Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class VS Audi Q2
- Exterior styling
- Interior and cabin appeal
- Rear space, and space overall
- Lack of boot space
- Driving position not too high for some
- Engine noise slightly un-sexy
- Good value
- SQ2 has great performance
- Angular looks
- Cabin feels old
- Could have more standard safety tech
- Rear legroom limited
Apparently there is an ugly Kardashian, but you don’t care, or if you do, you shouldn’t, so let’s talk about the Hemsworth brothers instead.
In any other family, Luke Hemsworth would probably be called handsome, if a little short. Unfortunately for him, standing next to Liam and the God who walks amongst us that is Chris (I had to interview him once, he really is dreamy), Luke looks like he’s barely keeping his chin above the water line at the shallow end of the gene pool.
The Mercedes-Benz SUV range has quite a variation of lookers in its family tree as well, but I would argue that the new, entry-level GLA is pretty much the Chris of the range, or at least the Liam. The unfortunate, slightly large-foreheaded GLB would obviously be the Luke.
The only problem with all this, of course, is that the car that originally gave birth to the GLA - the A-Class - is more attractive than all of them, and Craig Hemsworth, sire of the family, doesn’t quite pull that off.
The point is that the new GLA is going to be even more popular than the original one, which sold a staggering one million units worldwide, because it is not only bigger and taller, but better looking, inside and out.
And let’s face it, no one is buying an urban SUV like this for the way it can climb a snow-covered alpine pass. Even all-wheel drive is optional.
But the GLA has this niche nailed, and the new one - thanks to its style, space and the effortless way it rides - is going to be an even bigger success.
|Engine Type||2.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
Audi’s littlest and most affordable SUV, the Q2, has been updated with new looks and tech, but something else has snuck in with it. Or should I say roared in? It’s the SQ2, with a whopping 300 horsepower and a snarling bark.
So, this review has something for everybody. It’s for those who want to know what’s new for the Q2 in this latest update - those thinking of buying a cool-looking little SUV from Audi - and for those who want to wake their neighbours up and frighten their friends.
Ready? Let’s go.
|Engine Type||2.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
You can tell that this car is going to be a success just by looking at it. For a lot of people, to see one will be to want one, and when they sit in that hugely high driving position and gaze upon the future-fabulous interior they’ll be even more sold.
It’s fair to say the GLA 250 does everything well - aside from providing boot space - and with great comfort, and in terms of looks, inside and out, it reaches the level of outstanding.
Personally, I’d take the lower and sleeker A Class every time.
The Q2 is good value and great to drive – especially the SQ2. The exterior looks new, but the cabin feels older than the larger Q3, and most other Audi models.
More standard advanced safety tech would make the Q2 even more appealing, as would a five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty. While we’re at it, a hybrid variant would make enormous sense.
So, a great car, but Audi could offer more to make it an even better proposition for buyers.
I have to say that it’s quite an effort for a car company to get me interested in the look of an SUV, but from its tough, bold and yet stylish grille to its taut back end and BMW-aping rear light cluster, the new GLA really is a looker.
I had the good fortune to bring our GLA 250 test vehicle home and park it right next to the previous model, in the same colour, thus properly ruining the day of one of my neighbours.
The growth in size is clear - the new car is 12cm taller, 30mm wider and has a 30mm-longer wheelbase, yet overall it is 14mm shorter, which makes it look neater as well as stronger - but it’s the little tucks and tweaks of design that have really improved the look. The rear-light cluster is worth mentioning again, as it's just so much nicer.
While the original GLA was simply a case of making an A Class on stilettos, its success has encouraged Benz to really pour some effort into its successor, and the result is clear. This thing is a real looker.
This updated Q2 looks almost identical to the previous one and really the only changes are subtle styling tweaks to the front and back of the car.
The front air vents (they aren’t real air vents on the Q2, but they are on the SQ2) are now larger and pointier and the top of the grille is lower. Around the back, the bumper now has a similar design to the front, with those pointy polygons set wide apart.
It’s an angular little SUV, full of sharp-edged shapes like some kind of acoustical wall in an auditorium.
The SQ2 just looks more aggro, with its metallic-trimmed air vents and beefy quad exhaust.
The new colour is called Apple Green and it’s not really like any colour on the road – well not since 1951, anyway when this hue was hugely popular on everything from cars to telephones. It’s also very close to Disney’s “Go Away” green – look it up and then ask yourself if you should be driving a car that’s kind of invisible to the human eye.
I digress. Other colours in the range include Brilliant Black, Turbo Blue, Glacier White, Floret Silver, Tango Red, Manhattan Grey and Navarra Blue.
Inside, the cabins are the same as before, apart from the larger, sleeker media display, and there are some new trim materials, too. The 35 TFSI has silver inlays with a diamond paint finish, while the 40TFSI has aluminium door sills.
