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Mercedes-Benz Vision GLK FREESIDE: Baby Benz SUV

Only the night before the official reveal at the 2008 North American International Auto Show, Mercedes-Benz borrowed Detroit’s Museum of Contemporary Modern Art for a media sneak preview of their Vision GLK FREESIDE. Presented by Daimler CEO Dr. Dieter Zetsche, the concept is not a hypothetical exercise. This C-Class-based small SUV will be in showrooms in January 2009. Dr. Zetsche reminded us the C-Class has grown up since the sedan was first known as the Baby Benz, but the GLK will be the baby of Mercedes SUV family. Pricing is far from decided, but expect it to closely overlay the C-Class.


The Vision GLK FREESIDE is being shown with two different faces and different interior accents, though both have the same running gear and engine. There are also two colors, one a dramatic matte-finish white excellent for showing up the complex surfacing of this small SUV. Differences between the two Visions include front fascia, wheels, and interior trim. One conveys a more luxurious, sophisticated on-road personality while the other looks tougher and more capable, though still clearly a high-end compact SUV. The more capable-looking of the two is the one pictured here, and seems to be the favorite. It is possible that Mercedes offer both, in a strategy similar to offering both modern and traditional faces for the C-Class.

Small SUV Concept Unlike Larger SUV Brethren
As intended, the GLK does not look like a scaled-down ML-Class or GL-Class, and nothing like the thirty-year-old but iconic G-Class. And refreshingly, Mercedes simply calls the GLK an SUV and not crossover SUV, despite a C-Class unitbody underside. The Vision GLK FREESIDE’s nose and hood is most closely related to the GL, though with a deeper grille and headlights. The GLK does not take a wraparound rear quarter window like the ML, nor is the tailgate glass as stiff as the GL. Side surfacing is all its own, with sculpted sides and strong, trapezoidal wheelarches. The Vision GLK FREESIDE promises a compact SUV that looks as purposeful and powerful as larger SUVs, Mercedes-branded or not.


It looks to us that much of the Vision GLK FREESIDE sheetmetal is likely to survive. Concept elements unlikely for the real world are the LED roofrack lights, foglights, and sideview indicators. The basic shapes may remain, but Mercedes says this car is going to have a price ladder similar to the C-Class, so the production car will likely use less expensive and more conventional lighting sources.

Capability to Support Strong SUV Look
To the purpose element, Mercedes is working to strike a happy balance between ensuring GLK is extremely capable and wasting time and adding cost by over-engineering off-road capability that few drivers would ever use. This is no Jeep Wrangler competitor, nor need it be. It is going straight after the BMW X3, as will the upcoming Audi Q5. Mercedes says only about three percent of their SUVs even leave pavement; there isn’t much incentive to engineer the vehicle to be able to climb Pike’s Peak on a daily basis. But this expression of Mercedes’ art of engineering will deliver segment-leading capability.
The engine bays of both FREESIDE visions hold a longitudinally mounted 168HP and 369 lb-ft 2.2L I4 Bluetec diesel, mated to the 7G-Tronic seven-speed automatic transmission and 4MATIC. Though the engine lineup for U.S. consumption has not been finalized, it will include V6 options. Some have reported that the GLK will take a 224HP V6 diesel for a U.S. offering, presumably that in the E320 CDI, but Benz product planners say the U.S. lineup hasn’t been finalized. Given today’s fuel-economy-sensitive climate, and the kind of performance 168HP supported by 369 lb-ft of torque can provide, the 2.2L I4 diesel in this vehicle should provide a sweet combination. The GLK may offer C-Class’s 228HP 3.0L and 268HP 3.5L V6 options. Mercedes has been AMG-happy this century, so not offering a GLK AMG would be a surprise and the 6.3L V8 is most likely. Whatever the final lineup, the GLK will draw from the C-Class engine range.

The Vision GLK FREESIDE uses a new version of Mercedes’ 4MATIC all-wheel-drive system with a 45:55 standard torque split, but the production car might be offered in rear- and all-wheel-drive versions. The updated 4MATIC uses a compact, lightweight design said to enable fuel consumption of standard-drive cars. Contributing to off-road performance is a G button in the center console and a selectable hill-descent control program; pressing it activates a mode which changes transmission shift points for softer acceleration and activates an off-road ESP setting. Shift paddles behind the steering wheel can be used when a manual mode is selected. The suspension, a new system Mercedes calls Agility Control, uses amplitude-dependent damping to respond flexibly to road inputs, and the power steering system is speed-sensitive. Hard driving brings a harder response to maintain stability and comfort, while normal and slow off-road driving prompt softer responses for a comfortable ride.

Expensive options included on the Vision GLK FREESIDE include Mercedes’ PRE-SAFE accident safety system, COMAND APS, adaptive forward lighting, a two-screen rear-seat entertainment system, and three-zone automatic climate control.

Among the differences between the contemporary styled Vision GLK and more rugged version is interior accents. Both sport dramatic white leather seats with black piping, but the contemporary version takes brushed metal dash and door-trim accents while the more aggressive version takes zebra wood. Though these combinations aren’t expected for typical production versions, Mercedes is looking at such options for a potential special-edition launch package.

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