These entry-level German SUVs try to elevate themselves highest above the compact crossover crowd, without getting their tyres dirty.
THE second-generation BMW X1 has moved to MINI’s frontdrive UKL platform. While giving “hind-legs-only” BMW purists brain aneurysms, the move has yielded immediate packaging dividends. With the engine mounted transversely, the X1 is now a credible “utility” vehicle, despite a 36mm decrease in overall length. Mercedes’ contender is an extension of the A-Class family, alongside the original hatchback and the CLA saloon. Almost exclusively photographed from low angles, Mercedes would like you to consider the GLA a proper mini-SUV, despite it being lower than the Honda Jazz.
For Singapore, BMW has brought in the 4-cylinder 192bhp sDrive20i as the base and only X1 model, eschewing the sDrive18i. Mercedes-Benz has taken the opposite tack, requiring a special indent to obtain the more directly comparable GLA200. MERCEDES- GROUP TEST BENZ GLA180 versus BMW X1 sDRIVE20i STORY DR KONG YONGYAO PHOTOS LOW FAI MING Should you wish to have your lifestyle machines from one of these German luminaries then, the X1 sDrive20i at $187,800 and the GLA180 at $166,888 constitute your entry points. The BMW’s styling is rugged and substantial, looking very much the junior X5. Mercifully, there is little visual resemblance to the breadbox-like 2 Series Active Tourer. The GLA is unmistakably an elevated A-Class hatch, with its dainty, graceful lines successfully enhancing the donor car’s prettiness. The Merc is prettier than the Bimmer.
The X1 (far right) offers more room for heads, legs and knees, and is much airier than the GLA.
Generous but tasteful applications of piano-black and chrome engender a luxurious environment in the X1. Set in a layered arrangement with an asymmetrical, leatherwrapped bracket cradling the centre console, the BMW’s fascia is both attractive and ergonomically sound. Gentle mood lighting further boosts the upmarket ambience, with the dark brown (albeit synthetic) leather of this car contributing equally. But in a hint of its humble 2 Series underpinnings, tyre roar is noticeably loud at a cruise.
Should you wish to have your lifestyle machines from bmw and mercedes-benz, the x1 and gla constitute your entry points.
Mercedes-Benz answers with a far more intimate, and darker, atmosphere. Silver aeronauticalstyle air vents and racy singleelement seats add a touch of pizzazz to proceedings, and everything is well-built. The GLA cabin is otherwise fairly unremarkable. Also counting against it are the button-rich dashboard and 5.5-inch display, the latter lacking both resolution and navigation functionality. If the X1’s lead in being “premium” is debatable, the “utility” part of the equation is beyond doubt. At 505 litres with the seats up and 1550 litres with them down, the boot comfortably dwarfs the GLA’s 481 and 1235 litres.
The GLA180 (far left) has a weaker 1.6-litre Category A engine that’s not directly comparable to the X1’s Category B 2-litre mill.
In fact, the X1’s credentials as an SUV far outstrip the GLA’s in all of headroom, legroom, interior volume and glass area, with the lattermost doing much to increase the daylight between the two German cars in subjective spaciousness. Take your family for the test drives, and it is clear which accommodation they’ll find more agreeable. Considering its blueand- white badge, the X1 camouflages its front-drive bones only partially. Hard cornering sees it leaning on the outside front wheel, offering up only understeer in beyond-grip options. A rubbery reluctance of the steering system to engage in twoway conversation means such hooliganism is discouraged. Does it matter? Probably not. Of far greater consequence in this category is ease of use, at which BMW makes a commendable effort.
Its manageable size, a commanding driver’s view and impressive controllability mean the X1 goes exactly where you point it. Body roll, though pronounced, is progressive and never restricts the lateral grip. BMW’s nonchalantly torquey 2-litre 20i engine makes progress a lot more eff ortless than the relatively hesitant Mercedes 1.6-litre. But the lower-slung GLA exhibits greater agility, with less dive and squat. If the result of this matchup is decided by how well the car justifies the terms “premium” ENGINE 1998cc, 16-valves, inline-4, turbocharged MAX POWER 192bhp at 5000rpm MAX TORQUE 280Nm at 1250rpm POWER TO WEIGHT 129.3bhp per tonne GEARBOX 8-speed automatic with manual select 0-100KM/H 7.7 seconds TOP SPEED 225km/h CONSUMPTION 16.9km/L (combined) CO2 EMISSION 141g/km PRICE INCL. COE $187,800 (no CEVS rebate/surcharge) and “utility”, the X1 takes the honours.
It is at once bigger, plusher and more imperious. But I’m obligated to remind you of the BMW’s $21k higher price (at the time of this article). The Mercedes-Benz GLA, like its CLA sibling, appeals principally on the strength of its bewitching looks and graceful charm. Judged on diff erent criteria, perhaps as an upmarket alternative to regular continental hatchbacks, it might have fared better in this comparison. A full-on SUV, however, it is not