The GLK Freeside Concept and GLK Townside Concept provide a stylistically sound preview of a future compact SUV model bursting with character, whose sense of fascination stems from the way in which it fuses different design worlds. The two studies incorporate elements taken from the original angular design of the G-Class, whilst at the same time impressing with design features typical of today’s Mercedes-Benz passenger cars. Both stem from the same gene pool, yet each distinguishes itself with a personality all of its own. These two automotive characters are receiving their baptism of fire at the NAIAS in Detroit. In the words of Dr. Dieter Zetsche, Chairman of the Board of Management of Daimler AG: “The GLK Freeside Concept and Townside reveal new possibilities for the logical progression of our extremely successful model strategy in the SUV segment.”
He has a particularly strong link to the compact and striking Vision GLK models, which dates back to his time as a vehicle developer in the mid-1980s when one of his remits was responsibility for development of the legendary G-Class. Looking back now, there is something he would like to make clear: “The requirements profiles have changed over time. One thing has certainly remained the same, however: a model from Mercedes with the letter “G” in its name must be capable of performing exceptionally under any conditions.”
The Freeside and Townside take trademark SUV characteristics, such as solidity and off-road capability, and unite them with refined motoring culture on “regular” roads. In both cases, the AGILITY CONTROL suspension promises exceptional driving dynamics and agility, coupled with exemplary ride comfort plus pioneering standards of active safety. The GLK Freeside Concept brings the off-road abilities more to the fore with its special detachable body parts and rugged underride guard, while the GLK Townside Concept with sports suspension unleashes its strengths in tarmac terrain. Forming the backbone of both variants is a highly robust bodyshell that forms a solid basis for a number of other key characteristics too: handling stability as well as vibration and acoustic comfort, which are equally as impressive under all driving conditions, plus passive safety, which is up to the brand’s usual impeccably high standard.
Responsive performance is guaranteed in both model versions regardless of the conditions thanks to the latest generation of economical and eco-friendly BLUETEC four-cylinder drive units under the bonnet, which operate in unison with the 7G-TRONIC seven-speed automatic transmission and the new 4MATIC all-wheel drive. The compact-sized concept models also feature a number of technical highlights which are normally the preserve of the more exclusive vehicle categories. Quite apart from the PRE-SAFE® anticipatory safety concept and the ILS Intelligent Light System, these include the COMAND APS infotainment centre with its intuitive operating concept, a rear-seat entertainment system including two screens, plus THERMOTRONIC 3-zone automatic climate control.
The interiors of the two studies match the expressive design of the exterior, and present an enticing mix of high-grade materials plus an ergonomically coherent overall concept. Both instantly convey that characteristic Mercedes feel of wellbeing, but interpret it in two completely different styles. The GLK Freeside Concept immerses its occupants in an ambience of luxury and comfort, with white leather appointments and wood trim elements in a matt finish. The light aquamarine leather upholstery and trim elements made from brushed aluminium in the interior of the Townside, on the other hand, set a more sporty tone.
Expressive, bold, independent – the Vision GLK design
Borrowing from the styling of the precursor of all Mercedes-Benz SUV models confers a special status on both the Freeside and Townside. As Head of Design Professor Peter Pfeiffer neatly sums up: “With the G-Class we created a style icon that has been a yardstick for nearly 30 years now. Unifying this puristic design with the new Mercedes-Benz design idiom is what makes the two Vision GLK variants genuine characters in their own right.”
And indeed, never before has it been possible to enjoy such a strikingly expressive preview of a forthcoming compact SUV model. The interplay between the original angular design and the design features typical of all modern Mercedes-Benz passenger cars exerts an enthralling appeal. The clear-cut design idiom, where taut lines interact with large, overextended surfaces, coincides with the bodyshell attributes of practical off-road vehicles, including short overhangs, a vertical front end, slender A-pillars, a steeply angled windscreen and flat roof lines. Specially manufactured 20-inch light-alloy wheels, adapted in each case to reflect the differing characters of the Freeside and Townside, inject the bodies of the two Vision GLK models with extra power and vibrancy, as do the muscular contours of the wheel arches.
The bodywork’s styling is far from being a means to an end in itself, however, rather it allows the benefits that are typically associated with off-road vehicles to be transferred for the first time to the more on-road-orientated, compact SUV class. Large angles of approach and departure coupled to generous ground clearance make excursions off the beaten track a pleasurable experience. The fact that the driver enjoys both an excellent overview of the body and a good all-round view courtesy of the raised seating position boosts everyday practicality and guarantees relaxed motoring, even when driving in dense city traffic.
