Using a Mercedes GLK 250 as a tow vehicle

I’ve always tried to make sure I use my vehicles as more than just transportation – making use of the “utility” in “sport utility vehicle” – and that goes for my current vehicle (the Keithmobile-E, a 2014 Mercedes-Benz GLK 250) as well.

I somehow imagine that not many people use their Mercedes SUVs for much other than driving around and maybe pulling a boat or something similar – but not me!

I’ve filled the back of my GLK 250 to the roof with bags of mulch and soil (with my cargo protector in place, of course), I’ve carried large items on my roof rack, and of course I’ve towed my fair share of trailers.

The trailers I tow are mainly U-Haul utility/cargo trailers, though I’ve made use of their full capacity – hauling all kinds of things, like mulch, soil, gravel, and other heavy things. I’ve also used some of their bigger enclosed trailers for carrying furniture long distances (enclosed to protect things from the weather). And the biggest thing I towed was a huge platform trailer with a small excavator on it.

All that said, the GLK is not exactly the ideal tow vehicle – although it can pull 3500 pounds, its low tongue weight rating makes it hard sometimes to make use of that full capacity. Because the GLK is a fairly heavy vehicle on its own (around 4200 pounds curb weight), and it doesn’t have heavy-duty suspension, it’s cargo carrying capacity is somewhat limited.

That heavy weight also impacts its braking capacity – the GLK can brake fine on its own, but add a trailer and stopping distances increase quite a bit.

Also, the GLK has a fairly short wheelbase, which isn’t always ideal when towing – especially if the trailer is on the longer side.

Finally, although I have the factory tow package (which includes the 7-pin connector), the GLK is not wired for a brake controller, so adding a hard-wired one would be very involved. (Though these days there are wireless brake controllers, which is a nice compromise – and one I’ll be using with the camper trailer I’m renting this fall.)

Still, despite these shortcomings, the GLK isn’t an awful tow vehicle (it’s actually rated to tow quite a bit more in Europe due to different standards), and all things considered I’m happy to have these limitation for the other benefits it gives me (comfortable ride, small size that fits in my garage, good fuel economy, etc.).

However, the ultimate test will be the roughly 6,000 mile road trip I plan to take this fall while towing a teardrop camping trailer – so once that’s done, I’ll report back as to how the GLK really works (or doesn’t work) as a tow vehicle. Stay tuned!

The Dream Trip

Thinking about my dream trip – a road trip across the USA

Recently my wife and I have started thinking about a trip to Yosemite Park in California for later in the year (along with a few other stops – assuming that Covid will be more under control by then). But with caution still needed, we’re not flying – that’s still completely out of the question – so we’re thinking of driving. And to keep our interactions with people to a minimum, we’re thinking of renting a camper trailer and staying at campgrounds along the way.

Doing a cross-country road trip in my own car has been a dream of mine since pretty much ever since I learned to drive.

But the realities of the trip are, as usual, not as simple as I would like.

Problem 1: Planning a route

First is the simple planning of the trip itself – some 2,700 miles one way. We have to decide where we’ll stop, how long we’ll have to drive each day, and so forth.

In better times we probably would’ve flown out west and rented a car, or failing that, we would’ve stayed in hotels each night as we went along. But in the current environment, that’s not exactly feasible (or wise). So we’ll be staying more or less to ourselves in our camper… which brings us to the next difficulty.

Problem 2: Finding the Right Camper

When it comes to picking a camper trailer, there are a number of constraints on us:

  1. Weight – although the Keithmobile is a diesel with plenty of pulling power, it is still a small-ish SUV with only a Class II hitch (max trailer weight 3,500 pounds) and a maximum tongue weight of 280 pounds.
  2. Amenities – given that we’re trying to limit our interactions with other people, we need to be fairly self-contained… which means we need a camper with a bathroom & shower.
  3. Availability – the type of trailer that meets these constraints isn’t very common around here (ironically, they are much more common out west where we’re headed).

