Audi RS Q3 2020 review: Sportback and SUV
Any Audi with an R and S in front of the model name should make you look up and take notice? So is the RS Q3 worthy of those letters?
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Fast SUVs, we can't get enough of them. The fastest of the small SUV set was the previous-generation GLA 45, a high-riding version of AMG's bonkers A-Class hatchback. Tons of power, more ride height (and, by extension, a better ride) and an obnoxious soundtrack.
It had its problems - the GLA was literally just a jacked up A-Class, so it had tight rear legroom and a chintzy interior but for me it was the pick of the two cars because it didn't rearrange your spine and, perversely, was more fun to drive.
This year, we got the second generation GLA which built on the success of the first GLA. While, yes, it is a jacked-up A-Class, it is much more of an actual SUV and with it comes more space, more of its own personality and, like its hatchback sibling, there's a new high-performance version, the GLA 35 to sit under the even more bonkers GLA 45.
One of the reasons there is a 35 version of both the A and the GLA is that the 45 versions are so much more expensive than the 250 models that there was a gap you could drive...well, another spec level through.
That's not not to say the GLA 35 is cheap - starting at $82,935, you're still paying a hefty premium of $15,000 over the GLA 250 4Matic. Here in Australia, that buys you 20-inch alloys, a nine-speaker stereo, dual-zone climate control, reversing camera, keyless entry and start, front and rear parking sensors, active cruise control, electric front seats with heating, sat nav, auto LED headlights, leather seats and steering wheel, auto parking, power tailgate, auto wipers, panoramic sunroof and wireless phone charging.
The MBUX entertainment system is superb. While it does have wireless charging, you do have to connect via USB to get Apple CarPlay or Android Auto up on the second of the crisp 10.25-inch screens. The media screen works as both a touchscreen and you can run it from the pad on the centre console. And a number of the many buttons on the steering wheel.
You can get the signature AMG shell seats for $3290 (good if you're not, er, generously proportioned) as well as 21-inch wheels for $1990 which I think look far too big in the arches and quite possibly ruin what's left of the ride. You can also go all boy-racer with the Aerodynamics Package for $2990. Tick a few boxes and you can easily get the GLA 35 to the mid-$90k mark.
My car had the Communications Package which has three more speakers for a total of 12 and rather usefully, a head-up display, all for a stiff $2490.
Five of the GLA's colours cost $1490 (Cosmos Black, Denim Blue, Mountain Grey, Iridium Silver and Digital White), one is $1990 (Patagonia Red), not even white is free but at least it's only $500 while Night Black is the sole freebie.
The new GLA's styling is much more obviously an SUV. One could say Mercedes was a bit timid first time around, but just about every car maker's first small SUV attempt was having a bet each way. Mercedes, however, really phoned it in, but got lucky because it worked. Put that down to the power of the three-pointed star.
By the same token, it's not a wild departure from the theme set by the A-Class, but with thematic influences from the GLC. The AMG version now pick up the Panamericana grille and a more aero-aggressive front bumper, skirts and rear bumper, but does keep the tough unpainted wheel arch extensions. The AMG Night Package - which every other brand seems to call a black pack - adds a bit of menace.
Inside is almost indistinguishable from an A, which is a very good thing. The GLA ups the ante with the excellent, squared-off AMG steering wheel and a few extra buttons to choose the chassis and engine settings. The seats have lairy red inserts that might be a bait and switch to get the performance seats but that's the only mis-step in what is an otherwise excellent cabin.
There are two key stats worth knowing, particularly if you're a current GLA owner wondering what the point of an upgrade might be. The MFA2 platform on which it rides has a longer wheelbase and wider track to liberate more room for people and stuff.
The rear seats are roomier than the old car and make for a more pleasant journey for taller folk, who also have more headroom than in the old car. While we're back here, you get bottle holders in the door but, crushingly, there is no armrest and no cupholders.
Things improve in the front with a pair of cupholders and a wireless charging pad that fits larger phones and a long, shallow bin under the armrest.
The boot holds an okay 435 litres (the Audi Q3, by comparison, has a massive 530 litres) seats up and 1430 litres seats down and has a nice flat loading lip to floor relationship, to go with the powered tailgate.
Under the bonnet is a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo with 225kW at 5800rom and 400Nm between 3000 and 4000rpm. Merc engine-spotters will spot that it's not a hand-built engine with Fritz or Heinz's signature on a little plate like the "proper" AMG engines do.