The Q2 has beautiful quilted Nappa leather upholstery, which goes beyond just covering the seats and to the centre console, doors and armrests.
All options offer well laid out and premium feeling cabins, but the disappointing part is that it's an older Audi design, which started out in the third-generation A3, launched in 2013, and still exists on the Q2, even though most Audi models, including the Q3, have the new interior design. This would bug me if I was thinking about buying a Q2.
Have you thought about a Q3? It’s not that much more in price, and it’s a tad bigger, obviously.
The Q2 is tiny, at 4208mm end to end, 1794mm wide and 1537mm tall. The SQ2 is longer at 4216mm long, 1802mm wide and 1524mm tall.
The main goal of the GLA’s new, more SUV-like shape, in practicality terms, seems to have been to lift the driver even further off the ground, because the command-seating position is obviously a big selling point for someone who finds the A Class too ground-hugging.
So, while some of that growth in height has been used to increase head room to the point where I could easily wear Abraham Lincoln’s hat while driving, much of it has gone to making the driving position a full 10cm higher than in the previous GLA (it’s also 14cm higher than in an A Class).
Personally, the height of the seat drove me slightly spare, and every time I got in I tried to lower it, only to find it doesn’t go any lower, but, tellingly, my wife - who is not far off being an elf - loved it.
What I did like was the back seat, which is truly voluminous. Through clever packaging, Benz has managed to liberate no less than 12cm of extra legroom back there, and I could properly stretch out.
With its standard double-paned panoramic roof and huge windows (part of huge doors, which do come close to scraping on any gutter higher than a match box), it’s a very glassy interior indeed, and visibility is excellent.
There are two cupholders between the front seats, and there’s storage for big bottles in each door. Oddment storage is plentiful, although they could have more if they did away with the now redundant mouse pad and the so-called “arm rest” behind that, which feels more like a gear-shift lever they forgot to remove when they put the shifting functions up on a column stalk.
There’s no need for the track pad any more because the giant and truly very lovely 10.25-inch touch screen does everything via touch, and sits next to another screen the same size that acts as your dash readout, making the whole thing look like a particularly long iPad.
While other car companies, including Audi, which has long been the winner in any interior-design conversation, are still just jamming big screens on top of dashboards, Benz has turned its entire dash into a digital display, and it looks amazing, and futuristic. Like a concept car you can actually buy.
The overall feeling of quality and tech - particularly at night when it all lights up beautifully in a colour of your choosing - in this alluring interior is one of the main reasons buyers will flock to the new GLA.
The seats are not as sporty as some, but they’re comfortable enough.
The one letdown, however, which comes as a shock with all that space in the rear, is the boot, which is just 435 litres, compared to the Audi Q3’s far more practical 530 litres. It really is a surprise when you open the back and see so little there, and that really does lower the practicality mark.
The Q2 is basically a current model Audi A3, but more practical. I’ve lived with the A3 Sedan and Sportback and while rear legroom is just as confined in those as it is in the Q2 (I’m 191cm and need to squish my knees behind my driving position) getting in and out is easier in the SUV, with its elevated ride height and taller door apertures.
The easier access helps enormously when helping kids into their child seats. In an A3 I need to kneel on the footpath to be at the right level to put my son into the car, but not with the Q2.
The boot space of the Q2 is 405 litres (VDA) for the front-wheel-drive 35 TFSI and for the SQ2 it’s 355 litres. That not bad, and the large hatch makes for a big opening, which is more practical than a sedan’s boot.
Inside, the cabin isn’t enormous, but rear headroom is good, thanks to the fairly high roof.
Cabin storage isn’t terrific, although the front door pockets are big and there are two cupholders up front.
Only the SQ2 has USB ports in the back for rear passengers, but all Q2s have two USB ports up front for charging and media – plus all have wireless charging for phones.
Price and features
I find it hard to believe I’m saying this about a Benz, but at a starting price of $66,500, the GLA 250 4MATIC does seem like quite a lot of car for the money. This might be influenced by the fact that I know a couple who recently dropped more than $70K on the smaller A Class (they actually went shopping for a GLA, but then fell in love with the look of the little hatch).
There, are of course, always issues with the Germans when it comes to what you do and don’t get for your tempting entry price, and in the case of our test vehicle it would stick in my craw quite badly to pay $385 extra for its Polar White paint. Yes, white paint costs extra.
While the Titan Grey Pearl and Black Lugano Leather is nice, it’s only in the car as part of the $2838 AMG Exclusive Package. Throw in the Sports Package at $1915, which gets us the sexy 19-inch AMG alloys, and the Driving Assistance Package for $1531 worth of extra active safety, drop on a dollop of LCT at $1329 and the asking price for our urban SUV hits a less-enticing-sounding $74,498.