These limitations unfortunately rule out a lot of rather nice trailers. For example, we had started to look at a nice Airstream Basecamp 16′ trailer – very stylish, with everything you’d need for just 2 people and nothing you don’t. However, the tongue weight for this trailer was some 410 pounds (as it turns out, many camper trailers are very forward-heavy and have high tongue weights relative to their overall weight).

However, in the end we did manage to find a nice little “teardrop” style camper trailer that has a combination bathroom/shower. It’s on the bigger end of teardrop style campers, but it’s light enough that my car can pull it without too much trouble (it is well within both the weight limit and the tongue weight limit) while still being comfortable for us both and more than just “a bed on wheels” (as many of the littlest camper trailers are).

So with all that, it looks like we may be heading out for a big road trip in the early fall (again, assuming the Covid situation doesn’t get worse). The Keithmobile will face its biggest challenge – doing something like 6,000 miles of driving in 2 1/2 weeks, all while pulling a trailer. (It’ll be interesting to see what kind of mileage I end up getting!)

Assuming we can go, it should be a very exciting trip!

Behind the Wheel: 2019 Mercedes-Benz GLC 300

Finally, a car I can relate to!

When I take my car into the dealer to be serviced and get a loaner, most of the time it’s just a boring, regular base model sedan – but not this time! This time I got an SUV that is basically the modern replacement for the SUV that I normally drive. So, this is more of a vehicle that I can relate to.

First though, some statistics: the 2019 GLC 300 is a simple 4 door SUV – I’d call it mid-size, but these days it’s classified as “small.” It’s powered by a turbocharged 2.0L 4-cyliner engine making a very respectable 241 HP and 273 pound-feet of torque. All that power gets to the ground via a 9-speed automatic transmission and of course all-wheel drive.

The particular GLC 300 that I was driving was more or less a base model – but with an upgraded appearance package.

Being an SUV the driving characteristics of the GLC 300 were much more familar to me. However, one thing I did notice is that the seating position in this is a bit lower and more car-like.

Visibility was good, all things considered, although the shape of the front hood made it hard to gauge the position of the front of the car. Sadly, this particular model has no front cameras or sensors to help with that.

Performance was very impressive – when you first get on the throttle from a standstill you are definitely reminded that there is a very small engine under the hood, but once the turbo kicks in all that goes out the window. At one point, while going up a hill, I put the car in “Sport+” mode and mashed the throttle – and was promptly thrown back in my seat, at which point I uttered out loud, “shit, this thing can really MOVE!”

As far as driving dynamics go, given the slightly lower center of gravity, it handles quite well – not nearly as top-heavy as my own GLK, and in fact actually quite stable in the corners (though not flat or sports-car-like by any means). It’s also about 300 pounds lighter than my GLK (despite being a couple inches longer and wider), which helps with the handling. Overall, it’s a fun car to drive which is also quite practical – the back seats are roomy enough, and the cargo area is fairly deep (though again, not as tall).

Mercedes Dial & Touchpad

When it comes to technology, however, this GLC kind of falls flat – at least, this particular model does. The infotainment system still relies on the same knob + touch pad combo that Mercedes has been using for the past few years – no touch screen here. The gauge cluster is also the standard 2 analog gauges for speed & tachometer, with a screen between them. Maybe there’s option packages that give you this, but the base GLC doesn’t have them.

The controls for media & climate are the same “row of silver switches” that have been in just about every Mercedes recently – it’s not a bad arrangement, per se, but it’s not the greatest. Sure, those silver switches look nice, but some things would work better as dials. (And I still think it’s weird and bad design to have the volume be a roller type control located not in the center stack, but on the center console, to the side of that control wheel thing.)

Fuel economy for the GLC 300 isn’t great given the engine size, but then again it’s also not bad considering that the small engine has to move roughly 4,000 pounds of SUV around. At just 24 MPG combined, my GLK is laughing all the way to the fuel pump. And to make matters worse, the GLC requires premium fuel.

