Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class VS Audi Q3
- 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
- Standard tech features
- Fun but grown-up design
- Massive boot
- 35 TFSI underpowered
- Sporty but harsh suspension
- Still just a three-year warranty
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|
The previous Audi Q3 was like an archetype German businessman. Practical, at times harsh, and ruthlessly efficient, it was the kind of SUV that was good at meeting its KPIs.
Now, though, we’re greeted by an all-new-generation Q3. It’s a bit more fun, a bit more rebellious, a lot more high-tech, and, alarmingly, it looks up to SUV rock stars like the Lamborghini Urus.
But as much fun as it all might seem, the Q3 has an important job, and that’s to carry Audi’s premium small-SUV message to a new generation of buyers, as well as the sensible last-gen Q3 fan. Audi even has big hopes that this car will be over-represented in its 2020 sales mix.
No pressure, then. Can the youthful new Q3 really take on all that’s been asked of it? Read on to find out.
|Engine Type||1.4L 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.
Audi’s new Q3 feels fresh, high-tech, and polished. All things the small SUV will need to be as the brand places ambitious hopes on its little shoulders.
As it is now one of the most spacious small SUVs in the premium segment, it also proves you don’t have to sacrifice practicality for luxury.
While this entry-level 35 TFSI ships with a so-so engine, keep in mind that it is far from the definitive Q3 experience. There’s much more to come with the rest of the range, later in 2020.
Note: CarsGuide attended this event as a guest of the manufacturer, with travel and meals provided.
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.
I mentioned the Lamborghini Urus before, because there are more than a few little nods to Audi’s Italian subsidiary in the new Q3’s design. These stem from the larger Q8’s bold design language and will make themselves even more apparent in the upcoming Q3 Sportback (due later in 2020). Here in the regular hatch, the aggressive, angular influences are still subtly apparent.
It’s just a lot more fun to look at than its predecessor, yet the hatch at least runs the fine line of not looking too controversial for fans of the more conservative, outgoing model.
Highlights include the new grille, rhomboid air dam bits around the edges, a lower splitter and Audi’s new upright grille, which unites its SUV range.
Down the sides there are the strong bulges over the wheel arches, on the body line above the doorhandles and, from the rear, a progression of the previous car’s bulbous edges, now with a more angular bent.
The LED headlights tie the front end together in style. The pictures somehow don’t quite do it justice, because it’s even nicer to look at in the metal.
The inside is where the real wow factor is, however, with the Q3 presenting an almost shrunken-down version of the Q8’s tech-laden interior. It’s nice to see a strong design theme here, with a dash that cascades down in layers, centred by an asymettrical multimedia interface, and a massive 10.1-inch screen, tipped slightly towards the driver.
It’s in danger of looking busy, but somehow all the parts and disparate materials work together nicely. It’s probably do do with the way all the hexagonal silver frames complement each other, as well as the surrounding switchgear.
It’s a lovely place to be, surrounded by such slick design, but it’s not without its flaws. Chinks in the Q3’s luxurious armour include the oddly tall gear knob, which looks like it would be more suited to a $20k Volkswagen Polo, and the abundance of firm surfaces around your knee and elbows.
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.
Put simply, the Q3 is brilliantly packaged. Sure, it’s bigger, having grown its wheelbase by 77mm over the previous model, but it really makes the most of every extra millimetre.
Front passengers get a customisable space, with plenty of movement in the front seats (despite that lame manual adjustment) and a fully telescopically adjustable steering column. Visibility is excellent for the driver, with big, upright glasshouse-like windows and chunky mirror fittings.
All the digital displays are fast to operate and present slick designs, but a few shortcut buttons would have been welcome for the multimedia system. I was pleased to see that Audi has stuck with analog dials for quick and easy control of the dual-zone climate system.
Storage areas for front passengers include large bottle holders in each door card, dual bottle holders in the centre console - with a neat slot separating them, suited to a phone - a Qi wireless charging bay in front of the geark nob, also suited to wallets and phones, as well as your standard-fare glovebox and a smallish centre console.
