Second-generation versions of the Q3 and GLA have both turned up in 2020. We find out which is the better German compact luxury SUV.
The Audi Q3 and Mercedes-Benz GLA are two giants of the small luxury SUV set. They’ve sold in their tens of thousands just in Australia since the original models were released – 2012 for the Q3 and late-2013 for the GLA.
The full range of second-generation versions of both have converged on the market in the same year – and both arrive with notable changes.
Audi has adopted a twin-prong strategy by introducing two Q3 body styles: a regular version that is the natural successor to the original Q3, plus a Sportback variant that merges SUV and hatchback design with its more dramatically sloped roof.
The 2020 Q3 has also grown nearly 10cm in length to 4.48m (with the Q3 Sportback slightly longer at 4.5m exactly).
Mercedes has actually shrunk the GLA, though the length has shortened by just 14mm – to 4.41m. However, whereas the original GLA was more akin to an A-Class with jacked-up suspension, the new-generation model moves into SUV-design territory with a dramatically higher roof line that’s up more than 10cm.
An increase in width (and front/rear tracks) ensures the GLA retains good proportions and a good stance on the road.
Both German luxury compact SUVs promise improved practicality and technology, but which is the stronger package?
For this test, we have chosen a Q3 Sportback over the squarer Q3 SUV, as its sportier shape is more closely matched to the tapered styling approach of the GLA.
And it’s 2.0-litre turbo petrol engines, dual-clutch autos and all-wheel-drive systems all round as we pair the Audi Q3 40TFSI Sportback quattro with the Mercedes-Benz GLA250 4Matic.
Pricing and features
The Audi Q3 range starts at $46,400 (before on-road costs) for a front-wheel-drive variant with a 110kW turbo petrol four-cylinder. That jumps to $49,900 if you want the more stylised Sportback with the same engine.
Buyers after Audi’s famous ‘quattro’ badge need to find a minimum of $53,900 for the all-wheel-drive Q3 40TFSI, with a $59,500 S Line version bringing a host of extras.
The Q3 Sportback 40TFSI quattro comes in S Line only priced from $61,900.
As previously mentioned, we picked the Sportback as its prominently sloped roof line ties in naturally with Mercedes’s similarly tapered approach to the GLA, while also helping to close the price gap to the GLA250 that costs from $66,500.
In drive-away (NSW) spec, the Audi is $68,793 versus $73,100 for the GLA250.
(Incidentally, the GLA’s RRP price is up from $63,000 for the last of the previous model, or up nearly $8000 from what a GLA250 cost at launch in 2014. There’s more equipment today, of course, though the same can be said about the base Q3 40TFSI that costs only $500 more than its equivalent model – the TFSI Sport – from 2017.)
So, the Q3 Sportback 40TFSI starts with an RRP advantage of $4700 – and our test car puts that change to good use by installing a $3900 Premium Plus Package. It seems a reasonable price, too, when you consider this adds a Bang & Olufsen audio system and Audi’s brilliant (in both senses of the word) Matrix LED headlights (plus some black exterior styling elements).
There’s also ambient LED interior lighting and a sunroof in the package, though the GLA250 features both as standard.
The Sportback’s roof isn’t panoramic like the GLA’s, either (or the regular Q3’s for that matter) – the sharply sloping roof line restricting it to a single pane over the front seats. The GLA has a dual-pane sunroof covering front and rear accommodation.
Audi ultimately edges ahead for features because the Q3 Sportback 40TFSI S Line has 20-inch Audi Sport wheels to the GLA250’s 19-inch rims, plus a 360-degree camera, rear privacy glass and paddle-shift levers that are part of option packs on the Mercedes.
The Q3 also comes standard with a sliding rear bench with centre armrest for extra cabin versatility, whereas this costs $790 on the GLA250.
Less of a contrast are the Audi’s genuine/artificial combination leather seats and the Mercedes’s man-made (‘Artico’) upholstery.
