Shootout: BMW X1 vs Audi Q3 vs Mercedes GLA
Price OTR Mumbai: Rs. 35.09 – 48.29 lakhs (Audi Q3), Rs. 38.31 – 47.09 lakhs (BMW X1), Rs. 42.62 – 47.99 lakhs (Mercedes GLA)
All 3 German offerings are compact luxury SUVs but that’s where the similarities end
The sense of desirability around German luxury cars is so high that people in India are lapping them up with no second thought. However, even those with the dough and the willingness to make a statement want to club their expensive car purchase with practicality. It’s the compact luxury SUV which ends up giving them the best of both worlds. While entry-level German cars aren’t new to us (remember the time when the A4, C-Class and 3-Series could be had for the same price as today’s CLA and A3), entry-level SUVs are surely a new and trending phenomenon. But among the Audi Q3, BMW X1 and the new arrival, the Mercedes GLA, which makes the strongest case in the segment?
Motor Quest: BMW was the first mover in this segment and launched the X1 in India in 2010 while Audi was quick enough to follow with the Q3 in 2012. Mercedes took its time and the GLA only went on sale in the second half of 2014.
Styling – One look at all these cars and instantly your eyes stick to the Mercedes GLA, after all, it is the freshest car of this lot and its young age shows. Having some striking elements make it stand out boldly, with the BMW X1 looking dated in comparison, in spite of it getting a facelift not so long back (2013). The Bimmer has been on sale for long and the station wagon like profile simply looks out of place on what is positioned as an SUV. No such problems on the Merc though, it has a nice profile, those headlights being beautiful to look at and it’s also the only car here to feature bigger 18-inch wheels.
However, the Mercedes simply isn’t big enough to justify being called an SUV, it does look like a pumped up hatchback, so calling it a crossover is apt. This is where the Audi Q3 comes into play, it looks every inch an SUV and although it is the shortest car in length here, it still does justice to the SUV design. Taking a big hint from its bigger Q siblings, the Q3 has quite a lot of presence and the design elements just fit in right with the Audi. Among the three cars, if any one of them stays true to the SUV design theme, it is indeed the Ingolstadt machine.
Interiors – When one steps inside too, it is yet again the Mercedes which offers the freshest cabin, the dashboard design being quite appealing. Although shared with the A-Class and CLA, the GLA’s interior packs in a sporty appearance which makes you feel quite special. Neither the Q3, nor the X1 feel exciting in front of the Merc when it comes to visual appeal of the cabin, the X1 fairing worse with its boring and ubiquitous BMW layout. But as always, there is more than what meets the eye. Because when you factor in rear seat space and overall comfort, the Audi easily edges ahead of the other two cars. Not only do you sit higher in the Audi Q3 (for that SUV commanding position), you also get more rear legroom and headroom than the X1 and GLA.
The Audi also beats its rivals in terms of boot space, having a 40-litre bigger boot, while the X1 and GLA are almost identical. However, the GLA’s space saver spare wheel is placed on the boot, hampering usability. When it comes to the features on offer, one will be disappointed to know that even cars which cost half as much come with more equipment. None of these cars come with keyless go with the Q3 and GLA getting a conventional key to start the car (the BMW getting a push button start but you still have to insert the key in a slot). The Mercedes GLA doesn’t get climate control system (other cars gets a dual-zone) while it also misses out on front parking sensors (even the BMW doesn’t get them) which are offered by the Audi and is also available on the smaller and cheaper A and B-Class cars.
Then the Audi and BMW miss out on a rearview camera (the Merc gets it with guidelines) but even compact sub 4-metre cars like the Hyundai Xcent come with a reverse parking camera! The Audi misses out on a rear-seat centre arm rest, a shocking omission but gets rear seat AC vents which are shockingly not present on the BMW or Mercedes. The multi-information display on the X1 appears to be from last decade and it is with very limited data on offer but its iDrive system is very loaded and doesn’t appear paired down like on the other two cars here. However, all these cars do get some equipment which is common between them like leather seats, large sunroof, headlight washers, six airbags, electric adjustment for the front seats and rear parking sensors.
Performance – The Q3 draws power from a 2.0-litre TFSI motor that belts out an impressive 211 BHP and 300 Nm of torque, matched to a fast shifting 7-speed gearbox. The Mercedes also employs a 2.0-litre turbo mill like the Audi but has 181 horses on offer, although torque output is identical at 300 Nm, with cogs being swapped by a 7-speed gearbox. The difference in power alone puts the GLA behind the Q3 in terms of outright acceleration, the Q3 being faster by 0.7 seconds to the ton, taking just 6.9 seconds. But that’s not all, the petrol powered Audi is much more fun than the petrol powered Merc while also being more eager with its wider torque band. But demand for diesel powered cars is higher in this segment and all three come with similar displacement diesel engines.
