One Year With the Keithmobile-E

After a year of driving it, does the Mercedes-Benz GLK 250 still hold up as the right choice for the Keithmobile-E?

So it’s been just over a year now since this particular Mercedes-Benz GLK 250 joined my fleet as the Keithmobile-E.

In that time, I’ve:

  • Had a tow hitch installed
  • Towed trailers full of dirt, gravel, other construction materials, and a small (but heavy) excavator
  • Carried numerous long bits of lumber, piping, and boxes on the roof rack
  • Hauled hundreds of pounds of (bagged) dirt and mulch in the back
  • Driven on dirt roads in the pine barrens of NJ
  • Cruised around downtown Manhattan
  • Carried 4 adults around during the 3 months my parents-in-law were visiting from Australia
  • Made several long road trips:
    • From NJ to Chicago, IL
    • Back and forth from NJ to MA several times
  • Achieved a maximum of 35.5 MPG (with an average of 32.4 over 12,365 miles)

As you can see, I’ve used the GLK 250 in all of its roles: as a passenger vehicle, as an off-road vehicle, and as a utility vehicle. The diesel engine has also come through for me and delivered that excellent fuel economy that I expected (slightly better than the EPA ratings, actually).

Overall, it’s clear that choosing a GLK 250 as the next Keithmobile was absolutely the right choice – it has never let me down and it has shown itself to be extraordinarily capable in all the roles I expected it to fill and with all the duties I wanted it to perform.

Long Distance Cruising

Keithmobile-E front lightsThis is where the GLK 250 really shines – at highway speeds the 7-speed transmission is sitting in its highest gear while the engine is turning a leisurely (and fuel-sipping) 2,000 RPM. However, even at that low RPM the diesel engine has oodles of torque available – the first (smaller) turbo kicks in at just 1,800 RPM. So if you need to accelerate, there’s no need to downshift – all that power is just there, ready to push you up to whatever passing speed you need without any fuss or bother.

Trailer Towing

Although it’s not the ideal tow vehicle, the GLK 250 is no slouch. With all that torque from the diesel engine, it has no problem at all getting going, even with a fully-loaded trailer.

keithmobile-e rear lightThe main limitations on towing are the brakes and the hitch tongue weight limit. The brakes on the GLK are great, but the GLK is a fairly heavy vehicle on its own, and when you add a heavy trailer it does put a bit of a strain on them (there is no trailer brake module either, though I believe some aftermarket solutions are available). The hitch tongue weight limit is mainly down to the fact that the rear suspension is designed more for comfort – and thus, isn’t well suited for extremely heavy loads.

That said though, the GLK is a very pleasant vehicle to tow with – it controls very well under load, and the good rear visibility makes reversing with a trailer a breeze. Plus, the AWD system means you won’t spin any tires when, say, reversing a trailer across a wet lawn into your back yard.

Hauling Stuff

You wouldn’t think a “luxury” SUV would actually be good at hauling cargo, but the GLK is actually surprisingly capable. I added a cargo area protector to the rear – one originally designed for pets, so it’s waterproof – and with this I’ve had no trouble at all hauling bags of mulch, bales of hay, various sizes of plants, lumber, bags of concrete mix, and so on, all without making a mess of the interior.

Being the Keithmobile-E

The really good thing about the GLK is just that it’s really good at being “the Keithmobile.” It continues to be such a pleasurable place to be and a true joy to drive, whether it’s a short hop up the street or a multi-day road trip. Overall it just “fits” me well, like a glove or a comfortable pear of shoes.

Even when I’d only just recently started driving it, everything about it – the handling, the response, the placement of the various controls – felt intuitive and natural, and that continues even more so to this day.

All in all, the GLK 250 just suits me really well – which is the reason I chose it in the first place, right? But the point is, even after a year I’m still very pleased with it, and I will continue to be very pleased with it for as long as I have it – which I expect will be a long, long time.

Behind the Wheel: 2016 Mercedes-Benz C300

A look at Mercedes’ former entry level sedan, and a lesson in “all Mercedes are not the same.”

Recently my car was in the shop again (more electrical problems with the various exhaust sensors) so I had a chance to spend a bit of time with a loaner car – in this case, a brand-new 2016 Mercedes-Benz C300 4MATIC sedan.