Options are surprisingly (but pleasingly) limited on the Q3 40TFSI, whereas you can go to town on the GLA250 – and our test car does, with five different packages that push its price out to $78,177 before on-road charges.
Notable additions include 19-inch AMG wheels, privacy glass and paddles (from the $1915 Sports Package), multibeam LED headlights (part of the $915 Vision Package), and Lugano leather seats with ventilated front seats plus adaptive dampers (part of the $2838 AMG Exclusive Package).
|Audi Q3 Sportback 40TFSI||Mercedes-Benz GLA250 4Matic|
|Engine||2.0-litre 4-cylinder turbo petrol||2.0-litre 4-cylinder turbo petrol|
|Power and torque||132kW @ 4000-6200rpm, 320Nm @ 1400-3900rpm||165kW @ 5500rpm, 350Nm @ 1800-4000rpm|
|Transmission||seven-speed dual-clutch automatic||eight-speed dual-clutch automatic|
|Drive type||all-wheel drive||all-wheel drive|
|Fuel claim combined (ADR)||8.3L/100km||7.5L/100km|
|fuel use on test||7.5L/100km||8.3L/100km|
|Boot volume (rear seats up / down)||530L / 1525L||435L / 1430L|
|Turning circle||11.8 metres||11.9 metres|
|ANCAP safety rating||5 stars (tested 2018)||Not yet tested|
|Warranty||3 years / unlimited km||5 years / unlimited km|
|Main competitors||BMW X1, Mercedes-Benz GLA, Volvo XC40||Audi Q3, BMW X1, Range Rover Evoque, Volvo XC40|
|Price as tested (ex on-road costs)||$61,900 / $68,793 as tested||$66,500 / $78,177 as tested|
Infotainment and tech
Audi and Mercedes equip their small SUVs with an array of safety systems and driver aids, yet there is also the odd conspicuous absentee from the standard equipment.
The Q3, for example, lacks the speed-limit-reading technology offered on the GLA, but also much cheaper vehicles. And the GLA250’s surprise omission is adaptive cruise – available only as part of a $1531 Driving Assistance Package.
Neither vehicle has a head-up display as standard, though an HUD is part of an option pack on the GLA.
Audi’s MMI (multimedia interface) system has abandoned centre console controllers to go full touchscreen. We’re not convinced it’s a step forward for ease of use when the vehicle is on the move.
The 10.1-inch display presents smart graphics, though, and the various features and functions are easy to navigate.
The 40TFSI gains a more advanced audio system over the 35TFSI, featuring 10 speakers, subwoofer, amplifier and 180 watts. A 680-watt Bang & Olufsen system is available for $900 or as part of the aforementioned Premium Plus package.
Mercedes not so long ago lagged behind rivals with its relatively antiquated COMAND system, but now it’s among the best with its infotainment systems. The GLA follows other compact Mercedes models with the MBUX interface and dual 10.25-inch infotainment and driver displays.
Pin-sharp fonts and graphics and the general vibrancy of the screens are a stand-out. And while the MBUX interface isn’t something you learn in just a day, most owners should appreciate the level of depth and customisation options.
The central infotainment screen has touch functionality, though can also be operated via the centre console control pad with haptic feedback and shortcut buttons, or from steering wheel thumb-pad touch controls.
The Q3 and GLA come with various connected services as well as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration. In the Audi, CarPlay can be connected wirelessly rather than having to plug a smartphone into a USB port.
Wireless charging is standard on both vehicles.
The Q3 makes a good start against the GLB with the most comfortable pair of front seats, where you feel like you’re sitting in them rather than on them like the Mercedes’s more perch-like pews.
The 40TFSI’s seats are also more comfortable than the flat-feeling seats in the Q3 35TFSI, and over that model add the electric adjustment you expect from a luxury car. (The GLA250’s seats are also powered.)
Those Q3 seats are embossed with an S to signify they’re part of the standard S Line package, which also brings S Line treadplates, flat-bottomed S Line steering wheel and Alcantara sections on the dash and door armrests.
