The Mercedes GLK is one of the easiest cars I have ever had the pleasure to drive.
In a class that is becoming increasing flooded with vehicles from a host of manufacturers, Mercedes has taken its time entering the foray, but the GLK has been worth the wait. A compact crossover with a big three-pointed star up front, it joins a fast-growing clique of expensive compact crossovers with a hard-edged look.
The five-seat SUV has a long bonnet and sits low to the road, a design some have criticised for being too boxy yet the distinctive fierce-looking front grille and stylish headlamps ensure it looks the business.
When the car was launched to much fanfare last October, the manufacturer and local dealer Gargash Enterprises were eager to show it off to the public. Cue an assault course set up in the car park of Ibn Battuta Mall, in which the cars were driven through water and over bumps to demonstrate their stability and ability to shift weight to different tyres. It was impressive in the controlled tests but what about in the real world?
The smaller sister of the M Class, the GLK is a surprisingly good off-road vehicle. With its metallic paint, alloy wheels and sleek curves it's not a car I'd really want to take into the desert for fear of damage.
The demonstrators who had been flown in from London assured me it copes well – however, with just two working days to test the car, I wasn't able to prove their theory. I had to make do with the highway instead. The three-litre engine might be a little small for some, especially if they want to drive it in the desert but don't be fooled – it is plenty big enough for this vehicle.
It has a number of controls, which will come in particularly handy when driving off-road, such as the agility control suspension which alters at the touch of a button and downhill speed regulation just in case the mountain trails start to get a little hairy.
The brake assist and electronic stability programme (ESP), meanwhile, could help control the car and avert an accident anywhere. All neatly placed below the radio, they are easy to engage at any time.
On the open road the GLK is a dream; just sit back, relax and let the car do all the work for you. It is responsive when both braking and accelerating but still takes more than eight seconds to go from zero to 100kph. With 231bhp, it is a little disappointing but other elements make up for this. Its agility control suspension provides a smoother ride on and off-road, but those who want more power can opt for the sports version.
Inside, seats in the softest cream leather contrast perfectly with the dark exterior. Although the dashboard is predominately black, brushed metallic strips cheapen the look slightly.
The cabin and cargo areas are roomy and upright, which means taller drivers will find a comfortable seating position.
The front seats are supportive and nicely tailored, and the adjustable and telescoping steering wheel make it easy to find a great driving position.
The chief complaint in the GLK, and a minor one at that, is that the cabin doesn't feel as richly appointed as some Benz vehicles, and the retro-ish styling doesn't help.
Getting to grips with all the built-in technology will take a while but no doubt gadget lovers will be thrilled to have so many to choose from. The GPS, for example, is both voice controlled and manual. The radio and navigation controls are mounted on the steering wheel and the seat controls are unusually placed on the door rather than the seat itself.
Unlike many cars, the GLK continues Mercedes' trend of just having one stalk for everything, including indicators and wipers. The cruise control function is located above and allows the driver to accelerate or brake by 10kph with a flick of the rod.
There are triptronic controls for optional manual mode, while the air conditioning system has a two-zone system.
There are two options of GLK available in the UAE – the 280 and 350 and while the latter might seem better on paper, thanks to more powerful acceleration, it does come at the cost of being slightly worse for the environment.
But with its mix of style and performance the GLK is sure to prove popular in the months ahead – there was a waiting list before it even launched. But as much as it looks and drives well, this winning combination does not come cheap. Prices start at Dh173,000 with our test drive model coming in at an even pricier Dh225,000.
For the same price, you can get larger SUVs including the Jeep Grand Cherokee or Toyota Land Cruiser. Granted. But cars are about compromises anyway, because it is rare a vehicle meets every requirement. I for one would forego two extra seats for the sake of driving the GLK.
Although it is not bad off-road thanks to BMW's xDrive system, the X3 is so much better on tarmac. A comfortable car to drive and spacious inside
The baby sister of the Q7 has great handling and has plenty of room inside but is not built for off-road driving
Is available in two body styles and three specification levels, and has sophisticated features