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.

Expect to find pricing at similar levels to that of the previous MK2 model, which means a typical span in the £25,000 to £25,000 bracket. The standard specification is pretty complete, running to include BMW's iDrive operating system with its high-resolution 6.5-inch colour display, a six-speaker audio system, plus a USB socket. Also standard are LED daytime driving lights, an automatic tailgate, front foglamps, remote-controlled central locking and keyless ignition, plus electric windows, electrically adjustable and heated exterior mirrors and a leather steering wheel adjustable for height and reach.

The various 'xLine', 'Sport Line' and 'M Sport' trim levels are differentiated by different colour grilles, side skirts and air intakes, as well as by various different kinds of sports seat. 'M Sport' models are fitted with a model-specific aerodynamic package and 18-inch or optional 19-inch light alloy wheels. The 'xLine' and 'M Sport' models get full-LED headlights for low and high beam, an optional feature for 'Sport Line' models. Options across the range include a panoramic glass roof, a DAB radio, a larger control screen and a Head-up display.

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 continues to target the ever-growing market for premium-badged mid-sized five-seat SUVs with this second generation version of its stylish little Q3. This car's now cleverer, smarter and more efficient, all of these being attributes it'll need if it's to make headway in this increasingly crowded segment. When it comes to this kind of car, there are certainly cheaper options. The question though, is whether there are really any more desirable ones.

To start with, there are four engine options - three petrol TFSI units and one TDI diesel - with power outputs ranging from 150PS to 230PS. All four engines are four-cylinder direct injection units with turbocharging. Things kick off with the '35 TFSI' front-driven derivative, which offers a 150PS 1.5-litre engine that uses the cylinder on demand efficiency system, which temporarily switches off two cylinders at low load. Buyers choose between a six-speed manual or a seven-speed S tronic automatic.

Next up is the 2.0-litre TFSI petrol unit, offered with 190PS in the '40 TFSI' and with 230PS in the '45 TFSI'. Either way, you get S tronic auto transmission and quattro 4WD as standard. For folks still wanting a diesel, there's the '35 TDI', which gets you the usual 2.0-litre TDI powerplant with 150PS. Here, the choice is between a front-driven manual variant or a quattro auto. You can also talk to your Audi Centre about a 190PS version of this diesel engine.

Adaptive damping is optional and you can adjust it via the settings of the standard Audi drive select dynamic handling system. Also standard is progressive steering, the ratio of which becomes gradually more direct as the steering angle increases. Hill descent control is also optional, to help you down slippery slopes, should you ever use your Q3 'off piste'.

This second generation Q3 is significantly larger than its predecessor, its 4.48m total length being 97mm longer than the original model. It's also 18mm wider, but sits 5mm lower. The styling's more purposeful this time round and the trademark Singleframe grille is more prominent, with an octagonal design and eight vertical bars. It's flanked by slimmer LED headlamps.

Inside, much of the look and feel is borrowed from the brand's larger models, with a reductive instrument panel divided into two levels, the top part including the air vents and the bottom section the large octagonal area with its black-panel look. There's a fully digital instrument panel and an MMI centre-dash touch display surrounded by high-gloss black trim. The other thing that previous Q3 buyers will notice about the interior is the extra spaciousness on offer, made possible thanks to the 78mm of extra wheelbase added to this second generation model.

The three-seater rear bench can be moved fore/aft by 150mm and its 40:20:40-split backrest can be tilted in seven stages. Boot capacity totals 530 or 675-litres, depending on the position of the rear seats and backrests. With the backrests completely folded down the figure rises to 1,525-litres. The loading floor can be adjusted in three levels, and the low loading sill of 748 millimetres makes stowing heavy luggage easier.

Audi knows better than most manufacturers that there's never a one-size-fits-all solution to modern motoring, hence the range of options offered by its various Q-series models. This one could well be all the car you actually need. Don't think of it as a shrunken version of its Q5 compact SUV stablemate. It isn't really any kind of SUV, instead offering a smarter, more up-market take on the current trend towards lifestyle-orientated Qashqai-class five-seat SUVs. Sensible, stylish, fashionable cars that are striking such a sweet spot in the current market.

As with almost any model of this kind, this one can easily manage the school run, an extended shopping trip, a weekend away or the annual family ski trip to Chamonix. The difference here though, lies in the quality, the depth of engineering and the sheer feel-good factor that you'll get by having this car on your driveway. Yes, you can certainly buy something slightly bigger and SUV-ish for this kind of money. But after trying a Q3, you probably won't want to.

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. An offroad 'comfort' suspension package that raises the car by 30mm now comes as standard.

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 hardwear 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.

On to design. 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.

In summary, this is 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