They provide sporty flourishes for an interior that is otherwise very much focused on presenting a technological feel via its contemporary design, central 10.1-inch touchscreen and digital driver display. (The latter ‘Virtual Cockpit’ is 12.3 inches in size compared with the 10.25-inch version in the 35TFSI.)
Audi sticks with some welcome tradition, though – providing physical climate controls rather than embedding them into the touchscreen system. The knurled metallic dials are beautiful, too.
The GLA’s cabin looks more closely related to the A-Class on which it shares its platform than the Q3 does with the upcoming next-generation A3.
There are the same, boldly designed elements such as the turbine-like air vents and the dual, conjoined 10.25-inch infotainment and driver displays.
The GLA’s dash is chunkier, though – including the adoption of thick trim bars with a polished-aluminium look, while there are taller trim sections (with a carbon-style weave) reflecting the vehicle’s higher-riding stance.
Hard plastics exist, though they blend in even more effectively with the rest of the cabin compared with those in the Q3.
Our testers felt the Mercedes had the edge in overall perceived quality.
Both vehicles provide large storage sections in the lower doors with rubber matting, and generally offer some useful options for stowing items (if lacking some of the Volvo XC40’s innovative touches).
If you’re likely to be carrying taller passengers in the rear seat, it’s best to consider the regular Q3. The Sportback’s sloping roof line does more for design than it does head room.
The Audi has generous leg room and foot space in the back, though, and the sliding bench can be slid forward if bigger boot space is a priority.
While the GLA250 should offer a sliding rear bench as standard rather than an option, the GLA250 is the pick of the rear-seat accommodations. There’s more head room even with a panoramic sunroof fitted and leg room is also plentiful – and noticeably more than that found in an A-Class.
The Mercedes’s outer seats are also the comfiest – feeling quite personalised as you sit in the defined scallops of the squabs.
There’s also extra light courtesy of the rear section of the panoramic roof, whereas the Q3 Sportback’s ‘panoramic’ roof is actually a regular sunroof over the front cabin. (Only the regular Q3 has a proper, full-length sunroof, owing to its flatter roof.)
Both vehicles feature rear air vents and dual USB-C ports, with the Q3 adding a 12-volt socket.
Audi quotes the same 530L boot space for the regular Q3 and Q3 Sportback, though the latter variant’s more steeply raked tailgate naturally places more of a limit on the height of stacked luggage.
Yet, the Sportback’s boot is still impressively practical, offering a space advantage over the GLA’s 435L luggage compartment. The Audi’s longer boot floor allows for smaller bags or a stroller in front of two holiday suitcases, while we could also fit two soft duffel bags (medium and large) on top of the suitcases and were still able to keep the parcel shelf in place. The GLA’s parcel shelf had to be removed to fit the duffels.
Both sets of rear seatbacks fold in a versatile 40-20-40 configuration, which allows the centre section to fold down for longer items while the outer rear seats are occupied or fitted with child seats. Or, all seats fold to create a flat extended cargo area.
Automatic tailgates are standard. The GLA250’s boot includes a light, small netted storage, elastic securing strap add a 12-volt socket. The Q3’s boot has a light and a couple of bag hooks.
The 110kW/250Nm 35TFSI version of the Q3 left us feeling that the 132kW/320Nm 40TFSI would be a more suitable four-cylinder engine for the entry model. That’s confirmed here, because the Sportback 40TFSI doesn’t underwhelm with its performance, albeit slower than the GLA250.
For the 0–100km/h acceleration run, Audi quotes a difference of 1.5 seconds between the 35TFSI and 40TFSI Sportbacks: 9.3 versus 7.8 seconds.
That’s still 1.1 seconds shy of the 6.7sec time Mercedes claims for the GLA250, which produces 165kW and 350Nm from its 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo.
The GLA250 undoubtedly feels the stronger and livelier performer of this duo. The eight-speed dual-clutch auto – in the vehicle’s default Comfort mode – also proved to be more consistent than its operation in the (related) GLB250 seven-seater we had tested a fortnight prior.