Artfully setting off the persuasive design concept of the Vision GLK models are two special-effect paint finishes. “Diamond white magno” a metallic paint finish with a matt clear coat, gives the Freeside an extravagant flair. On top of this, detachable body parts finished in gleaming sterling silver generate an intriguing contrast. The Townside is resplendent in “Alubeam blue”, a special high-gloss reflective paint finish of unprecedented depth which emphasises the body’s sporty qualities.
Interior sets new trends in the compact premium segment
The interior of the SUV studies is a seamless continuation of the exterior’s bold looks, serving up a surprising interaction of stylistic contrasts that is generated by the juxtaposition of two quite different design approaches. On the one hand, both Vision GLK models offer an upmarket and luxurious interior, boasting materials of exquisite appeal plus precision build quality down to the finest detail. At the same time, however, the sophisticated surface finishes transfer the contemporary Mercedes design into the interior. The orchestrating element here, due to its dominant styling, is the dashboard, whose form sweeps on into the door trims, lending additional width to the generously proportioned interior. It is impossible to overlook the elegant strip of trim elements which extends across the dashboard’s entire width, dividing the base structure into three vertically arranged levels. On the Freeside, this element is dominated by matt-finish anthracite-coloured cebrano wood with a white grain, along with a perfectly positioned seam of chrome. In the Townside, brushed aluminium appears here to underline the dynamic character.
On both versions, the upper section of the dashboard is trimmed in black leather and spans the instrument cluster and the static central display of the COMAND APS in a single sweep. At the bottom, as well as on the centre tunnel and in the footwells, the different styling touches that distinguish the two Vision models appear once again. The Freeside’s interior picks up on the exterior paintwork’s colour scheme. The seats and lower door trims are upholstered in white leather, which has been treated with a special coating method to give it the same matt sheen as the exterior’s “diamond white magno” paint finish. Quite apart from the stunning visual effect, this treatment of the natural covers gives them a silky soft surface that is kind to the skin and pleasant to the touch. Black piping seams on the seats help create the harmonious contrast between black and white. The interior appointments of the Townside emphasise its sporty ambitions, with leather upholstery and trim whose light aquamarine colour complements the tones of the exterior’s “Alubeam blue” finish. Here, dark blue piping seams produce a visually coherent contrast.
The driver’s armrest and the COMAND APS controller are positioned for optimum ergonomics. The tried-and-tested operating logic borrowed from the S-Class makes it possible to navigate through the individual menus intuitively. Additional direct access buttons make it easier to call up the principal main functions.
Both Vision variants protect their occupants with an all-encompassing safety concept founded on a high-strength passenger call and energy-absorbing crumple zones at the front and rear. The raft of protective measures includes front airbags, sidebags and windowbags, a kneebag for the driver, along with crash-responsive head restraints.
New BLUETEC four-cylinder engines with AdBlue injection
The Vision GLK studies are powered by a brand new generation of diesel engines. The four-cylinder 2.2-litre unit furthers the basic dynamic driving concept of the automotive siblings, and is capable of generating exhilarating performance from its output of 125 kW/170 hp whilst at the same time cutting fuel consumption and emission figures. Technical highlights of the extremely compact and smooth-running CDI powerplant with rearward camshaft drive include the fourth-generation common-rail direct injection with an injection pressure of 2000 bar, as well as a two-stage turbocharger system.
The modular BLUETEC emission control system has been further enhanced by Mercedes-Benz, and is now being combined in its most efficient form for the very first time with a four-cylinder engine. “BLUETEC gives us a technology that makes it possible for us to combine the high efficiency and impressive torque of modern diesel engines with extremely low emissions – a perfect propulsion unit for a compact SUV like the GLK,” declares Dr Thomas Weber, member of the Board of Management of Daimler AG and responsible for corporate research and the development of Mercedes-Benz Cars. The focus of BLUETEC technology is on minimising emissions of nitrogen oxides. These are the sole component of exhaust gases whose levels are higher in diesel engines than in their petrol-powered counterparts due to their operating principle. The oxidising catalytic converter and maintenance-free particulate filter are supplemented by a SCR catalytic converter. AdBlue, a harmless aqueous solution of urea, is injected into the exhaust stream.
