Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class VS Audi RS 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
Audi RS Q3
- 300kW small SUV? Yes please!
- Great dynamics but comfy ride
- Spacious with a decent boot
- Sportback has less headroom
- No standard head-up display
- No spare wheel
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.
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
Audi RS Q3
Think of Audi’s range of high-performance RS models as being like a knives in a kitchen knife block. They’re all sharp but they all do some things better than others. You wouldn’t use a bread knife to cut a tomato, would you? Well, I have before, because it was on the only clean knife and well, anyway it all went wrong, and it was a mess.
So, what kind of knife is the RS Q3, then? See, it’s a small SUV with 400 horsepower. Does it lose its SUV practicality? Is it like always driving an uncomfortable race car? Is it a fake – not really fast and just an expensive little ‘sporty’ SUV?
Well at the launch of the RS Q3 Audi also brought out almost its entire knife block of other RS models. And we drove them back-to-back. So having spent hundreds of kilometres driving both versions of the RS Q3 – the Sportback and the regular SUV version, along with the Audi’s other RS superheroes I know which knife the RS Q3 is and you will too after you read this review.
|Engine Type||2.5L 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 RS Q38/10
The RS Q3 is absolutely worthy of the RS badge – it’s plush, quick, comfortable, handles superbly and doesn’t lose any practicality over a regular Q3. Which knife is it then in the Audi RS model knife block? Well there was a moment on the launch when our convoy encountered roadworks in the bush and it meant everything from an Audi R8 (rear-wheel drive), RS 7, RS 6 Avant to a TT RS were forced to gingerly drive for a couple of kilometres on a bumby dirt road. I was in the RS Q3, with all-wheel drive, more ground clearance and softer suspension with more travel than the others – and it was tempting to stomp on the accelerator and leave the rest in my dust. So, it’s the adaptable one in the block - the small knife you end up using for everything.
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.
Audi RS Q38/10
Like the household variety Q3 it’s based on, the RS Q3 comes in two body styles: a Sportback which has a sloping roofline giving it coupe looks; and a regular-looking SUV version which has the traditional more tall and upright design.
I’m not a fan of coupe SUV styling because it reduces headroom (read about that below), but the Sportback does look the more venomous of the pair.
That said they both look like little monsters in their RS superhero outfits which includes the aggressive front bumper boasting giant (and functional) air intakes either side of the enormous grille, 21-inch wheels with giant brakes and red calipers, side skirts and thick wheel arch surrounds for a flared guard look, chunky diffuser and huge oval tail pipes with a black finish.
Inside there are leather RS seats with ‘honeycomb’ stitching, metal pedals, and a leather flat-bottomed RS steering wheel, while the doors and dashboard are trimmed with Alcantara and aluminium.
The rest of the interior showcases the Audi’s most up-to-date styling and tech revealed when the Q3 arrived in 2019 – from the integrated 10.1-inch media display to the dash controls which sense when your hand is approaching and light up to help them find their way in the dark.
At 4506mm end-to-end the RS Q3 is a big, small SUV. For a bit of perspective, it's little brother the Q2 is 4190mm long.
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.
Audi RS Q38/10
This will depend on whether you buy the Sportback or the regular SUV-shaped RS Q3, but practicality does not vary between them as much as you may think.
The Sportback loses out on headroom for the rear passenger because of its sloping roofline. I can still sit back there but at 191cm (6'3") with amazingly high hair I’m getting pretty friendly with the ceiling. Legroom though is fine – and I have legs for days.
Having said that, if I was a backseat passenger on a trip further than just down the road I’d prefer to be in the regular SUV-shaped RS Q3 where its tall, flat roofline offers loads of headroom, and legroom is also good.
All RS Q3s, like the Q3, are five seaters, but bags not sit in the squishy middle back seat.
The boot’s cargo capacity is the same for both at 530 litres, which is also equal to an ordinary Q3. If you want to see how high the boot’s load lip is, I demonstrate it in the video above – best not to watch while eating, though.
I’ve never met an Audi with outstanding cabin storage and the RS Q3 is no exception, with small door pockets and a tiny centre console bin.
