It’s been more than twenty years since Mercedes-Benz offered a four cylinder diesel engine in the US market. The new 2.1L biturbo-diesel engine in the 2014 GLK 250 BlueTEC compact crossover is so sweet that it’s bound to win over even some of the die-hard diesel haters.
Nowhere except inside the fuel filler door and in the driver’s handbook will you see the word “diesel” on the new GLK 250. Despite the fact that the Three-Pointed Star has been making diesel engines for over a century and despite diesel’s strong popularity around the world, Mercedes’ US marketing arm would like to reintroduce Americans to the charms of diesel power without mentioning the “d-word” – so powerful is the American public’s alleged dislike of the noisy, dirty, smelly, doggedly-slow diesels of yore.
Twist the key of the $39,495 GLK 250 BlueTEC (you have to pay $650 if you want the pushbutton convenience of Keyless Go) and the engine fires right up. Common-rail direct diesel injection banishes any lingering memories of glow plugs and waiting for a light to go out before you could start the engine. From inside, there is little evidence of a noisy diesel engine. Even outside the cabin, you have to listen carefully to hear the diesel’s low-revving churns.
Also relegated to the dustbin of history is any whiff of diesel fumes or black clouds of particulates. Mercedes’ BlueTEC system scrubs diesel emissions with a series of steps including a catalytic converter, a particulate filter and a squirt of a urea and water solution. The result is exhaust clean enough to meet California’s stringent standards which do not distinguish between diesel or gasoline engine emissions. In short, a 50-state legal diesel engine.
The rewards are a compact crossover with top tier fuel economy. The EPA rates the 2014 Mercedes GLK250 BlueTEC at 24 city 33 highway 28 combined. This beats almost all the competition – at least for now. Only the BMW X1 xDrive28 ties the GLK for highway fuel economy. Lesser brand crossovers like the extremely popular Honda CR-V or Ford’s highly-touted Escape with a 1.6L EcoBoost engine can’t touch the diesel for sheer economy.
The GLK, first introduced in the US for the 2010 model year, was thoroughly revised and reworked for the 2013 model year. While I love Kim Cattrall as Samantha on Sex in the City, showing her loading up a GLK on Rodeo Drive in the 2008 film didn’t make me rush out to buy one.
My first drive of the GLK 350 (previously the only model available) was less than inspiring, mostly because I couldn’t get past the horribly cheap interior and junior-GL styling that I didn’t think worked.
Fast forward to 2013 and I’m a convert. That me-too was properly laser-sculpted and is now much more fluid and mature. While she’s still not a sexy kitten like the Audi A4 Allroad, the GLK just looks more comfortable in its sheet metal.
More important is the quantum leap in interior quality and ambiance The steering column stalks are now up-to-date. Plastics feel substantial, thick and soft, where appropriate. Switch gear remains stock Mercedes parts bin.
The leather-wrapped three-spoke steering wheel is small in diameter, and almost sporty – although at 4,246 pounds curb weight, you really can’t call the GLK sporty.
I particularly like the four round air ducts with the aluminum-look bezels and cross-hairs. They really elevate ambiance and overall premium look. Pleated leather in the door inserts add a touch of luxury and the wood accents are convincing.
You sit quite upright in the cabin – more so that almost any other car on the market. I found the position as well as the stock Mercedes seats quite comfortable and leg and shoulder room more than adequate. The GKL has real cup holders – something that you will appreciate when you realize that BMW forgot to put decent ones in the X1.
Of course, for me, what sealed the deal was that sweet little engine. While it won’t win any speed records, 369 pound-feet of torque at only 1600 rpms more than makes up for having only 200 ponies. Mercedes’ standard in-house 7-speed automatic is flawless.
The 4Matic all-wheel drive system, standard on the GLK 250 BlueTEC, has a rear-drive bias and doesn’t shave much from a fairly tight turning radius of 37.7 feet (a full foot shorter than the 2013 Ford Escape). I found the electronic rack-and-pinion steering tracked straight with a light feel — more than passable for a small crossover with no sporting intentions. It’s a distant cry from the recirculating ball gears of my 1988 190E.
Like all German cars these days, you have to add pricey options to get them to the level of options you’d expect on a luxury car. For example, the rear visibility of the GLK isn’t great, so you would be wise to look for a rearview camera. It’s standard on the base $23,000 Honda CR-V, but on the GLK, you have to opt for the $2,790 Multimedia Package, which includes COMAND hard-drive navigation on a 7-inch color display, 10GB Music Register, SiriusXM Traffic and Weather and Enhanced Voice Control.
You also can’t get the handy power tailgate by itself, you have to buy it as part of the $3,450 Premium 1 Package which includes a Panorama roof, SiriusXM Satellite Radio, Auto-dimming rear and side view mirrors with a digital compass and garage door opener. No unbundling! Heated front seats are a $750 stand-alone option.
Needless to say, all this quickly adds up to something north of $50,000. The GLK 250 4Matic is $1,500 more than the rear-drive GLK 350 but $500 less than the 4Matic version.
If the price for the car doesn’t confuse you, there is the issue of the price of diesel fuel. It routinely fluctuates from below regular grade gasoline to more than premium. However, you are supposed to use premium gasoline in the GLK 350. For me, the fuel price is a push and the increased economy you get out of every gallon of diesel more than repays any price premium at the pump.
Also, diesel power makes sense for people who do most of their driving on the highway. Simple Google searches will tell you that diesel drivers routinely get better than EPA estimates on long trips and the GLK 250 BlueTEC has a road trip-friendly range of more than 500 miles.
The best news is that the GLK now feels like a proper Mercedes-Benz and I have confidence in more than 100 years of diesel engineering experience. Still, nothing sells a car like 369 lb-ft of torque behind every push of the pedal. Try it and I think you’ll be hooked too.