Called M260, it's the GLA250's basic setup with more cooling, a water to air chargecooler, its own air intake and a twin-scroll hotside turbo that spins up nice quickly given its proximity to the exhaust header.
There is also an AMG exhaust with a flap you can open at startup by pulling one of the gearshift paddles for what Mercedes calls an Emotive startup - one imagines this will inspire some emotive language from your neighbours if you fire up at 6am. The paddles operate an eight-speed twin-clutch transmission driving an AMG-calibrated all-wheel drive system that can send 100 per cent of power to the front wheels and a maximum fifty per cent to the rear. An off-road mode locks the torque split to 50:50 if you're keen to take this thing into the loose stuff on shiny 20-inch wheels and sporty road tyres.
Mercedes claims you'll crack the run to 100km/h in 5.2 seconds. Yikes.
The GLA carries an official combined cycle figure of 8.0L/100km. Over a reasonably wet weekend and a motorway-heavy run down the coast from Sydney along with some suburban running, I got an indicated 11.3L/100km. I thought that was alright given I liked hearing the exhaust pop on the upshift and I wasn't messing about in the corners. I'd go so far as to say you could get quite close to the official figure if you were paying attention.
The GLA 35 comes loaded up with eight airbags, ABS, stability and traction controls, blind spot monitoring, forward AEB (low and high speed), forward collision warning, reversing camera, auto high beam, lane keep assist, road sign recognition and reverse cross-traffic alert.
You can add front cross traffic alert and active cruise with the $1990 Driving Assistance Package.
The current GLA has not yet been EuroNCAP or ANCAP tested but I would be staggered if it didn't breeze through with a five star rating.
Mercedes has upped the ante on its German rivals by offering a five year/unlimited kilometre warranty.
Service intervals are an impressive 12 months/25,000km. Under the capped-price servicing regime that runs for three years, you'll pay $2650 or an average of $883 per service. The third service is the killer, at $1250.
If you pre-pay your servicing, you can save $500 with a three-year plan for $2150. A five year plan is $3500.
Unusually for an AMG, the engine does not completely dominate the GLA 35 experience. That's clearly by design - this car is meant for the everyday. While it is hugely powerful for this kind of car, it's a friendly engine that's ready to punch you in the kidneys when you want it, but bumbles around happily when you're in Comfort mode. Which is a pretty good mode.
Moving to Sport amps up the engine but not the suspension, at least not too much. It's at this point you suspect that the 20-inch wheels may not be the right choice for the GLA 35 as the suspension starts to fidget on anything but the smoothest of surfaces. Moving on to Sport+ and unless you're really getting stuck in, it's fidgety and thumpy. One neat trick is that you can avoid all that with the I (individual) setting. Like the C 63, there's a dial for the drive select. But to make life easier for you, you can set up the I setting to your liking, meaning you can keep the suspension in Comfort or Sport mode while turning everything else up to Sport+.
The big sticky Continental tyres are terrific but they're surprisingly noisy. That's kind of the price of entry for a sporty German car, but you do have to raise your voice over the rumble on most surfaces over about 60km/h. The flipside is that you've got a ton of grip, wet or dry in the GLA 35. The throttle reacts quickly to your inputs with the power coming on quickly, the gearbox shifting smoothly (or firmly, if you ask it to). The paddles are very useful and when you're braking into a corner, you can hold the paddle and it will find the lowest practical gear. Nifty.
The brakes are four-piston calipers up front gripping huge 350mm brakes, the rears are single piston but still big discs at 320mm.
Steering is typically AMG, with a strong turn-in to corners and with enough feel to let you know what's happening under the tyres. It's never too chatty, so it's not a tiring car.
On the highway it does settle somewhat and the tyre noise calms down. The suspension keeps you comfortable in comfort mode and the engine is barely noticeable.
Fast and small SUVs from Germany have arrived thick and fast over the last couple of years and of course Mercedes has to show off by having two, the GLA 45 will be along shortly.
A new addition to the GLA range, the GLA 35 is a welcome one, a step down from the brink of madness that will undoubtedly be the GLA 45 while putting itself into combat with the X2 M35i.
It's fast, fun and for a family, it's reasonably roomy, a sensible upgrade to an A 35. It's not cheap, but that doesn't ever seem to have stopped Mercedes buyers. I'm pretty sure the GLA 35 will be no exception.
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