Vehicle Comparisons

BMW X1

BMW X1

The X1, BMW's most compact sports utility vehicle, has been quite a success in the UK, with nearly 40,000 examples of the second-generation version finding British buyers. This MK3 model aims to build on that, being bigger, more muscular but more efficient. Will this revitalised X1 continue to hit this segment's sweet spot?

The MK2 model X1 uses BMW's more efficient generation of four-cylinder engines. Plus, the brand's intelligent all-wheel-drive system, which distributes the engine's power between the front and rear axles as the situation requires, has been upgraded. Most buyers though, will be happy with front-wheel-drive.

The Munich maker promises that its baby SUV's ride and comfort has been 'noticeably' improved and its sporting credentials beefed up by the increased rigidity of the body and chassis. There's also a wide track, short overhangs and the usual 50:50 weight distribution.

Engine-wise, the mainstream range offers one petrol option and three diesel units, all of which are 2.0-litres. The sole xDrive20i petrol variant is powered by a 192bhp four-cylinder unit that only comes mated to eight-speed Steptronic auto transmission. It sprints from 0-62mph in 7.4 seconds. Also, auto-only is the powerful 231bhp xDrive 25d diesel version.

Most X1 sales will be made further down the range with the lesser diesel variants. There's the choice of a 190bhp 4WD xDrive20d model. Or, if you can't stretch to that, a 150bhp 2WD sDrive18d diesel option. The 2WD '18d' makes 62mph in 9.2s, a figure the 4WD '20d' variant improves to 7.6s. With the xDrive 20d, there's the option of that Steptronic auto gearbox as an alternative to the usual slick 6-speed BMW manual stick shifter.

This MK2 model X1 is unmistakably a BMW, its front defined by the large upright kidney grille, a three-section lower air intake and a characteristic 'four-eyed' look formed by the twin circular headlights and foglamps.

This second-generation design has grown most notably in height - it's more than 53mm taller than its predecessor - which obviously helps to create more room inside. In that cabin, there's BMW's usual fine balance between driver focus and practical elegance. The flat surfaces of the instrument panel and centre console controls are angled towards the driver, while the controls located in the lower section are surrounded by quality surfaces and are separated from the front passenger side by a smartly-designed bar. The instrument cluster, consisting of two circular instruments and framed by a small binnacle, also helps the driver to focus on the driving experience. Meanwhile, the iDrive operating system's control display comes in the form of a 6.5-inch (or optional 8.8-inch) freestanding monitor. Satnav is standard.

Although the new X1 is slightly shorter overall than its predecessor, there is, as we've said, more space for passengers and luggage. The seating position has been raised - by 36mm in the front and 64mm in the rear - and there's increased headroom, shoulder, elbow and knee room. Boot capacity has increased by 85-litres to a much more practical 505-litres. It can be upped to as much as 1,550-litres by folding down the standard 40:20:40 split rear seat. A 60:40 split-rear bench is an option that can come with individual elements able to slide the seat forward or back by up to 13cms.

To buy this X1 in its original form, you needed to be sold on the idea of a BMW and be possessed of a budget not quite generous enough to get yourself the kind of larger X3 model you'd ideally have chosen. In this much improved second-generation form however, this car has set its sights a little higher.

Yes, there are smarter and more purposeful-looking SUVs and Crossovers you could buy for the same kind of money, but against those, this BMW offers a range of unique selling points. It's alone in this segment in offering the option of a rewarding rear-wheel drive layout. And a far smoother and more sophisticated 8-speed automatic gearbox. Plus, you get ride quality that's arguably best in class.

It all adds up to a car now very well worth short-listing if you're looking for a satisfying ownership proposition amongst the many compact SUVs and Crossovers now on sale. It still isn't an obvious choice. But now, it's one you might just enjoy making.

Click here to find out more about our BMW X1 range
Audi Q3

Audi Q3

Audi has freshened up the appeal of its Q3 premium compact SUV model with revised specifications, extra equipment and interior enhancements. As before, choose petrol or diesel, manual or S-tronic, front or four-wheel drive, with a manic 340PS RS Q3 topping the range.