The BMW X1 and Audi Q3 are much faster than the Mercedes GLA, offering better performance too
Now all these cars get multiple driving modes so while in the Mercedes you can choose between C, E and S; one can shift into Sport and tiptronic modes using the gear lever on the Audi and BMW (the GLA gets paddle shifts). These settings alter the engine and gearbox, nothing more. But what is interesting is the drive configurations of these vehicles, the Mercedes is a front-wheel drive, the BMW is a rear-wheel drive and the Audi is an all-wheel drive (front biased though). So when you go aggressive with the GLA’s throttle, you do end up with some torque steer which isn’t an issue on the other two cars. But there is no replacement for power and the GLA suffers with the deficiency it carries.
Its 2.1-litre oil burner only has 134 BHP on offer, with 300 Nm of torque, meanwhile the 2.0-litre engined Audi and BMW produce 177 BHP/380 Nm and 184 BHP/380 Nm respectively. The Mercedes is simply no match for its rivals when it comes to acceleration, the X1 and Q3 simply blowing the GLA out in a straight line with a 0-100 km/hr time of 8.2 seconds on the Audi and 7.9 seconds on the BMW, the Benz being slower at 9.9 seconds. The bigger engine in the Merc makes the car as heavy as the four-wheel drive Audi while the BMW is the lightest here, giving it an advantage in both acceleration and top speed. While the GLA has enough city and highway performance, it only feels lacking when you put it against its rivals which are both quicker and come with a better gearbox too.
Between Audi’s 7-speed transmission and BMW’s 8-speed gearbox, it is the latter which has the better shifts. Where the Q3 feels better than the X1 is in NVH, the motor is more calm and also feels more at home in the city as the power is a bit spiky in the BMW in the low-end. But out on the highway, one will appreciate the way the diesel X1 pulls to the 5000 RPM redline and makes an aural note in return. There isn’t much to differentiate these cars when it comes to mileage but what is crucial is the tank range, the GLA having the smallest tank of 50-litres while the X1 has a bigger fuel tank of 61-litres and the Q3 has the biggest of them all, holding 64-litres.
Driving Dynamics – The BMW X1 is the best handling car here and is such a hoot to drive. The Bavarian automaker always gets its dynamics spot on and the same can be seen on all its cars. Even with the X1, the body control, steering feel, grip, stability and brakes are the best in the segment. The BMW is so good that when you drive it, you simply forget it is a car with a high ground clearance, it simply doesn’t feel like an SUV with its immaculate driving manners. The Mercedes follows second and is quite fun to drive too although not in the same league as the BMW, it scores better than the Audi whose steering feels vague in comparison.
Meanwhile, the Q3 is the car with the best ride quality, it isn’t stiffly sprung which hurts its handling (although still good but not as good as its rivals) but the BMW and Mercedes are stiffly set-up and thus don’t have the same cushioning effect as the Audi. Where the baby Q further pulls a large advantage is its ability to go on the less beaten path. That’s because its quattro system enables it to take on terrains and emerge out victorious which are a challenge in the non 4-wheel drive GLA and X1. Mercedes and BMW do have 4-wheel drive versions of the GLA and X1 but they aren’t offered in India yet.
Safety and After Sales Service – Priced quite similarly, all these German companies understand that most of its customers would be first time luxury car buyers so there are maintenance plans to ensure they don’t burn their pockets but Mercedes offers a class leading Rs. 1.99 per km for its NGC (New Generation Cars) products, thereby making the GLA the easiest to upkeep. All cars come loaded with a lot of safety kit so not much to differentiate on that front but Mercedes does have the biggest service network in the luxury car space which Audi and BMW can’t match.
Verdict – When one buys an entry-level luxury car, they want to feel special and the X1 simply fails to impress in that regard. Yes, the BMW is the most fun to drive car and the most involving for the driver but that can’t take away from the fact that its age has started to show. With the second generation model coming next year, things will certainly change but today, it finishes third in this shootout. This puts the fight to the top between the Audi and Mercedes, now the GLA is fresher and thus feels more special to look at and sit in but it isn’t true to the SUV tag like the Audi. The Q3 is roomier, offers better ride quality and has more presence, attributes which justify its SUV proposition better. With Mercedes still bringing the GLA via the CBU route and Audi having gone the CKD way, the Q3 costs less than the Merc. This equation is hard to ignore, making the quattro vehicle easily trump the three-pointed star to win this shootout.
The BMW X1 isn’t as impressive a vehicle as the Audi and Mercedes but between the latter two Germans, the Q3 makes a stronger case than the GLA and is thus our choice of a compact luxury SUV. The quicker and better equipped Audi Q3 is set to reign this segment as a facelift is coming soon which will make it an even better bet against its rivals.
Further Reading –
Picture Editing – Sri Manikanta Achanta