First off, the C300 is a fairly handsome looking car – I do like the way this car looks, which I can’t say for very many cars these days.

Needless to say the interior is very nice and very comfortable – at least for the front passengers. Rear passengers don’t get a lot of leg room if you have your front seats pushed back a bit. The center seat in the rear is also mainly for show – there’s no way anyone over the age of 8 could sit there comfortably.

With all the possible power adjustments you can make to the seats, there’s no way you won’t find a comfortable driving position – though at first my preferred position had my head touching the roof! As someone who normally drives an SUV, adjusting to a lower seating position took some getting used to. I also don’t like the tendency of cars to force you into a “lean back” position – I prefer to sit upright. However, after some fiddling I was able to find a comfortable position that didn’t have my head brushing the roof.

And speaking of that roof, there is a pretty darn big sunroof in this thing – a dual sunroof, in fact. The front section is enormous, while the back section is fairly small, but still it is a lot of glass. However, the sunroof does not open all the way – it goes back about 80% of the way. Presumably there just isn’t enough roof space for it to open all the way. Still very nice, however.

touch pad thingThe media controls in this car take some getting used to, and I’m not sure how I feel about this touch pad thing that’s becoming common in these types of cars. I kind of prefer just having the wheel, to be honest.

And speaking of interfaces – the interface on this car seems awfully sluggish, especially compared to my 2014 GLK. Menu movements just seem slightly delayed, like a computer with an under-powered graphics card.

I also don’t like that there’s no dedicated next/back track buttons – if you’re not in the media screen (either on the center screen or the screen on the dash) there’s no quick and easy way to change volume or tracks. (There is a pop-up menu button on that touch-pad control, but that still involves multiple clicks.)

HVAC controls and ventsAs for the climate controls, everything is very nicely done – I love the vents on this thing, but I do have a soft spot for round vents. There’s no dials for temperature or anything else climate related, just rocker switches – and you have to look at the middle screen to see what you’re changing it to.

Now, as for the engine – this particular model has the 2.0 liter turbocharged inline 4 cylinder putting out 241 HP and 273 lb-ft of torque, and I have absolutely no complaints with those numbers. It isn’t neck-snapping fast, but once that turbo kicks in you will notice exactly how plush the seats are as you’re shoved back into them. This car isn’t terribly heavy either, so all that power gets you up and moving very quickly – and it also has 4MATIC all-wheel-drive, so it has no problem putting that power down to the ground.

There is more than a bit of hesitation right off the line, though – that 2.0L I-4 really doesn’t have a lot of grunt on its own without the turbo, and the somewhat mushy accelerator doesn’t help (though switching to one of the “Sport” modes does vastly improve things). Before the turbo spools up you are reminded that there is a very small engine under the hood.

However one thing I did notice was how differently the transmission on this car is programmed compared to mine – it’s the same 7-speed automatic, but it jumps gears much more quickly (2nd gear in particular might as well not exist). This seems to be done in order to keep the engine in its power band and keep the turbo spooled up – but it can occasionally get a bit annoying as the car lurches a bit as it jumps gears, and sometimes the shifts just didn’t feel as smooth as on my car.

I also have to comment on the auto start/stop feature that’s becoming common on cars these days. Although the car starts up again very quickly, it does shake the whole car enough to be noticeable, and it gets annoying after a while.

Additionally, when you’re making small movements forward (as you might when in mostly-stopped traffic, or when pulling those last few inches forward into a parking spot or garage) the engine starts & stops so much that it gets downright infuriating. Thankfully of course you can turn this feature off at any time – but it always comes back on the next time you start the car.

And speaking of starting the car, I’m still not exactly sold on the idea of push-button start on cars. Maybe I’m just old-fashioned, but I prefer to use a key – there’s no ambiguity as to whether the car is “on” or not when using a key.

Handling is excellent, but not exactly “sporty” – you can dive into corners with confidence, but this car isn’t quite “toss-able” the way lighter, sportier cars are… but then again it isn’t really meant to be. That’s not to say it isn’t fun to toss around – because it is – but it’s not something you’d spend all day doing. It’s fun for a bit, but eventually you get the feeling that this car just wants to go back to being “comfortable” – which is, unsurprisingly, where it excels.