The diesel engines soak up most Q3 customer orders but that might change if buyers were to take more notice of the 1.4-litre TFSI petrol engine with Cylinder-on-Demand technology. With 150PS on tap and the option of either manual or S tronic twin-clutch automatic transmission, it gives the exclusively front-wheel-driven Q3 1.4 TFSI a 0-62mph sprint time of just 8.9 seconds. Above it in the petrol line-up is a 2.0-litre TFSI unit, with 180PS. This unit can be linked to either manual or S tronic transmission and is exclusively fitted with quattro all-wheel-drive. The RS Q3 gets a 2.5-litre five-cylinder TFSI with 340PS that enables a 0-62mph sprint time of just 4.8 seconds.

Diesel models comprise two four-cylinder TDIs with outputs of 150PS and 184PS. The 2.0-litre TDI SE with 150PS and manual transmission will record a 0-62mph time of 9.6 seconds. You can also select S tronic transmission for this model and choose between front or four-wheel drive. The 184PS version also offers two transmission options, but is offered solely with quattro drive. The Audi drive select adaptive dynamics system is fitted as standard and enables the driver to make adjustments so that the driving dynamics suit personal preferences. Via four settings - 'efficiency', 'auto', 'comfort' and 'dynamic' - this set-up allows you to tweak throttle response, steering feel and (on S tronic models) gearshift timings to suit the way you want to drive. Opt for the extra cost adjustable dampers and via these settings, you can tailor the suspension set-up to the road you're on too.

The styling changes made here are relatively minor but they do give the Q3 a fresher feel. Base 'Sport' models get larger front air vents and a body-coloured front diffuser. 'S line Edition' variants meanwhile, get a new look for the front end, which now incorporates a distinctive horizontal strut spanning its full width, above which are air inlets with more pronounced surrounds and a new diamond-pattern mesh design. They flank a more eye-catching Single Frame grille with a smart high gloss finish which is also shared by the air vents. If you can afford more, the 'Black Edition' variants get a meaner look courtesy of a gloss black finish for the 19-inch alloy wheels, the wheel arch cappings, the Single Frame grille surround, the roof rails, the rear spoiler and the tailpipes

Otherwise, it's as you were. The revised headlights feature xenon bulbs and LED daytime running lights as standard and these are complemented at the rear by jewel-like LED tail lights. Plusher variants upgrade to all-weather LED headlights and dynamic 'scrolling' rear indicators which illuminate sequentially within two-tenths of a second from the inside out in the direction the driver intends to turn.

Space inside provides room for five occupants, 420-litres of luggage space up to the parcel shelf and a maximum of 1,325-litres with all the seats folded. The seats don't tumble flat to the floor but you do get a retractable luggage cover and in top versions, there's a powered tailgate. Interior materials quality still shames every other comparable vehicle.

Quietly and inexorably, Audi tends to develop its models until there aren't too many valid reasons for not buying them. Somewhat counter to many expectations, it's not always a manufacturer that gets things 100 per cent right straight from launch, but it listens and learns and doesn't make the same mistakes twice. The Q3 has done reasonable business for Audi but some of its rivals have shown how far it's got to go to be the sector leader.

This round of improvements makes it better value and a bit sharper to look at. Boosting the amount of standard equipment on offer is a solid sales tactic and prices haven't moved a great deal, despite Audi offering a good deal more car. Is it enough to put the Q3 where Ingolstadt demands? Maybe not right away, but we wouldn't bet against it getting there in the longer haul.

Click here to find out more about our Audi Q3 range
Mercedes-Benz GLA

Mercedes-Benz GLA

Imagine a Mercedes A-Class hatch with a little extra practicality and a more adventurous outlook and you'll have this car in mind, the brand's GLA compact Crossover. It's the brand's answer to more premium offerings in this growing fashion-conscious segment and has been engineered with the kind of thoroughness you'd expect from the Three-Pointed Star. Let's check out this model in lightly revised form.

A car that essentially is a family hatchback is likely to have the dynamic aptitude of a family hatchback. A model that, in contrast, is designed as a proper RAV4 or CR-V-style compact SUV is never going to feel as sharp, no matter how compromised its Rubicon Trail pretensions might be. So, if you like your driving, you'll give thanks that this GLA isn't setting out to rival RAVs - or indeed Audi Q5s, BMW X3s or Range Rover Evoques come to that. Mercedes has designed a C-Class-based GLC model to do that. That frees this car to be a proper Qashqai-class compact Crossover. Or, to put it another way, to offer pretty much all the handling brio you'd get from the A-Class hatch it's designed upon, with pretty much none of the downsides, these being mainly centred on an over-firmed ride here replaced by something much more supple.

