Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class VS BMW X1
- 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
- Potent engine
- Nice handling
- Massive interior
- Ride way too firm
- Missing essential active safety
- Some awkward trim bits
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|
I like it when a car subverts expectations.
It sounds like BMW is just playing a dangerous game of badge-swappery. Yet, after a week behind the wheel, I had to admit there’s more to the X1 than the numbers and specs might suggest. It admittedly won me over.
How, exactly, did this little SUV manage to charm this doubting critic? Read on to find out.
|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.
BMW’s X1 won me over mainly because of its raucous engine, signature handling, and suspension characteristics.
It is perhaps a little harsh for some family drivers though, and still has some notable spec omissions this far into its lifecycle. So, keep these factors in mind when considering it against its premium competition, particularly given there are some serious rivals arriving in the coming months.
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.
From the outside, the X1 totally owns the BMW design language. It somehow comes together so well over the frame of a small SUV, from the traditional BMW double kidney grille, to the chiseled LED headlights, squared-off profile, and cleanly resolved rear.
It’s miles better than its first-generation X1 predecessor, at least from the outside.
I found the inside to be a mixed bag. I liked the seats, steering wheel and multimedia system, but it just doesn’t feel cohesive.
It’s like a bunch of parts have been plucked off the shelf and shoved together. It has a strangely compact dash cluster from the outgoing 2 Series, but at the same time, the brand’s latest touchscreen, as well as a collection of old-looking controls on a cascading dash which for some reason eats an uncomfortable amount of the front occupant’s space.
It’s been made to work together, but still feels a little chaotic. Like parts and buttons have just been plastered all over. This extends down to the centre console, where BMW gives you the option of controlling the media suite through a dial and buttons.
All the fittings are undeniably quality though, with everything from leather-clad surfaces to switchgear all having a solid, satisfying feeling. The feeling of this car being more expensive for a reason. There’s also an abundance of padded surfaces, and comfortable seats in every position.
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 X1’s hidden trick is in how big its interior space is.
It’s voluminous – or as Richard Berry pointed out in his 2018 review of the pre-facelifted X1 – it has more head and legroom than an X3 and almost as much luggage space.
Impressive, right? Especially for something which is quite a bit smaller when it comes to its exterior dimensions.
A lot of that is down to the X1 sharing its platform with space-efficient and predominantly front-wheel drive Minis. But there’s more, too!
The back seats are foldable and on rails, letting you choose luggage over passengers if need be. While this is pretty impressive, the X1’s 505-litre boot space is under threat.
Audi’s new generation Q3 offers 530 litres, while the incoming Mercedes-Benz GLB will offer 570-litres in five-seat form. If it’s boot space (or seven seats…) you’re chasing, it is worth factoring in to your premium small SUV decision making process.
The back seat, as already mentioned, has plenty of leg and headroom, plus dual USB ports and directional air vents on the back of the centre console.
Front seat occupants are pretty well treated, with some cool turbine-design cupholders in the centre, smallish trenches in the doors, as well as a large bin under the armrest. There are a selection of USB ports to choose from as well as a wireless phone charging bay.
Seat comfort is good all-round, although it took me a long time to adjust to the odd upright seating position which seems to be the only ‘right’ way to have everything adjusted, at least for my preferences.
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.
Our X1 is the top-spec xDrive25i trim. That means it’s all-wheel drive, and gets the most potent four-cylinder engine available in the X1 range. Ours was also the M Sport version (with all the extra M bits) boosting the price to a total of $66,150, before on-roads.
Expensive? Maybe. The tricky thing here is we don’t know how much this car’s primary German rivals will cost when they arrive this year. I’m talking about the higher-spec Audi Q3 (currently you can only buy the entry-level version of the new one), and the Mercedes-Benz GLB isn’t set to arrive for a few months yet.
Of course, there are a plethora of non-premium options for much less, but I’m guessing if you’ve made it this far in the review, they will be of little interest.
Standard spec has some impressive items, including 19-inch alloy wheels, an impressive-looking 10.25-inch multimedia touchscreen with sat-nav as well as Apple CarPlay as standard (but still no Android Auto…), a head-up display, LED head and tail-lights, push-start and keyless entry, an ambient interior lighting package, and leather upholstery.