Overall though, the GLC 300 is a competent small/mid-size luxury SUV, and if that’s what you’re after, you could do far worse than to pick it. (And if you need more “oomph,” there’s also the GLC 350 and the GLC 43 AMG and GLC 63 AMG, all with progressively bigger and more powerful engines.) Honestly, despite the shortcomings, if I was forced to give up my beloved GLK tomorrow, I would seriously consider the GLC (all the while lamenting the lack of a diesel option – curse you, Volkswagen for ruining diesel here in the US!). But at the same time, I have absolutely no plans to give up my GLK, and if you gave me a choice between the two, I’d keep my GLK any day.

Behind the Wheel: 2017 Mercedes-Benz C300

Yes, that’s right – I’m reviewing another C300, this time a 2017 model. But is it any better (or even any different) from the 2016 I drove last year?

Once again I found myself behind the wheel of a (loaner) Mercedes-Benz C300 sedan (4MATIC AWD, of course, as almost every Mercedes is in the northeast) – this time from the 2017 model year. So how does it compare to the last one I drove?

Surprisingly, it is actually quite a bit different – and mostly in a good way!

The engine is basically the same – a turbocharged 2.0 liter inline-4, producing roughly the same horsepower as before (around 241HP, 273 lb-ft of torque). No surprises there – it’s plenty of power for a car of this size and weight, and though it sometimes reminds you that it is a very small engine, the power is perfectly serviceable, even before the turbo kicks in.

However, once that turbo kicks in, watch out – with just a single turbo (no fancy variable vanes or dual-turbos here) the power comes on in one big gulp (especially in any of the “sport” modes). Maybe I’m just not used to it, but it’s almost too much power at once.

Still, this is more or less unchanged from the previous model year. What has changed, however, is the transmission – whereas last time I noted how lurch-y the transmission seemed, this time Mercedes seems to have worked out all the kinks. Shifts were smooth and quick, and I never found myself worrying that maybe something was broken (as I did last time) – even in the aggressive “sport+” mode.

Overall handling seemed somewhat improved as well – the car felt incredibly stable heading into corners at speed, and the steering feel, although light, was responsive and intuitive. I actually wished I could’ve driven on some twistier roads to really dive into some corners. (I love my GLK, but it’s not exactly toss-able in the way a car is.)

On the interior, things were not so rosy, however. It may be down to the package that the particular car I was driving had, however a lot of the dash and console felt… rather cheap.

The wood grain which flows all along the center console (and doors) was, according to the window sticker, real, but I almost didn’t believe it – it felt incredibly light and plastic-y to the touch.

Gone is the weird touch pad thing that used to hover over the control knob for the car’s screen (though I think the top of the knob might be touch-sensitive; I didn’t check) but otherwise the UI stays pretty much the same. The speed of the interface does seem somewhat improved from last time, however, which is nice.

Beyond that, most everything else about the car was more or less the same – it’s a comfortable ride with nice features, a huge sunroof, but not a lot of room for back-seat passengers.

All-in-all I have to say that the Mercedes C-class doesn’t exactly stand out in my mind against cars from other manufacturers – sure, some of the materials are probably higher quality, but some materials aren’t (or don’t seem to be) and other manufacturer’s are really upping their game quality-wise to nip at the heels of Mercedes’ entry-level sedan.

If you’re in the market for a small but luxurious 4-door sedan, there’s a lot of choices for you – and although Mercedes is known for being a luxury brand, I honestly can’t say I’d mark the C300 as an automatic “first pick” in that category. (Though for myself, I’m just glad to be back in my GLK – as I’ve mentioned many times, I’m just not a car person!)

Desktop Madness Vol. 101

After a lengthy hiatus, it’s back to form with a bunch of new desktop wallpapers – this time the theme is “the car I’m driving these days.”

It’s been a long time since I’ve done one of these, so to make up for it here’s a bunch of wallpapers of the Mercedes-Benz GLK 250 – which should come as no surprise to anyone who knows what I’m driving these days.