When it comes to drive traction and transmission, much will depend on engine choice.

The cheapest GLA 200 derivative uses a 115bhp 1.6-litre petrol engine but for the UK, the emphasis is firmly on a 2.1-litre diesel line-up that begins with the 136bhp GLA 200d. You'll need this variant if you want the choice of auto or manual transmission since it's an auto-only regime further up the range and you'll have to have a self-shifting 'box if you take up the option of auto transmission.

Should you wish for more performance than that, you'll probably find yourself ending up in the GLA 220d 4MATIC diesel derivative that many customers choose. With 177 braked horses to call upon, this version has a useful extra turn of speed, dispatching the 62mph benchmark in 7.7 en route to 135mph, despite having the carry around the extra weight of 4WD hard ware that can send up to 50% of the engine's power to the rear wheels for improved cornering exit traction. The 211bhp GLA 250 petrol variant also takes the auto 4MATIC route and should feel pleasantly rapid, delivering 62mph in 6.6s on the way to 143mph.

Rather more than pleasantly rapid is the frankly certifiable GLA 45 AMG, a car that now rocks up with 381bhp beneath its bonnet. Its 2.0-litre petrol engine and 4MATIC all-wheel drive catapult you to 62mph in just 4.4 seconds.

Though Mercedes sees this GLA as part of its SUV portfolio, there's nothing very SUV about the way it looks. It's probably better to simply see this as an A-Class with an added dose of attitude, a role much closer to its comfort zone thanks to a raked-back windscreen and a front end that sports big air intakes, neat flutes in the bonnet and smart smeared-back headlights. Changes made to this revised model include modified bumpers, smarter alloy wheels and the option of full-LED headlights. As before, smart GLA-specific touches include the way the stylists have teased out the wheel arches, adding muscularity to the look. And the sleek integration of the standard aluminium roof rails.

Drop inside and you'll find a cabin that in this revised model has been upgraded with higher quality seat coverings, smarter trim and chromed control panels, plus there are re-styled instrument dials. Otherwise, it's as you were, which means that, depending on the suspension chosen, you can find yourself sitting up to 80mm higher than you would in a comparable A-Class model. That means quite a commanding view out-front from a driving position easily perfected by wide adjustment possibilities for seat and steering wheel aided by plentiful head and shoulder room.

The cabin architecture of all Mercedes' smaller models is pretty much identical these days, which fortunately is no bad thing in terms of what you end up with here. So, as with any A or CLA-Class model, you get the same deeply-cowled twin-dial instrument binnacle viewed through a lovely, grippy nappa leather-trimmed three-spoke multi-function steering wheel. There are the same five chrome-trimmed SLS supercar-style air vents decorating a dash split into upper and lower sections. The upper part's dominated by the iPad-style 5.8-inch free-standing infotainment screen that's been stuck in the middle of it, controlled by a little rotary dial positioned where the handbrake would normally be if it hadn't been replaced by one of those fiddly electronic ones with a switch hidden away beneath the fascia.

Out back, you get 481-litres of luggage space, a big jump up from the 341-litre total offered by the A-Class and around 60-litres more than you'd get in an Audi Q3.

'Freedom', Mercedes says, 'is contagious'. Desire for compact Crossover models of this kind certainly is - even if they cost as much as this one. It doesn't directly compete with RAV4 or CR-V-style SUVs but, given that it costs the same sort of money, I can see a number of people who'd previously have simply settled for another such CR-V-style soft roader being tempted by what's on offer here.

Some cheaper Crossover models of this kind seem a little crude in comparison with this GLA. Like them, it's essentially a family hatchback in a pair of hiking boots, but its transformation to meet that need has here been completed with a silken thoroughness typical of the Three-Pointed Star. That doesn't extend to any really serious off-road capability but then, for many buyers, such a thing is neither wanted nor needed. Appropriate then, for this car to be so visually subtle in its expeditionary pretensions.

True, similar claims are being made in this segment by the BMW X1 and Audi Q3 rivals this car is being directly pitched against. But these are cars with slightly higher running costs and asking prices that are no cheaper. You can see then, why Mercedes is confident this GLA will prevail against them. It's arguably the best compact car the brand makes. And that makes it very significant indeed.

Click here to find out more about our Mercedes-Benz GLA range