Your standard inclusions for the $66,500 are a very lovely panoramic electric sunroof, heated and electronically adjustable front seats, with memory function, lowered comfort suspension and sports-direct steering, plus the Off-Road Engineering Package, while the standard, non AMG wheels are also 19-inch alloys, presumably just less sexy ones.
And you don't have to pay extra for Apple CarPlay, which is nice.
The Q2 entry grade is the 35 TFSI and it lists for $42,900, while the 40 TFSI quattro S line is $49,900. The SQ2 is the king of the range and lists at $64,400.
The SQ2 has never been to Australia before, and we’ll get to its standard features in a moment.
Aussies have been able to buy a 35 TFSI or 40 TFSI since the Q2 arrived in 2017, but now both have been updated with new styling and features. The good news is the prices have only gone up by a few hundred bucks, compared to the old Q2.
Standard on the 35 TFSI are LED headlights and taillights, LED DRLs, leather seats and steering wheel, dual-zone climate control, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, eight-speaker stereo with digital radio, front and rear parking sensors and a rear-view camera.
That was all standard on the previous 35 TFSI, but here’s what’s new: an 8.3-inch media screen (the old one was seven inches); a proximity key with push button start (great news); wireless phone charging (brilliant), heated exterior mirrors (more helpful than you’d think), ambient interior lighting (aww… pretty); and 18-inch alloys (heck yes).
The 40 TFSI quattro S line adds sports front seats, drive-mode selection, a power tailgate, and paddle shifters. The previous one had all that, too, but this new one has the sporty S line exterior body kit (the previous car was just called Sport not S line).
Now, the 45 TFSI quattro S line may appear not to get much more than the 35 TFSI, but the extra money is getting you more grunt and an awesome all-wheel-drive system – the 35 TFSI is front-wheel-drive only. If you love driving and can’t afford the SQ2, then $7K extra for the 45 TFSI is absolutely worth it.
If you have saved all your pennies and the SQ2 is what you’re zeroing in on, then here’s what you get: Metallic/pearl effect paint, 19-inch alloys, matrix LED headlights with dynamic indicators, the S body kit with quad exhaust, sports suspension, Nappa leather upholstery, heated front seats, 10-colour ambient lighting, stainless-steel pedals, auto parking, a fully digital instrument cluster, and a 14-speaker Bang & Olufsen stereo.
Of course, you get an incredible high-output four-cylinder engine, too, but we’ll get to that in a moment.
Engine & trans
The GLA 250 comes with 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine that makes a handy 165kW and 350Nm, which is sent to all four wheels using 4MATIC all-wheel drive. The claimed 0 to 100km/h time is 6.7 seconds.
Your silky smooth gearbox is an eight-speed, or 8G-DCT automatic, in Benz speak.
The engine feels powerful enough, without being exciting, and sounds pleasant enough, without sounding sporty - it's pretty much Goldilocks for an urban SUV.
There are three grades and each has a different engine.
The 35 TFSI has a new 1.5-litre four-cylinder turbo-petrol engine making 110kW and 250Nm; the 40 TFSI has a 2.0-litre turbo-petrol four making 140kW and 320 Nm; and the SQ2 has a 2.0-litre turbo-petrol as well, but it puts out a very impressive 221kW and 400Nm.
I drove all three cars and, from an engine perspective, it’s like turning the ‘Smile Dial’ up from Mona Lisa in the 35 TFSI, to Jim Carrey in the SQ2, with Chrissy Teigen in between.
Audi engines are superbly modern and efficient – even its monster V10 can shut down cylinders to save fuel, and so can the new 1.5-litre four-cylinder engine in the 35 TFSI. Audi says that over a combination of urban and open roads, the 35 TFSI should use 5.2L/100km.
The 40 TFSI is thirstier at 7L/100km, but the SQ2 demands a bit more at 7.7L/100km. Still, not bad.
What’s not good is the lack of a hybrid, PHEV or EV variant of the Q2. I mean the car is small and ideal for the city, and therefore a perfect candidate for an electric version. Not having a hybrid or EV is why the Q2 model range doesn’t score well for its overall fuel economy.
With such a high driving position, the worry is that you’re going to feel like you’re sitting on the new GLA rather than in it.
But the fact is that, once I became accustomed to the fact that I couldn’t get the seat as low as I wanted to, it all became comfortable enough, and I could get on with fully appreciating the ride quality.
While the GLA has a good, Germanic solidity to the way the interior is bolted together - the doors are almost too heavy, I fact, and can be tough for little people to close - it’s the way it sits on the road that really impresses.
The little Benz soaks up the bumps, particularly in Comfort mode, and provides the kind of ride and handling quality that you’d expect in a six-figure German car. Or a Benz of old, you might say.
Critics of A Classes past were heard to complain that they just didn’t ride as softly or richly as a Mercedes should, but the company has put things to rights with its smaller cars in recent years and you really feel like you’re getting the badge you paid for here.