Like a lot of cars these days, the C300 has multiple driving “modes” – and not just “economy” and “sport.” In particular, it has:

  • Economy
  • Comfort
  • Sport
  • Sport+
  • Individual (basically, user-set options)

All of these modes adjust 5 different things: throttle response, steering tightness, shift points, enabling or disabling the auto start/stop feature, and climate control restrictions.

The economy mode is what you’d expect – the engine turns off whenever you stop, throttle response is very muted, and the transmission tries to keep it in as high a gear as possible all the time. It also dials back the climate control (mainly air conditioning) to help save a little bit more fuel.

Comfort mode should really be called “normal” because that’s what it is – throttle response is light (bordering on mushy), steering is average, shifting is fairly normal, the auto start/stop is enabled (but isn’t quite as aggressive as in economy mode) and all climate controls are left alone.

Sport mode is also what you’d expect – the throttle response becomes nice and crisp, the steering tightens up a bit, and the transmission stays in lower gears longer. However, the auto start/stop is still enabled, and climate controls remain unchanged.

Sport+ mode is basically sport mode, but more so – and to be honest I don’t really like it or see why they have it on a car like this. The throttle response is great in Sport+ mode, and so is the steering, but the shifting is just awful – it really clunks when changing gears in this mode, especially under full throttle (which you’d expect to be using in this mode) – to the point where I almost wondered if something was broken. For a car of this type, I just don’t see why you’d have such an aggressive mode. (Sport+ is also the only mode that disables the auto start/stop feature – though you can turn it off manually using a dedicated button in any mode.)

All in all though the 2016 Mercedes-Benz C300 is a thoroughly nice car, if a little misguided in the Sport+ mode. It’s not a car I’d buy (the transmission and auto start/stop would drive me nuts before too long), but if you’re looking for a luxurious (but relatively small) 4-door sedan that can also be a lot of fun, you could certainly do much worse than the C300.

Behind the Wheel: 2014 Mercedes-Benz GLK 250 (Diesel)

The little SUV from Mercedes that won the right to carry on the name “Keithmobile.”

When my venerable old 2003 Mitsubishi Outlander’s repair costs started exceeding the value of the vehicle itself, it meant that it was finally time to start thinking about a replacement – something to take on the designation of “the Keithmobile-E.”

I had an idea of what sort of car I wanted – basically, something similar to my Outlander, but newer (and maybe a bit nicer). This is basically the “compact SUV/crossover” category, and these days that encompasses a LOT of cars.

I looked at countless vehicles across several model years – I didn’t want anything brand-new, but at the same time I didn’t want anything more than a few years old. It was a long list of vehicles, but I eventually narrowed it down to two – one of which I’ve already reviewed.

The other vehicle – and obviously the one that won out in the end – was a 2014 Mercedes-Benz GLK 250.

GLK 250 badgeIt almost goes without saying that the GLK is a very nice car in all respects – the interior is a very comfortable place to be, and everything is just very well put together and nicely arranged. The particular model I ended up with has all the nice little touches that you’d expect, and though many are becoming fairly standard on new cars these days, they all feel very new & exciting to me since my old car had none of them!

Visibility out of the GLK is also very good (especially for this type of SUV) – certainly no worse than in my old car. Although there is a rear camera, it’s entirely possible to reverse this car without it and not have it be a dangerous guessing game of “what might be hiding in my blind spots.”

Size-wise, the GLK is almost identical to my Outlander – which is surprising since it looks bigger. But it’s the same length, almost the same height, and only 1 inch wider – so it fits exactly into the same spot in my garage. Very handy!

As for technology, the GLK has an easy to use media system with nice easy-to-reach buttons for switching modes (a feature I really like and which some cars don’t have). The built-in navigation is perfectly serviceable – though nothing spectacular.

But now let’s get to the real reason I chose this car – the engine. The are two types of GLK class vehicles – the 350 and the 250. The former has a 3.5 liter V6 gasoline engine, while the latter has a diesel. Specifically, a 2.1 liter twin-turbo inline-4, putting out an even 200 HP and an incredible 369 lb-ft of torque.

This is the reason I went with the GLK 250.

I drove both vehicles before settling on the 250, and while the 350’s engine was plenty powerful, I found that power to be a bit difficult to control. The throttle in the 350 was very fiddly – seemingly dead at first, and then it kicked in with a surge of power that was quite difficult to modulate, especially at slower speeds.