All seats get leagues of headroom, and there was still great legroom behind my own driving position in the back seat ( I’m 182cm tall). That said, the Q3 is more of a four-seater for adults. The centre rear seat is truly tiny, and legroom is interrupted by the transmission tunnel, which will facilitate all-wheel drive in future variants.
The rear seats also get those big bottle holders in the doors, as well as a set of adjustable air vents, a 12-volt power outlet and two USB-C outlets on the back of the centre console.
Saving the most impressive Q3 practicality trick for last, we come to its luggage area. At a minimum, with the rear seats in their default position, it weighs in at 530-litres (VDA). That’s a lot more than the BMW X1, X2, Benz GLA, Lexus UX or Mini Countryman. In fact, it’s easily playing in a load area in the segment above. The only luxury small SUV that pips it here is the much more expensive Range Rover Evoque.
But that’s not all, because the Q3 has its second row of seats on rails, meaning – if your passengers don’t need any semblance of legroom - you can expand it to well over 600L, or with the seats down, a maximum of 1525L. That's massive.
The luggage shelf can also be stowed under the boot floor – where an unfortunate compromise lies in the form of a space-saver spare. It would be nice to see a full-size spare for the Australian market.
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 Q3 needs to plug an important gap in Audi’s lineup where it’s losing sales to recently launched competitors. These include the BMW X1 or X2, the Lexus UX, and the Mini Countryman.
There’s also a new Mercedes-Benz GLB on the way, plus a new-generation GLA, so keep an eye out for those. Audi will be.
Price-wise, the Q3 enters Australia in just one variant, the entry-level, petrol-powered 35 TFSI, offered at an MSRP of $46,400.
While it’s marginally more expensive than its entry-level, luxury small-SUV competitors (and about on par for power, too) it’s the standard equipment list that truly shines in the Audi.
Even this entry-level Q3 gets 18-inch alloy wheels, a 10.1-inch multimedia touchscreen, built-in sim card supporting online sat-nav, a wireless hotspot and over-the air updates for three years, Audi’s signature 10.21-inch digital dash, Android Auto connectivity and wireless (!) Apple CarPlay, complete with a wireless-charging bay, dual-zone climate control, real leather interior trim, an electronic tailgate with gesture control, and full LED front lighting.
Deep breaths. Did you get all that? There’s no subscription required for the wireless Apple CarPlay (I'm looking at you, BMW) and it’s particularly impressive to see the electric tailgate as a standard inclusion. Audi says the new Q3 ships with $12,000 worth of inclusions over its outgoing equivalent. Not bad at all.
My biggest complaint with the entry-level configuration was the somewhat non-premium feeling of the manually adjustable seats.
Electrically adjustable seats are part of the Q3’s remarkably short options list, which consists (for now) of the ‘Style Package’ ($1900), which includes 19-inch wheels, full colour body paint (removes the contrast black bits), and aluminium highlights, or the ‘Comfort Package’ ($2600), which includes electrically adjustable heated front seats, auto-folding and dipping wing mirrors with an electro-chromatic (auto-dimming) rear-vision mirror, and adaptive cruise control.
Alternatively you can bundle some of those bits together with the limited “Launch Edition” variant ($52,750), which includes a unique 19-inch-alloy design, metallic paint, privacy glass, auto-folding and dimming mirrors, customisable interior LED lighting, electrically adjustable and heated seats, a 360-degree parking suite, and adaptive cruise control.
The only other standalone options are limited to a Bang & Olufsen premium audio system ($900) and a panoramic opening sunroof ($2250).
Expect that lineup to get more complicated with the launch of 2.0-litre, all-wheel-drive and RS variants, as well as a Sportback body style later in 2020.
For now, though, the Q3 justifies its slight extra spend over its competitors with an impressive list of standard inclusions.
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.
