Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class VS Audi Q5
- 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
- Much needed tech improvements
- Good value
- Sturdy family tourer
- Misses out on newer Audi design elements
- Not the sportiest-feeling SUV
- Still 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 mid-size SUV is now a brand's most crucial model.
Now the defining volume seller of our age, the ever-popular category transcends brand and market position – and Audi is no exception.
To that end, the German brand reminds us that Q5 is its most successful SUV, having sold almost 40,000 units in Australia so far. No pressure on this new one then, which brings some much-needed updates to the current-generation SUV which launched back in 2017.
Has Audi done enough to keep the Q5 sticking it to its (also very good) arch-rivals from Germany and the world for years to come? We sampled the updated car at its Australian launch to find out.
|Engine Type||2.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Hybrid with Premium Unleaded|
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 has worked largely behind the scenes to tweak and change just little details for its facelifted Q5. Ultimately though, these all add up for a significantly more appealing mid-size luxury SUV, even against tough segment competition.
The brand has managed to add some vital tech enhancements, improve value, and breathe life back into its key family tourer which previously looked a little in danger of being left behind.
Our pick of the range is the Sport for having the most impressive equipment at a very reasonable price.
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.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about the updated Q5's design is how closely you have to look to see what's changed. I know Audi's design language tends to move at a glacial pace, but it is unfortunate timing for the Q5 that it misses out on some of the more fun and radical design choices made with more recently launched Audi SUVs, such as the Q3 and Q8.
Regardless, the brand has revised the grille across all grades, tweaked some little features in the face to make it a bit more angular, added some contrast in the alloy wheel designs, and removed the chintzier plastic cladding from the base model.
They're all subtle changes, but welcome ones that help the Q5 sync up with the rest of the brand's line-up once more. The Q5 is a conservative choice, perhaps for those looking to fly under the radar compared to the shouty chrome of the GLC or exaggerated features of the BMW X3.
Round the back this latest Q5 update gets even more subtle, with the most notable feature being a highlight bar across the bootlid. The rear light clusters are now LED across the range, and have been slightly re-worked, and the lower splitter has a more modern design.
Put simply, if you liked the Q5 before, you'll like it even more now. I hardly think its new look is revolutionary enough to capture a new audience in quite the same way as its smaller Q3 sibling or even the new A1 hatch.
The changes to the Q5's interior design are small but significant, and really help to modernise the space. The standard 10.1-inch multimedia screen pairs nicely with the virtual dash cluster now standard across the range, and the dreadful software from the previous car has been replaced by the slick operating system from more recent Audis.
As things are now easier to use via the touchscreen, the Q5's once-busy centre console has been tidied up. The odd touchpad and dial set-up have been removed and replaced by a pared-back design with useful little storage cutaways.
It certainly looks as high-tech as Audi's "progress through technology" tagline would suggest. Other improvements include improved 'leather accented trim' on the seats, and a revised console box with a slide-away wireless phone-charging bay, a nice touch.
The two cars we tested showed off the choices of interior highlight trim: our diesel car had an open-pore wood look, and the petrol car had a textured aluminium finish. Both felt and looked great.
The Q5's overall interior design is showing its age a bit, with the rest of the quite upright dash remaining the same as it was when this generation launched in 2017. Apart from those nice highlight trims, it's a bit of a single-colour treatment. At least it has all of the comfort touches you might expect from a car in this segment. It's not even to say that Audi has done a poor job of this update, quite the opposite, it's more a credit to the strong design language found on the interiors of its new-generation vehicles that the Q5 misses out on this time around.
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.
While the Q5 remains dimensionally identical to its predecessor, practicality has improved for this update, especially with the extra space afforded for front passengers. Small but useful storage cutaways for wallets, phones and keys now appear down the centre console, and the storage box with variable-height lid is nice and deep. The wireless phone-charger is a very nice addition, and it can either cover up the front two cupholders for a flush look, or slide away under the console lid if you need to make use of them.
The bottle holders are large, too, and there are even bigger ones with decent trenches in the door pockets.
The tri-zone climate unit is no-nonsense and practical but minimalist dials still appear near the shift-lever for volume and fine-tuning control.
The seats are quite adjustable, as is the steering column, but this is a true SUV at heart, so don't expect to find the sportiest seating position, as these have a high base and the tall dash precludes most from sitting lower to the floor.
In the back seat I had enough room for my 182cm height, but I was honestly expecting a little more from such a large SUV. There's room for my knees and head, but I'll also note the seat trim felt like it could do with more padding in the base. I wasn't as comfortable here as I was in a relatively recent test of the Mercedes-Benz GLC 300e, which has softer, more luxurious 'Artico' leather-appointed trim, too. Worth considering.