The M Sport pack added (to our car) an adaptive suspension package, the M Sport steering wheel and power steering characteristics, M-branded seat belt trim and M Sport brakes.
There’s a semi-digital dashboard, too, but not the super swish digital dash suite from the more recently released cars in BMW’s range. Keep in mind, this second-generation X1 is now almost five years old, despite a minor refresh in 2019.
It’s not a bad feature set, aside from the rather upsetting omission of Android phone mirroring, which is a real necessity in today’s SUVs. While the sat nav suite is a handy thing to have, you only get three years of updates included, and it lacks the really intuitive features now built in for free with Google maps for Android users.
The M Sport pack’s three-spoke steering wheel is the best one in BMW’s parts catalogue. It’s the perfect size, weight, and material. Bonus points for that.
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.
No complaints here. With 170kW/350Nm on tap from a four-cylinder turbo-petrol, you can’t make the argument the 25i needs more power.
BMW has stopped short of saying there will be a faster M version of the X1, and there probably shouldn’t be, what’s offered here is more than enough. BMW claims the 25i will sprint from 0-100km/h in just 6.5 seconds.
The 25i is ‘xDrive’ all-wheel drive only and drives power to the wheels via an eight-speed torque converter automatic transmission.
How much fuel you will consume will largely depend on how much the punchy engine will tempt your right foot, but the claimed/combined figure on the X1’s spec sheet is 7.1L/100km.
Despite enjoying the 25i more than I care to admit, my average fuel usage over a fairly representative ‘combined’ week came out as 7.9L/100km. Not bad at all.
The X1 requires mid-grade 95RON unleaded petrol and has a 61 litre fuel 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.
The X1 drives like a BMW – for better or worse.
There are some great attributes. The steering is a fantastic balance of weight and speed, the internal switchgear is all exactly the same as it is in the 2 Series sedan, and the suspension is firm, letting you feel every bit of the road.
That last one is possibly this car's worst attribute, though. While you’ll have an above average driving experience in the curvy stuff, the X1 is overly harsh for daily family duties.
I mean, seriously. I’m sure the average SUV buyer in this class is hardly going to be taking their kids to school via the Nurburgring every day.
If nothing else it’s a point of difference for the Bavarian SUV, and after a week you’ll be used to it. Those who do will be rewarded with one of the more engaging small SUVs on the market.
The engine proved to be distinctly punchy, impressing with its responsiveness and linear power delivery. It has a lovely (partially artificial) raspy exhaust note, to boot, which makes hopping behind the wheel all the more enjoyable.
It has some other quirks worth noting, too. I couldn’t get used to its oddly high and upright seating position, the front two seats seemed a bit narrow despite familiar BMW leather trim, and there was an undeniable heft to the whole product which made it lose its confidence when really pushed in the corners.
The X1 won me over, though. By the time I was handing the keys back, I did just want one more go…
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.
In terms of active safety features, the X1 is a little light on.
Rather than full auto emergency braking (AEB), the X1 gets a system called ‘braking assist’ which will slow the vehicle (or as BMW says “reduce impact speed”) if an object is detected from three to 65km/h. Beyond 65km/h it will “precondition” the brakes but requires human intervention to apply them.
So... it will help, but won’t quite stop for you.
Active safety features it does really get include lane departure warning, forward collision warning, traffic sign recognition and high-beam assist.
The X1 does get the expected baseline safety items, like electronic stability and brake controls, as well as six airbags. Parking sensors for the front and rear across the range are a nice touch.
There are also two ISOFIX child-seat mounting points on the outer rear seats.
Despite its slightly underwhelming active safety suite, the X1 still caries a maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating, as rated in 2015 before the stricter minimum active safety requirements came into force in 2018.
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.
BMW insists on a three-year warranty package, going so far as going on the record saying owners don’t want more (really… what kind of owner doesn’t want a competitive five-year warranty?). Regardless, it is the standard for cars in the premium segment, with the exception of Lexus which offers four years.
It would be nice to see premium automakers raise the game a little here, but the X1 is thankfully offered with a capped price servicing program.
Like other premium brands it is offered as a package at the time of purchase and covers five years of services. The 'Basic' program costs $1550, while the 'Plus' program comes in at $4420. The main difference between each program is whether wear items like brake pads, wiper blades, etc, are included.