The Audi Q3 is well established in the market as one of the better smaller crossovers – it’s a popular choice among experts who praise its smart looks and high-quality cabin.
Audi has recently facelifted the Q3 – arriving in the new year, it promises to look even sharper and improve on an already decent engine range – we’ve played Where’s Wally? and found all the differences between the new and old Q3 here.
Those seeking something that has a more defined style and the same classy feel, however, will be keen to find out about the new Mercedes GLA – a new entry designed to take on the best in the crossover segment.
Is the GLA worth the extra investment over a normal A-Class, and can it make a case for itself against the well-known and liked Q3? We’ve compared the two in all the important areas to help you make the best choice.
The crossover SUV market doesn’t encourage outrageous design, and the German manufacturers tend to opt for subtle lines that quietly ooze a premium, classy image. The Audi Q3 is a good example of this, although it’s perhaps one of the quirkier looking Audis, but the GLA certainly didn’t get the memo.
As you might expect, the GLA has the large, pronounced grille that recent Mercs have been given. It also looks chunky in a reassuring “this-is-very-well-built” way and the nicely defined lines running down the side of the car give it some road presence.
But on the flip-side, if you were to park it next to an A-Class, the only real difference you’d notice is the slightly increase in size, height and the plastic strips around the wheel arches. Given the A-Class is praised for its adventurous styling anyway, you might say this isn’t a bad thing – but you may feel that the additional purchase price is a little steep for such minor changes.
The previous Q3 also looked a little like its base car on stilts – the A3 in this case – but the face-lifted model looks like a new car in its own right thanks to some minor changes. The grille is a little smaller with added chrome, and the black air-intakes at the bottom have been increased in size slightly too – all sounding like small changes but they add up to a fresh, smart look.
Both cars certainly look like premium hatchback-based crossovers, with the Mercedes making the most effort to impress – ultimately it’ll be down to whether you have more appreciation for understated class or bold road presence.
Interior and Practicality
The Q3 is presently the smallest crossover in the Audi range, at least until the Q1 arrives and, like the GLA, attempts to make the most out of the slightly larger dimensions they have over the compact cars on which they’re based.
Experts have noted that the Q3 may be a little cramped on longer journeys for rear passengers, but otherwise the available space is decent – the 460-litres boot can be upped to just under 1,400 litres with the rear seats folded. The quality of the interior is on par with other Audis, which is to say it’s at the very top end of its class and nearly as impressive as cars worth several times the price.
The Mercedes GLA cannot be accused of playing its interior styling down either – the dashboard design is as bold as the exterior, and people familiar with the A-Class and B-Class will see the similarities. Everything feels well built and generally the quality is very high, although you’ll notice cheaper materials if you look too closely.
Inside, the GLA is roomier than the A-Class – an area that disappointed the critics in the latter – and is better prepared to take family and luggage long distances with cubby holes and a 481-litre boot too.
That said, reviewers say it isn’t significantly more spacious than your average family hatchback. Passengers may be comfier over long distances in terms of head- and legroom, but the small windows combined with dark trim can make the cabin seem a little on the pokey side.
Reviewers don’t really rave about the Q3’s handling – a frequent word that crops up is “uninspiring”. The steering is vague and rather light and doesn’t provide much feedback. It’s not particularly poor on the road, it just doesn’t appear to be as fun or memorable as the experts think it should be. The fidgety low-speed ride also affects the ride comfort, although this can be alleviated by optional adaptive dampers or smaller alloys.
It seems that to get a proper sense of driver involvement you need to fork out considerably more and and get the certifiably-bonkers RS Q3. This high performance flagship has been set up to be a much more fun car to drive – in fact, one reviewer said they found it to be one of the better sportier versions in the Audi range.
The GLA improves on the A-Class in virtually every way with regards to the overall driving experience – relatively unsurprising given how poor the feedback on the A-Class was.
By giving it softer suspension and an increased ride height – 50mm up on the A-Class – it’s much more satisfying to drive, as you don’t have to spend all of your time avoiding poor road surfaces. It’s also far easier to cope with in town, given that lots of urban areas are populated with speed bumps and potholes. The ride quality has been improved to the point where road imperfections are dealt with in a more ‘Mercedes-like’ fashion, even if it doesn’t deliver the same kind of premium ride you get from larger Mercs.