For now the Q3 is available with only one engine option, a 1.4-litre, four-cylinder turbo producing 110kW/250Nm. Although power figures are on par with its main competitors, it still feels underwhelming for a premium product.
The 35 TFSI drives the front wheels only via a six-speed version of the brand’s ‘s-tronic’ dual-clutch automatic.
A more powerful 2.0-litre petrol engine with a seven-speed dual-clutch and all-wheel drive (the 45 TFSI Quattro) will arrive later in 2020, but the 2.0-litre 35 TDI diesel available overseas has been ruled out for Australia.
It would seem unfair to comment on the 35 TFSI’s fuel usage over our brief and enthusiastic drive program around Byron Bay.
This engine and transmission combination produces an official combined-fuel-consumption figure of 7.2L/100km for the base car with no inclusions, or 7.3L/100km in the Launch Edition trim.
For the record, our two-day drive program had most cars producing figures around the 8.0L/100km mark. Competitors claim lower numbers but are measured to a previous, more lenient official measurement standard.
The Q3 has a stop/start system to help trim fuel usage down in traffic.
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.
This new Q3 manages to feel lighter, more agile and more engaging behind the wheel, despite its engine, which had to try rather hard to keep up with the demands on our drive program.
There's quite often a second of turbo-lag to deal with, or a slightly reluctant transmission finding the right gear when you blast around a corner. Once that turbo peak torque does arrive, however, the Q3 skips ahead at a decent pace, befitting its new look and sporty demeanour.
For everyday sort of driving scenarios it’s powerful enough, but at freeway speeds it does feel like the engine has little in reserve for those moments where you need a burst for overtaking.
The engine itself is reasonably quiet, only revealing a satisfying bumble past about 4000rpm, but road noise was worse than I expected, even on the smallest 18-inch wheels.
The steering is excellent. It’s light, but full of feel in the corners, and confidence in the twisty stuff is backed by independent rear suspension.
Similarly to the previous-generation Q3, the suspension tune is hard. Combine that with the Q3’s newfound light feel and it’s almost as though you’re piloting a very upright hot hatch.
This proved entertaining for blasting around country B-roads, as we did at the launch, but I could easily envision the springy and at times crashy ride getting tiresome on routine commutes.
It has to be said that many buyers looking to a premium SUV will be looking for that sporty feel, despite being a bit at odds with the 35 TFSI’s base engine.
Again, we’ll be keen to get our hands on the incoming all-wheel-drive variants, as well as optional adaptive dampers, which will be available later in 2020.
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 Q3 now scores the all-important set of active items as standard across the range, including auto emergency braking (AEB – works from 5km/h to 85km/h for pedestrians or cyclists, and up to 250km/h for vehicles), blind-spot monitoring (BSM), lane-keep assist (LKAS) with lane-departure warning (LDW), Rear cross-traffic alert (RCTA), and driver-attention alert (DAA).
Sadly, active cruise control lives on the options list as a part of the ‘Comfort Package,’ or as standard on the Launch Edition.
The Q3 was awarded a maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating in time for its launch, sporting six airbags as well as the expected stability and brake controls.
While it might not have as comprehensive an active-safety suite as some non-premium cars, it’s still well ahead of the BMW X1 and Benz GLA, while falling on a par with, or just ahead of, the Mini Countryman and Lexus UX.
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.
Audi, along with many other premium automakers, lags behind the industry-accepted standard with a lacklustre three-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty. BMW is sticking with a similar promise and, unsurprisingly, so is Mercedes.
Lexus is only marginally better, with four-year coverage. It would be nice to see a premium manufacturer take some initiative here (especially since much of the Audi running gear is the same as the VW stuff, which is covered by an extra two years of warranty).
The Q3 will need to be serviced once a year or every 15,000km and capped-price servicing is covered by pre-packaged ‘Service Plans,’ which can be purchased at the same time as the vehicle. Pricing is TBA on the new Q3, but the previous one cost $1610 for three years or $2590 for five. That's premium-car cheap.