It does have four cupholders (two up front and two in the back) and the wireless charger living in the hidey hole near the shifter fits my big phone, so it’s not all bad news there.
Next to the wireless charger there are two USB ports (a mini Type-C and a larger Type-B), while the second row has two Type-C USB ports.
There are directional air vents for those in the back, too.
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.
Audi RS Q38/10
The RS Q3 lists for $89,900 for the regular SUV body shape while the Sportback is $92,900.
Both come with the same standard features, including a 10.1-inch media display with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, sat nav, 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster, a 15-speaker Bang and Olufsen sound system, leather RS steering wheel, proximity key, 360-degree camera, front and rear parking sensors, privacy glass, power tailgate, 'Matrix LED' headlights and three-zone climate control.
The standard RS seats are Nappa leather, the front ones are heated and power adjustable.
Looking at the standard features for a Q3 it’s clear Audi has fitted the RS Q3 with everything it has for the model – a lot of the equipment such as the sound system, climate control and LED headlights are optional on a ‘normal’ Q3.
Some of these features had to be optioned on the previous RS Q3, too, so relative to the outgoing model the new car is better value.
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 RS Q39/10
Ordinary Q3s have four-cylinder engines which make no more than 132kW, but the RS Q3 has a 294kW 2.5-litre five-cylinder turbo-petrol engine. Plus, with 480Nm there’s whopping torque for a small SUV.
This five-cylinder also powers the Audi TT RS and the RS 3 and is suited well to small and agile beasties like these, and also to the RS Q3 with its responsive and energetic ‘boosty’ nature. Aud’s 'S tronic' seven-speed dual-clutch auto shifts fast sending the drive to all four wheels.
Audi RS Q37/10
High-performance cars with combustion engines love fuel and lots of it. Audi officially says the RS Q3 should use 8.9L/100km over a combination of open and urban roads. We’ll be able to test that once we have an RS Q3 in our garage, but either way, that’s on the thirsty side.
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.
Audi RS Q39/10
In the intro I likened the RS model range to a knife block full of all well-crafted sharp things, each with different purposes.
The meat cleaver is definitely the RS 6 Avant which feels like a luxury locomotive with seemingly never-ending sledgehammer acceleration.
I’m beginning to regret the knife analogy because I don’t know knives very well. But I do know cars and the RS Q3 is probably the opposite to an RS6 Avant in that it’s small and agile, with an energetic engine that pauses only to catch its breath in the form of building its boost before sling-shotting you towards the next corner. And it’s loud inside - even with the windows up.
I was impressed by the ride comfort which never became harsh even in 'Dynamic' mode. The suspension is soft enough for acceleration and braking to make the nose pitch and dip, but handling, body control and composure is excellent.
While you can shift gears yourself using the paddles in manual mode, that transmission is best left in auto and in the 'S' setting. You’ll get the full noise under hard acceleration and lightning quick shifts to go with it.
Regular Q3s take eight to nine seconds to accelerate from 0-100km/h. The RS Q3 can do it in 4.5 seconds, which is getting into properly quick territory where steering wheels also becomes a handrails for something to hold onto as you’re yanked down the road with superb all-wheel drive traction.
The same 2.5-litre five cylinder is in the RS 3 Avant but that weighs about 200kg less and can hit 100km/h in 4.1 seconds. But the only way I can sit in the back of an RS 3 is if I put my knees under my chin – not so with the RS Q3.
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.
Audi RS Q39/10
ANCAP gave all variants of the Q3 the maximum five-star rating in 2018 with the exception of the RS Q3 which is yet to be tested.
What I can tell you is that for this model Audi’s made the safety features standard across the range and this includes the AEB system with pedestrian and cyclist detection, rear cross traffic assistance, lane departure warning with lane keeping assistance.
Q3s come with a space saver spare, but the RS Q3 has a puncture repair kit.
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 RS Q36/10
The RS Q3 is covered by Audi’s three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty which not only falls behind in duration compared to mainstream brands but also its direct rival Mercedes-Benz which now has five-year/unlimited kilometre coverage.
Service intervals are every 12 months or 15,000km with a three-year plan ($2320) or five-year plan ($3420) available.