While throttle response can be sharpened with Sport mode, Comfort is ideal for the majority of driving situations.
Although the Audi’s drivetrain isn’t quite as effortless, both the engine and seven-speed dual-clutch auto perform smoothly – and the engine offers a more interesting, and slightly more refined, sound than the GLA250’s four-cylinder.
All-wheel drive is standard on both models.
The GLA250’s ‘4Matic’ is a permanent set-up, with an 80:20 front bias in Comfort (or Eco) mode, changing to 70:30 in Sport mode. Off-road mode splits torque evenly front and rear.
The Q3’s system isn’t the permanent ‘quattro’ set-up the company is most famous for. Instead it is a latest-generation Haldex system that can pre-emptively provide all-wheel-drive traction for take-offs and when the driver is turning into a corner.
While there are technical differences, both SUVs provided good traction when required on dry roads. (Our testing focused strictly on the bitumen – where these luxury SUVs will spend the vast majority of their time.)
Official fuel consumption figures fall in the GLA250’s favour – 7.5 v 8.3 litres per 100km. Both vehicles run on a minimum 95RON unleaded.
Indicated numbers from testing, however, pointed to a consistent advantage to the Q3 40TFSI. The gap was as high as 1.5L/100km at one point before settling at 7.5L/100km for the Audi versus 8.3L/100km for the GLA250, the reverse of the lab-cycle claims.
On the road
An immediate impression in the GLA is that you sit significantly higher than not just in the A-Class, but also in the previous GLA. Mercedes says the seat-height increase is nearly 10cm.
The seating position is also more upright like a 4WD than the more hatch-like old GLA – or the latest Q3. It’s simply an observation and buyers will have their preferences, though there’s also no doubt the GLA has even better outward vision than before.
While you’re also elevated in the Q3, the Sportback’s sloping roof line and tapering glass area can slightly restrict over-the-shoulder vision – though blind-spot monitoring will flash a light in the side mirror when it detects a vehicle approaching in the adjacent lane.
All-round vision is better in the regular Q3.
On its big, 20-inch wheels, the Q3 40TFSI rides with some firmness yet provides ample everyday comfort. The suspension is effective at keeping body control in check, which isn’t always the case with the GLA.
The GLA can occasionally feel a touch bouncy around town, if not to the extent of the larger GLB.
Mercedes’s smallest SUV seems to benefit from sitting on a lowered version of the Comfort suspension used by the GLB250, providing sufficient smoothness at lower speeds with less rocking from the vehicle both in the suburbs and around corners.
There’s also an agreeably supple ride on the freeway, but the GLA shares the GLB’s tendency to become uncomfortably choppy on typical country roads. This was using the default Comfort setting of the adaptive damping system that’s part of an optional AMG Exclusive Package ($2838).
The Q3’s more disciplined (non-adaptive) damping again works in its favour here, keeping the Audi flatter and far more composed.
One extra note from our testing: our GLA250 had a mysterious whistling at times whether we were driving at 60km/h or on the freeway. The suspect is a loose front door seal.
Audi is so far sticking stubbornly to a three-year warranty, whereas the majority of manufacturers – including Mercedes – have moved to five years.
GLA owners have the option of paying upfront for a multi-year service plan or paying annual via capped-price servicing. A three-year plan costs $2050, saving $500.
A five-year service plan costs $3500 compared to Audi’s $2630 five-year service plan for the Q3.
The second-generation compact luxury SUVs from Audi and Mercedes are clear improvements over their respective predecessors – not just in terms of equipment and technology, but also practicality, with roomier interiors and bigger boots (if not by much in the GLA’s case).
The Q3 and GLA are now even more suited to compact families, and can be expected to continue their popularity with buyers.
The GLA250 is a lot pricier than it has ever been, however – pushing into the territory of the Range Rover Evoque that may be similar in size but has a larger boot and, in our view, an even posher cabin experience.