Step out of the cruisy, snoozy Comfort setting into Sport, however, and the CLA feels out of its, well, comfort zone. It’s almost too toey for its own good, wanting to lurch around, holding each gear desperately and making noises that are merely loud rather than sexy.
Engine noise is a little intrusive whenever you try and accelerate fiercely in the GLA, in fact, but there is some handy pace there if you really need it.
Fast driving does feel out of character for the GLA 250 variant, however, and those who want that kind of thing should wait for the AMG-fettled version that will arrive in the next month or so, bringing 225kW and 400Nm.
As a cornering weapon, this car is more of a butter knife, smoothing its way around bends with minimal bodyroll. It’s an urban SUV, and it drives like one, albeit a very good one.
Typically, the steering is also light and easy to use rather than heavy and talkative.
Being the 4-MATIC variant, the GLA 250 also offers an Off-Road mode, which takes full advantage of its torque-on-demand all-wheel-drive system, but sadly our slightly brief introduction to the car didn’t provide us with the chance to hurl it down a scree-covered mountain side, nor to test out its version of hill-descent control.
When it comes to the driving part, Audi can almost do no wrong – everything the company makes, whether it’s low powered or rip-your-face-off fast, has all the ingredients for engaging driving.
The Q2 range is no different. The entry-grade 35 TFSI has the least grunt and, with its front wheels pulling the car along, it’s the only one in the family that’s not blessed with all-wheel drive, but unless you’re doing laps at a track you’re not going to be wanting more power.
I drove the 35 TFSI for more than 100km on the launch, through the country and into the city, and in all situations, from overtaking on highways to merging and slow traffic, the most affordable Q2 performed well. That 1.5-litre engine is responsive enough and the dual-clutch transmission changes swiftly and smoothly.
Superb steering and good visibility (although that rear three-quarter view is slightly obstructed by the back pillar) makes the 35 TFSI easy to drive.
The 45 TFSI is a good mid-point between the 35 TFSI and the SQ2 and comes with a very noticeable bump in oomph, while the extra traction from the all-wheel drive is a reassuring addition.
The SQ2 isn’t the hardcore beast you might think it is – this thing would be super easy to live with daily. Yes, it has firm sports suspension, but it’s not overly hard, and that engine, which nudges almost 300 horsepower, doesn’t feel like a Rottweiler on the end of a leash. If anything, it’s a Blue Heeler that loves to run and run, but is happy to take it easy and get fat.
The SQ2 is my pick of the bunch, and not just because it’s quick, agile, and has an intimidating growl. It’s also comfortable and luxurious, with sumptuous leather seats.
The GLA has not been ANCAP or Euro NCAP crash rated yet, but the first car got five stars from the Euro test and was never ANCAP tested. It’s safe to say they design their cars around being damn sure they get five stars.
You’ll also be getting no less than nine airbags - front, pelvis side and window bags for driver and front passenger, sidebags for the rear occupants and a knee bag for the driver.
In terms of active safety, the Active Brake Assist - which works up to 60km/h - is standard, as is Blind Spot Assist, with exit-warning function, which alerts the driver to approaching cyclists or vehicles when they’re about to open their door. Active Lane Keep Assist is also standard, as are the Active Bonnet, Traffic Sign Assist and Cross Wind Assist.
But you will have to stump up for the Driving Assistance Package to get things like Active Lane Change Assist, Active Emergency Braking Assist and Evasive Steering Assist.
The Q2 was given the maximum five-star ANCAP rating when it was tested in 2016, but by 2021 standards it is light on advanced safety tech.
Yes, AEB with pedestrian and cyclist detection is standard on all Q2s and the SQ2, and so is blind-spot warning, but there’s no rear cross traffic alert or reverse AEB, while lane-keeping assistance is only standard on the SQ2, along with adaptive cruise control.
For a car that will most likely be purchased by younger people, it doesn’t seem right that they’re not being protected as well they would be in more expensive Audi models.
For child seats, there are two ISOFIX points and three top-tether anchor mounts.
A space-saver spare is under the boot floor.
Your GLA comes with a five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty, which is Japanese good, if not Korean good.
In terms of servicing, you can choose to purchase a Service Plan or pay as you go with capped-price servicing.
The costs for three annual services are $2050 for the Service Plan, or $2550 with the Capped Price Servicing (first is $550, second is $750, third $1250).
Service Plans can be bought in four or five-year lots, at $2950 and $3500 respectively.
The pressure for Audi to move to a five-year warranty must be hugely intense, with Mercedes-Benz offering one, along with pretty much every other mainstream brand. But for now, Audi will only cover the Q2 for three years/unlimited kilometres.
As for servicing, Audi offers a five-year plan for the Q2 costing $2280 and covering every 12-month/15000km service over that time. For the SQ2, the cost is only a fraction higher at $2540.