Again, for proper driver involvement, the rather expensive GLA45 AMG lowers the suspension 15mm closer to the road again, which improves the driving experience but doesn’t bring back the overly harsh ride – a good compromise indeed.
The Audi Q3 is available with a range of petrol and diesel engines all of which get good reviews from critics. Mercedes has given the GLA a smaller number of engines and all regarded as decent, smooth power-plants, although the lower powered models are slow and noisy when pushed hard.
The Q3’s smallest petrol engine was always regarded as bit of a star given its generous power output and relative frugality, and the revised Q3 has improved it further. The 1.4-litre turbocharged engine will now pump out 148hp, giving it good performance figures and, with Cylinder-On-Demand technology that shuts down cylinders when you’re cruising, is good for over 50mpg on paper – truly impressive for petrol power in a big crossover.
The other, more popular, engines have also seen very slight power increases – the 2.0-litre diesel units will be available with either 148hp or 181hp – the former capable of just over 60mpg, and costs very little to tax.
Mercedes don’t have a lower-powered petrol option – only a choice of two 2.0-litre turbocharged units, one with over 200hp, and the other with a rather awesome 355hp – more on that in a minute.
It’s more likely that one of the two diesel options will be most popular here – the GLA 200CDI and the GLA220CDI both have a 2.1-litre diesel engine putting out 134hp and 168hp respectively. The 200CDI is likely to be enough for most people, although it’s not as frugal as Audi’s offering – the low 60s is about all you can expect.
Audi is also revising its 2.5-litre turbocharged RS Q3 model – upping the power by 30hp, giving it a sub-five second 0-62mph sprint, but also improving economy to nearly 33mpg. As already mentioned, the GLA45 AMG has a 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol with 355hp is good for a sub-five second sprint to 62mph from standstill. It’s not quite as frugal as the Audi, but it’s unlikely you’ll care if you’re seriously considering either one…
Value for money and running costs
It might surprise you to find out that the cheapest way of entering premium hatchback-based crossover ownership is by opting for the Audi Q3. In fact, the basic entry-level model is probably enough for a lot of buyers. The Mercedes GLA can’t offer such a bargain – the bold looks and stylish, slightly larger interior appear to come at a significant cost.
A Q3 1.4-litre TFSI in SE spec is your cheapest option, at £23,875. This will do 50+mpg and will suit those with lower annual mileages, and it has all the equipment you realistically need. That said, there are plenty of desirable options that could bump the price up significantly.
Even if you add around £2,000 of extras, you will only be paying the price of an entry-level GLA – £25,850 for a 200CDI in SE spec. This is the also the most economical GLA available – 62.8mpg on paper – so for people with eyes on the budget it’s a sound option. By comparison, the cheapest Q3 diesel is £25,600.
Both the Q3 and the GLA will hold their value very well, and their badges will ensure they are always seen as desirable. You may have less luck holding onto the value of the £40k+ performance models – not only are they eye-wateringly expensive but the running costs are likely to be steep, too.
Wowscores show the Q3 and the GLA are exactly equal, with an average score of 7.2 each. The Audi’s had more reviews taken into consideration than the Merc though.
It’s a little strange that the critics have ended up scoring the GLA roughly on par with the A-Class – the bold styling is kept, and the poor ride and road-handling have been addressed properly. One might argue that Mercedes are asking a little too much money for improvements that shouldn’t have been necessary in the first place.
It’s also hard not to regard the GLA as a slightly larger-than-normal family hatchback, which might make it seem unreasonably expensive. Even as a crossover, it’s quite pricey, given the limited improved functionality it has over the regular A-Class.
The Audi is more certain of its identity – it presents itself as more than A3, and is well-refined package. It has more engine options and a classier interior – but it’s not as interesting to look at or as fun to drive as the GLA.
Our choice? If you are seeking a stylish crossover and have the cash to splash, the GLA might be for you, but otherwise, the Audi’s budget options and broader range of engines make it a more attractive proposition overall.