GLK truly stood out as decidedly more muscular with its many straight body lines, chiseled fascias, sculpted bodysides, and flared wheel arches. We both liked the GLK’s styling better than any of the other cars she was considering, and I think it has held up very well.

It’s safe to say that Mom bought her GLK at a prime time, as 2013 was the year Mercedes treated its then-smallest SUV and only German-assembled SUV besides the G-wagen, to an extensive refresh. Visually, the exterior was given a heavy facelift, gaining a redesigned grille, lower fascia and headlights, along with the addition of a chrome skid plate and LED running lights for a smoother, more elegant appearance than the original 2009-2012 design.

Around back, similar enhancements came in the form of a new rear bumper with redesigned trapezoidal exhaust tips, new reflector strips, as well as a chrome skid plate to match the front. New full-LED taillights also arrived, featuring attractive teardrop shape LEDs when illuminated. GLKs also received a new standard 19-inch wheel design, which Mom’s car features.

The most striking visual change for 2013 came to the interior, which featured a redesigned dash and center console, highlighted by a single piece of burl walnut veneer spanning the width of the dashboard from the steering wheel to the passenger side door. Reportedly the single largest piece of wood veneer Mercedes had used in a modern production car, the walnut’s curved edges and sculpted lines make for a very natural look that I never tire of. It is without question, my favorite small styling feature of the car.

In conjunction with the new dashboard came new aircraft-inspired circular aluminum HVAC vents, identical to those found in Mercedes’ SL and SLS roadsters. A thicker leather-wrapped steering wheel with contrast stitching and aluminum accents replaced the rather cheap looking steering wheel of the 2009-2012 models.

Mercedes also relocated the gearshift from its traditional center console location between the seats to the steering column in the form of a small turn signal-like stalk. This is probably the one feature that neither I nor my mother like. The location and design of the shifter is not very intuitive, and while an additional storage compartment is appreciated, both of us like to rest our right hands atop a console shifter when driving, something this car prevents.

One thing Mom especially has grown to like is the “hold” function for the brakes, which after a second firm depress of the brake pedal, allows the driver to take their foot off the brake pedal, while the brakes and brake lights stay on until pressure is applied to the gas.

From a mechanical standpoint, M-B treated the GLK to bit of a performance upgrade for 2013 as well, giving it the newer 3.5L V6 found in the ML- and E-Class. Making a very respectable 302 horsepower and 273 lb-ft torque, for gains of 34 and 15, respectably, mated to its 7-speed automatic, the GLK 350 4Matic posts a 0-60 time of 5.8 seconds. But drag racing is not what the GLK is meant for nor used for in our case.

What ultimately sold Mom on the GLK was how it drives. From the purposeful, very Germanic “grunt” from its 3.5L V6 delivering ample power to all four wheels, to the way it glides down the road with ultra quietness from the cabin, soaking up all but the worst of Massachusetts’ many pot holes, the GLK is a true testament to Mercedes-Benz’s reputation for engineering some of the world’s greatest luxury cars.

Everything about the way the GLK handles is so serene, it doesn’t make you want to drive aggressively. It has more than enough power on demand to the point of what I might say is more than needed for a car of this nature. A nod to its luxury-oriented nature, the GLK is perfectly happy cruising at low RPMs, dare I say lazily, without any sense of urgency to rev any higher. Push it a little though, and it responds with an immense growl and surge of power, almost as if it’s snapping back at you for not letting it just be. By all means, the GLK 350 is pretty damn fast.

Like most luxury cars these days, the GLK can be put into Sport Mode on the fly with a touch of a button. While the difference between sport and normal mode isn’t a drastic as in the BMWs, sport does increase throttle response for even quicker acceleration. Regardless of driving mode, steering is very luxury car-oriented and heavily electrically-assisted, lacking much feedback.

This is acceptable for the GLK, though, as its high center of gravity and comfort-tuned suspension make it a far better back-road cruiser than a car you push hard through twisting turns, though that isn’t to say that I haven’t pushed it hard through twisting turns on winding back roads and had a lot of fun doing so. Dynamically speaking, the GLK 350 is a little softer than what I personally prefer in a daily driver, but for its intended mission, it delivers a wonderful driving experience that is near perfect.

I’m happy to report that from a reliability standpoint, the Mercedes’ record has remained spotless — not a single issue in the now four plus years and 74,000 miles she’s been driving it. Unfortunately, the GLK has had the misfortune of being involved in three, yes three, collisions in that time.

The first involved Mom accidentally backing out of the garage with the tailgate open, clipping the top of the opened garage door with the end of the opened tailgate. Though there was no visible damage to either the car or the garage door, it was soon apparent that there was internal damage done to the tailgate’s electric motor. A several thousand dollar repair due to the extensive labor, it was fixed through insurance resulting in accident #1 on the Carfax.

The second, and most visibly damaging fender bender occurred in 2016 when pickup truck towing a low trailer stopped short in front of Mom in an intersection, resulting in her crashing into the back of it, doing significant damage to the front bumper, grille, and quarter panel. Accident #2.

The third, and hopefully last accident to date involved a woman in an older Camry rear-ending the GLK in traffic. Though there was only minor visible damage to the bumper, and she was initially hesitant to even bother dealing with the woman’s insurance company to get it repaired, mom’s trusted collision shop informed her there was actually greater internal damage. At least she wasn’t paying anything out of pocket for that repair.

The car is perfectly fine now, but as anyone in the industry can tell you, the presence of an accident, let alone three, on a vehicle’s history will significantly affects its trade-in and resale value. Additionally, high miles versus a vehicle’s age, something this car has, will also lower its value. The reason I bring this up is because earlier this year is when Mom seriously began thinking about getting a new car.

(An older picture from the GLK’s first Christmas)

As her pattern has shown over the past few decades, Mom typically purchases a new car on average of every 4-5 years, usually very shortly after her current car is paid off. Naturally, I cautioned her about her car’s trade-in value, which while not enthused about, she perfectly understood. Furthermore, with its lack of any reliability issues thus far, less than any vehicle Mom’s owned in recent years, even the Toyota Highlander, the Mercedes hopefully has a good amount of life left in it. Then there’s also the fact that Mom and I both really like the car itself.

(For Christmas 2015, I had my late-grandfather’s low-number plates proudly reissued in Mom’s name)

To make a long story short, we both came to the same thought, and it was actually Mom who said it out loud first: keep the GLK, and go halves with each other on a new car that we’ll both get to enjoy. After all, we both love cars. Time for each of us will be split between our own respective cars (the GLK and 228) and this new vehicle, which we are excitedly awaiting delivery of as I write this, thereby reducing the miles put on each vehicle.

If anything, this speaks truths about the GLK’s many positive virtues and my mom’s love for it. I really can’t say nor do I wish to speculate how long she will keep the GLK, but barring any unforeseen circumstances, I have a feeling it will remain in our household for years to come.

Photographed at Old Scituate Lighthouse in Scituate, Massachusetts – November 2017