This method converts as much as 80 per cent of the nitrogen oxides into non-toxic nitrogen and water. The study thereby provides a perfect demonstration of just how the more compact diesel models are also able to comply with the toughest emissions regulations, including even the EU6 limits that are only due to come into force for all new vehicles as of 2015. By that time, the current EU4 threshold for nitrogen oxides will have been brought down by a further 70 per cent or so to 0.08 g/km. Not even the stringent US limits enshrined in BIN 5 or California’s LEV2 legislation would pose an obstacle for either the Freeside or the Townside.
4MATIC drive system: maximum performance under any conditions
The new 4MATIC all-wheel-drive system featured in the GLK Freeside Concept and GLK Townside Concept is one of the most proficient of its kind. The basic concept, with the engine installed longitudinally and the transmission and transfer case designed as a single block, produces a compact and lightweight arrangement that minimises frictional losses, as well as heralding a number of further benefits compared to other systems where the drive unit is installed crossways. The upshot of this is that fuel consumption is on a par with that of a comparable model with conventional two-wheel drive. Vibration and acoustic comfort are of a standard normally found in today’s luxury models.
The basic 45:55 split of drive torque between the front and rear wheels combines with the ESP®, ASR and 4ETS dynamic handling control systems to produce supremely assured and perfectly predictable driving characteristics under all conditions. Optimum traction is assured at all times, along with maximum directional stability and flawless handling. The newly developed multiple-disc clutch in the centre differential comes to the system’s aid when friction between the tyres and ground is particularly low, for example when driving over snow or ice. A basic interaxle lock of 50 Newton metres gives a boost to traction, without any loss of handling stability.
Agile driving dynamics, peerless comfort, reassuring active safety
The AGILITY CONTROL suspension fitted in the Vision GLK studies succeeds in resolving a conflict of aims that afflicts the SUV segment especially: this is because the chassis engineers seek to create a vehicle that is as sporty and agile as it is comfortable and smooth, plus, at the same time, capable of travelling off-road. If the focus is placed on sporty, dynamic handling, there must be a certain firmness about the tuning of the suspension and particularly the shock absorbers, which both precludes the desired ride comfort typical of the Mercedes-Benz brand and imposes restrictions on the vehicle’s abilities in off-road terrain. If, on the other hand, the vehicle is purpose-built for ride comfort and off-road expertise by fitting softer dampers, its driving dynamics will of course suffer. “Amplitude-responsive damping” provides the solution: here, the shock absorber’s smoothing forces are of a flexible nature, rather than having a rigid setting. During normal driving along moderately contoured roads or off-road excursions at low speeds, the system is tuned for soft response to the benefit of the occupants’ sense of wellbeing and the vehicle’s off-road abilities. In order to keep the occupants feeling at their ease when driving at a brisker pace or performing abrupt evasive manoeuvres, the dampers switch to a firmer setting in such situations to ensure maximum handling stability. At the same time, the driver of the Vision GLK can count on the support of the speed-sensitive steering, which provides the optimum level of power assistance as the situation changes. The system therefore makes light work of parking or off-road manoeuvres by maximising power assistance. As the speed increases, however, assistance is reduced in favour of greater directional stability.
Each of the two studies capitalises on the inherent benefits of the amplitude-responsive damping in their own way. With its rather sporty suspension tuning and a ride height that has been lowered by 30 millimetres, the on-road-orientated Townside version maximises fun at the wheel when driving on tarmac. The Freeside, on the other hand, has been optimised for off-road terrain with longer spring travel and a softer basic set-up, promising the greatest possible driving pleasure regardless of the condition of the road ahead – even when there is no road as such to be seen.
Vision GLK: the latest member to join the premium SUV segment
Ever since the legendary G-Class was launched in 1979, Mercedes-Benz has laid claim to the role of leader in the off-roader segment. Today’s Sports Utility Vehicle segment first started to take shape when Mercedes-Benz brought out the first generation of the ML-Class in 1997. Including the second generation, which made its debut in 2005, this model series has racked up around 900,000 sales to date, making it one of the most successful premium SUVs in the world. Since 2006, the GL-Class has in its turn reigned supreme in the SUV world, offering first-class travel in all conditions, both on the road and off it. The GLK Freeside Concept and Townside now illustrate just how the tremendous expertise gleaned from this progression of models can be transferred to a more compact format. These two SUV breeds are therefore in the very best company – just like the series-production versions which will be making their market debut in autumn 2008.