Diesel Power for Mercedes’ Smallest SUV

Photo courtesy of Mercedes-Benz USA

2013 Mercedes-Benz GLK250.

The compact premium sport utility vehicle segment is a pretty hot one right now. You can buy examples from Acura, Audi, BMW, Cadillac, Infiniti, and Land Rover. GMC recently added up-level Denali trim to its small Terrain crossover, and Lincoln is working on a luxury version of the Ford Escape.

And one of my favorites in the segment is the Mercedes-Benz GLK. Perfect size, great road manners, and a tough, chunky look to it. It was updated last year with a few subtle changes, but this year it gets a new engine choice. In addition to the gasoline powered GLK350, there’s now the diesel-powered GLK250 Bluetec.

It really should be no surprise that Mercedes is expanding its diesel offerings, as they have a long history with them. You can now get their clean-burning Bluetec system in the big GL SUV, the mid-size ML, the S-Class sedan, and next fall, the refreshed E-Class will be updated with a new diesel engine. (The outgoing E350 had a diesel option for several years.)

And that same new diesel engine is the one found under the hood of the GLK250. It’s got only four cylinders displacing 2.1 liters, but boy does it churn out some torque. Three hundred sixty nine lb-ft to be exact, which is in V8 territory.

Ah, torque. That’s what moves vehicles around in everyday driving. Accelerating away from a stoplight or up a freeway onramp, you want lots of torque, especially in a vehicle that has a bit of heft to it. The GLK250 has all wheel drive and weighs just over 4300 lbs, but it feels quite light on its feet thanks to the combination of the torquey engine and 8-speed automatic transmission.

The payoff in the move to diesel is fuel economy. The gasoline-powered GLK350 with 4MATIC (Mercedes-Benz’s all wheel drive system) is rated at 19 city and 24 highway. The GLK250 tromps that with figures of 24 city and 33 highway, and that’s also with the 4MATIC system, the only way the diesel is sold.

By now you should know that there really aren’t the downsides to diesels that they once were famous for. Noise? Barely any. Smell? You won’t even know you’re behind one in traffic. Soot? Nope, they’ve cleaned up the exhaust to the point that there’s no soot whatsoever.

The other thing modern diesel engines do is often exceed their EPA estimates in highway driving. I attended a media drive program for this vehicle, which originated from Santa Monica and included a drive loop through the Westside, over Beverly Glen, along the 101 through the Valley, and back to Santa Monica via Malibu.

During our presentation to the last group of media attendees, a Mercedes-Benz spokesman showed us an image of the on-board computer taken by a journalist who had driven the GLK250 the day before. The mileage figure displayed was 35.6 mpg, though it wasn’t explained how that figure came to be. On my own drive back to Glendale from there in one I had permission to drive away from the event, I got over 34 mpg without trying too hard.

Adding the diesel option to the GLK is a good move for Mercedes-Benz. With the advanced state of clean diesel technology, it’s one way manufacturers like Mercedes can achieve government mandated fuel economy levels in coming years.

Beyond just the new diesel engine option, the GLK has a lot to offer. It’s a great size, and is easy to maneuver. Comfort abounds, and I especially like the tall, upright feel of the cabin. If you find many of today’s vehicles claustrophobic in nature, the GLK is a bright spot, literally. It also starts at a reasonable price as long as you can stay away from the options list.

Base price for a 2013 GLK250 4MATIC is $38,590, which is $500 less than the base price for the GLK350 4MATIC. Throw all the options at it, and the price climbs to well over $50,000. At least it’s an “economy car” at the gas pump.

I’ll see you down the road.

Dave Kunz is the automotive reporter at KABC-TV Channel 7 and can be heard on “The Car Show” Saturdays at 9 a.m. on KPFK, 90.7 FM. E-mail Dave at TVCarz @ pacbell.net Twitter: @dave_kunz, Facebook: ABC7Dave.

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