Rear passengers benefit from a light and airy space thanks to the panoramic sunroof in the Sport grade which we were able to test, and the Q5 continues to offer a very welcome third climate zone with adjustable vents and controls for rear passengers. There are also two USB-A ports and a 12v outlet, for a versatile set of charging options.
Storage-wise, rear passengers get large bottle holders in the doors and flimsy nets on the backs of the front seats, and there's also a drop-down armrest with two smaller bottle-holders.
Another consideration here is the optionally available 'Comfort package' which puts the second row on rails and allows passengers to further adjust the angle of the seat back. This option ($1300 for 40 TDI or $1690 for 45 TFSI) also includes an electric steering column.
Boot space for the Q5 range comes in at 520 litres which is on-par for this luxury mid-size segment, if a little smaller than its key rivals. For reference it easily consumed our CarsGuide demo travel cases with plenty of space to spare. The Q5 also has a collection of elastic nets to go with its multitude of tie-down points.
The addition of a motorised tailgate as standard is a very welcome addition, and the two Q5 Sports we tested had space-saver spares with an inflator kit under the boot floor.
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.
Would you believe me if I told you the new Q5 was a value buy despite a price-hike for this year?
Yes, it's a luxury SUV, but with a boost in equipment and price-tags across the range that range from slightly to significantly below its key rivals, the Q5 impresses from the get-go.
The entry-level variant is now simply called the Q5 (it used to be called the 'Design'). It's available with a choice of either a 2.0-litre diesel (40 TDI) or a 2.0-litre petrol (45 TFSI) engine, and equipment levels have been most significantly boosted here.
Now standard are 19-inch alloy wheels (up from 18s), full paint finish (the brand has elected to dump the plastic-guard look from the previous iteration), LED headlights and taillights (no more xenons!), a new 10.1-inch multimedia touchscreen with overhauled software (can't be thankful enough for this one), Audi's signature 'Virtual Cockpit' instrument cluster with further customisable features, wireless Apple CarPlay and wired Android auto connectivity, a wireless charging bay, auto dimming rear vision mirror, upgraded 'leather appointed' seat trim, and a powered tailgate.
Very nice and almost everything you need, really. The cost? $68,900 before on-roads (MSRP) for the diesel or $69,600 for the petrol. No context for that? All you need to know is it undercuts its two arch-rivals, the entry-level versions of the BMW X3 and Mercedes-Benz GLC.
Next up is the Sport. Again, available with a choice of the same 2.0-litre turbo engines, the Sport adds some primo items like 20-inch alloys, a panoramic sunroof, auto dimming wing mirrors, adaptive cruise control (can be had as an option on the base car), blacked-out headlining trim, sport seats, some more advanced safety items, and access to some further option packs.
Again, the Sport undercuts its equivalent badges in the X3 and GLC ranges, wearing MSRPs of $74,900 for the 40 TDI, and $76,600 for the 45 TFSI petrol.
Capping off the range will be the S-Line, which will exclusively be available with a 50 TDI 3.0-litre turbo-diesel V6. Again, the S-Line will up the visual ante with the brand's new performance-oriented blacked-out features, Sportier bodykit and honeycomb grille.
It comes standard with 20-inch alloys in a different design, an interior LED lighting package, electrically adjustable steering column, and a head-up display, but otherwise shares its primary equipment with the Sport. The 50 TDI S-Line wears an MSRP of $89,600. Again, this is not at the expensive end of the spectrum for a more performance-oriented mid-sizer from a luxury brand.
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.
Audi has tweaked the Q5 engine line-up for this facelift, introducing some more high-tech touches.
The base car, and the mid-grade sport have a choice of two engines, the 40 TDI 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel, and the 45 TFSI 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol.
Both have healthy outputs slightly different from their pre-facelift equivalents of 150kW/400Nm for the 40 TDI (slightly down), and 183kW/370Nm for the 45 TFSI (slightly up).
These are also augmented with a new mild hybrid (MHEV) system which consists of a separate 12-volt lithium-ion battery which helps to boost the starter motor. It is "mild" in the truest sense of the word but allows these engines to have smoother start/stop systems and increase the amount of time the car can coast with the engine off when decelerating. The brand claims this system can save up to 0.3L/100km on the combined fuel cycle.
Those looking for a little more in every department will soon also be able to opt for the 50 TDI S-Line, which trades the four-cylinder engine for a 3.0-litre diesel V6 producing 210kW/620Nm. It also ups the MHEV system to 48-volt. I'm sure we'll be able to share more on this variant when it launches later in the year.