The 250’s diesel on the other hand delivers its power smoothly and without any fuss or bother. Additionally, most of that power is available at lower RPMs – as is typical of diesel engines – and which is similar to where the power in my old Outlander was available.

All that low-end power from the diesel also helps with towing, and the GLK is no slouch there either with a maximum trailer weight of 3,500 lbs – quite a bit more than my Outlander could tow!

Even with the relatively low horsepower for a vehicle of this weight (some 4,246 lbs), the GLK 250 gets up and going like nobody’s business – there is a slight delay right off the line, but the smaller of the two turbos spools up very quickly and power delivery after that is very even. It’s not the quickest thing in the world – in many ways it feels faster than it is – but it’s no slouch, either. Acceleration is steady – one might even say relentless.

Even at highway speeds the power is always there should you need it – just put your foot down and you just ADVANCE and suddenly you’ll find yourself going a lot faster than you meant to be.

All that power gets to the ground via a 7-speed auto which I would describe as “buttery smooth” – in normal driving I can hardly even tell when it’s making the shifts. It also helps that it makes those shifts very quickly, and unlike a lot of cars these days it doesn’t mind moving up & down through those gears at your command. (As a nifty trick, it will even downshift to help control your speed while going downhill – something I’ve never seen any other automatic gearbox do.)

Of course, it also has AWD – Mercedes’ 4MATIC system – so even when conditions get slippery there’s no problem getting all that power to work.

The engine does have variable valve control but there’s no sudden “surge” of power at any point – it is always very smooth and controlled, and (once the turbo has spooled up) very linear.

Even with a heavy AWD system and a rather chunky aerodynamic profile, the GLK 250 still manages to get a very decent 24 city/33 highway MPG – and in practice it does even better. Combine this with a 17.4 gallon fuel tank and the GLK 250 has an incredible cruising range.

On top of this, the GLK is a tremendously comfortable place to be for long periods of time, making it the perfect choice for long-distance road trips. The suspension just soaks up the bumps, but without feeling floaty or disconnected as can happen with too-soft suspension systems. It’s soft enough to make rough roads comfortable, but tight enough to let you attack corners in this heavy SUV with confidence.

As for that diesel engine – I’ve driven several diesel vehicles now (an Audi A4 wagon, a Fiat 500L, and now this GLK 250) and I have to say, they do take some getting used to. With diesels, all the power is generally down low in the rev range – no high revving needed – and the addition of turbos makes things even stranger if you’re only used to naturally aspirated engines. But of course the upside is torque, torque, torque! None of these cars is particularly fast per se, but they are definitely quick!

When used in an SUV application though, I think a diesel is a perfect fit – power to get a bulkier SUV moving, but small enough to be fuel efficient. It’s a shame they aren’t more common (at least here in the US).

The GLK does have a few downsides, though – none serious enough to turn me off, obviously, but your opinion might differ.

Foremost is that rear seat legroom is… not that great. As I said, this GLK is the same length as my Outlander – but the GLK has a bigger engine compartment, so that extra space has to some from somewhere. In this case, that space came from the rear seats (the front seats and cargo area are virtually identical to my old Outlander). It’s not exactly bad, but it’s not great – especially if you put the front seats all the way back. Now, I rarely have passengers (and I don’t put my seat that far back) so this wasn’t a big deal for me – but this might be a major drawback for people who regularly carry more than 2 people.

In addition to the slightly restrictive rear legroom, the rear wheel arches intrude into the rear door openings a bit more than I’d like, which makes getting in & out of those back seats a little tricky at times. It’s not terribly difficult by any means, but it is noticeable. If you have passengers with any sort of mobility restrictions, they won’t be happy in the back of a GLK.

Another minor downside with the GLK is that later model years moved the transmission lever to the steering wheel column. It’s not like the old steering wheel systems of yesteryear by any means, but it does take some getting used to. More than once I found myself reaching down to change gears before remembering it’s now just a tiny little stalk on the steering column.

All-in-all though I think the GLK 250 is a fantastic SUV – the diesel makes it a blast to drive, and although very comfortable it’s still got plenty of “utility” going for it as well. If you’re after a small-ish SUV with some style and comfort, you might want to give a GLK a look!