Artificial-leather upholstery is also unexpected at this pricepoint.
It’s no surprise the Swedish compact SUV has been a big hit with buyers globally, and it remains our clear pick of the segment. Of the Q3 Sportback 40TFSI and GLA250, it’s the Audi that sits as the closest challenger.
While there’s plenty to like about the Mercedes – drivetrain performance and a high-quality interior – the Q3 brings more upsides.
There’s a value advantage when considering pricing and equipment (which only increases if you opt for the regular Q3 40TFSI), the Audi’s ride quality is more consistent, and the Q3 Sportback is also the more practical compact SUV with a bigger boot and standard sliding rear bench.
It’s always a tough decision to pick a small SUV, whether it be for family life or for more adventurous, double-income-no-kids living. The hardest part, especially so with premium offerings, is to strip away the things you’d really like in order to hone in on and maximise exactly what you actually need.
In this comparison, I found the Audi Q3 Sportback to offer more of the good stuff when assessing critical needs, as opposed to fanciful nice-to-haves.
One of those critical needs is boot space. As any outgoing couple or young family knows, space in the cargo area either makes or breaks an SUV as a lifestyle choice. It’s part of the reason why many are opting for these types of vehicles in the first place.
The Audi Q3 Sportback is one of those ‘why not have both?’ scenarios. As the name suggests, you get a coupe-esque, swooping roof line, which does look more dynamic, and expensive, than the regular Q3 SUV. The party trick, however, is that it manages to pull off the pseudo-sport car roof line while not compromising on the intrinsics of a solid boot area or second-row head room either.
The Mercedes-Benz, despite being a more traditional SUV in a sense, just can’t compare. Not just in terms of cargo litreage, but also in terms of usable dimensions, too. The Audi’s boot is deeper and more accepting of things like a mountain bike or large pram than the Benz’s would ever be.
Furthermore, the second row in the Audi offers more storage spaces, as well as slightly better room for its occupants. The Mercedes-Benz’s seat squab may be slightly more comfortable, but again, it is situated in an area of less space. The greater physical proportions of the Q3’s cabin outweigh any slight comfort gains found with the GLA’s seating.
Another factor that comes into play with everyday SUVs is the driveline. The Mercedes-Benz is the quicker car clearly, as the paper figures suggest, but I question, do you need that much performance? Or are you better off with the above-adequate oomph from the Audi, which goes on to plod around much more efficiently?
I think the latter makes most sense, personally. The Audi’s trip computer recorded an average consumption figure, over the usual 100km distance, of 1.5 litres less. Although it has less power than the Benz, it’s not underpowered in any way. It does the same job near enough, just more efficiently, which is something your bank account will be noticing.
The final point is maybe more subjective. Around town, the GLA seemingly rides well, coming across initially comfortable and plush. However, after you begin to explore varying road surfaces, or the pace picks up, it begins to emit the same theme of floatiness as found in the seven-seat alternative from the same brand, the GLB. Dialling up the dampers does quell the bobbing, but then you’re left with brittleness as a consequence.
The Audi is much firmer straight from the outset. However, it feels more confident and, strangely enough, calmer to be in. What further aids that point is a steering set-up that’s less hypersensitive and feels more natural.
The levels of body control offered in the Audi suited both of our tastes unanimously so. Even around town, its firmness doesn't get in the way of comfort. You feel much more in control of the overall experience, which in itself is comforting.
Sometimes your mind needs to be at ease or, alternatively, sometimes the more comfortable choice is the option that doesn’t leave vagueness or floatiness to be actively monitored curiously by your mind.
The Audi takes the cake there. It strips away needless thought from general motoring more so than the Benz does. While doing that, it also offers more space in the critical areas that SUV buyers are seeking.
It might not have the whizz-bang fancy interior layout or high-tech-feeling switchgear from the Merc, but consider those superfluous only if you’re wanting to buy an SUV, well, to act as an SUV.