All Q5s wear Audi's signature Quattro all-wheel drive branding, and in this case it has a newer version (launched with this car in 2017) called "Ultra Quattro" in which all four wheels are driven by default via twin clutch-packs on each axle. This is in contrast to some "on-demand" systems which only activate the front axle when a loss of traction is detected. Audi says the Q5 will revert to front-drive mode only in the most ideal of circumstances, like when minimal acceleration is applied, or when the car is coasting at higher speeds. This system is also said to "reduce frictional losses" for a further approximate 0.3L/100km reduction in fuel consumption.
The Q5 is big and heavy, but these new more efficient engines have helped to trim fuel use across the board.
The 40 TDI diesel engine option has an impressively low official claimed/combined fuel figure of just 5.4L/100km, while the 45 TFSI has a less impressive (but still good, all things considered) official/combined figure of 8.0L/100km.
We won't give an as-tested figure for our launch drive loops as they wouldn't be a fair representation of a week of combined driving, so we'll save a full judgement for later variant reviews.
You'll need to fill the 45 TFSI with mid-grade 95RON unleaded petrol. The petrol engine gets a large 73-litre fuel tank, while either of the diesel engines have 70-litre tank.
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.
Have you driven a Q5 before? For those who have, there will be no big changes here. For everyone else, it's a big heavy SUV with a 2.0-litre engine. The Q5 has always been inoffensive, but perhaps not a riveting experience behind the wheel when it comes to its lesser-powered variants.
We weren't able to test the go-fast 50 TDI S-Line as part of this launch review, but I can report that both updated 2.0-litre turbo options have both been nicely refined to make this big SUV a comfortable and competent family tourer.
Despite Audi going to lengths to point out aggressive 0-100km/h sprint times for both variants, I just couldn't connect with them in that sporty way. I'm sure they're fast in a straight line, but when you need to ask for torque at freeway speed or are really trying to make the most of a curvy road, it's tough to get over this SUV's bulk.
Both engines are quiet though, and even the non-active suspension tune does a remarkable job of being both comfortable and controlled.
The diesel engine is prone to bouts of lag, and although attempts have been made to reduce the impact of the stop-start system, it can leave you without precious torque at times when starting at the lights or at roundabouts and T-junctions. The petrol alternative is much better in this regard, proving slick and responsive on our test loop.
Once up-and-running the dual-clutch was hard to catch out, with ultra-fast shifts and ratios chosen at appropriate times.
The steering suits this car's character really well. It's quite computer-assisted, but in its default mode is pleasantly light, while sport mode tightens up the ratio to bring enough bite and responsiveness to keep the driver engaged enough.
Sport mode does deserve special mention here, as it's an unsually good one. The tightened-up steering is joined by more aggressive accelerator response, and with the excellent adaptive suspension package, a lower firmer ride.
Speaking of the adaptive suspension, we had the opportunity to test it in the 40 TDI, and while it's an expensive option ($3385, ouch!) it removed the sharper moments from the standard ride, added a dollop of dynamism, and quietened down the cabin even more.
Even the stock suspension plays nicely with this car's all-wheel drive system, which no doubt helps with that sturdy road feel and confident traction.
The sum of these parts makes the updated Q5 perhaps what it should be – a comfortable premium family tourer with a hint of something more thrown in. It sits nicely between its key rivals, with the Mercedes-Benz GLC more to the luxury side, and the BMW X3 offering a bit more of a sporty angle.
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.
Just like the bump in cabin tech, Audi has now made the majority of safety items standard across the Q5 range.
On the active safety front, even the base Q5 gets auto emergency braking which works up to 85km/h and detects cyclists and pedestrians, lane keep assist with lane departure warning, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, driver attention alert, auto high-beams, and an exit warning system.
Adaptive cruise control, a 360-degree camera suite, a more advanced collision avoidance system, and an auto-parking suite are all part of the 'Assistance package' on the base Q5 ($1769 on 40TDI, $2300 on 45 TFSI), but become standard on the mid-grade Sport.
As for the more expected safety items, the Q5 gets the standard suite of electronic assistance items for traction and braking, with eight airbags (dual front, quad side, and dual curtain), and an active bonnet for pedestrian collisions.
The facelifted Q5 will carry over its excellent-at-the-time maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating from 2017.
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 persists with a three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty, which is well behind the pace given its primary rival Mercedes-Benz is now offering five years, emerging rival Genesis also offers five years, and Japanese alternative Lexus offers four years. Still, many of its other rivals, including BMW and Range Rover, persist with three-year promises, so the brand is hardly alone here.
Audi does score some major points for having more affordable pre-paid service packages. At the time of writing, a five-year service pack for the 40 TDI comes in at $3160 or $632 a year, and a pack for the 45 TFSI comes in at $2720 or $544 a year. Super affordable for a premium brand.