Ride high and show off in the compact hatches from the premium brands
L uxury sedans are becoming passe because buyers are downsizing to cars like these — high-riding hatchbacks that fit in tight parking spaces and have a commanding view of the road ahead. Powered by zippy yet efficient turbo fourcylinder engines, these examples don’t cost the earth to run — but do come with hefty price tags.
With the recent arrival of the BMW X2 it was time to get reacquainted with the Audi Q2 and Mercedes GLA.
Here’s how they compare.
Last time we tested the Audi Q2 it was criticised for being pricey. Now it undercuts the competition — we have the cheapest model in the range without any options, from $46,800 drive-away.
Standard fare includes dual zone airconditioning, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, built-in navigation and leather steering wheel with paddle-shifters.
The base Q2 lacks a power tailgate and a sensor key with push button start. It doesn’t even get individual map lights — or lights for the vanity mirrors in the sun visors.
Unusual for an Audi, the centre console and door pockets are small. The rear door linings are finished in a cheap plastic while the front doors have better trim.
The air vents in the front work well but are presented in plain black plastic — it’s apparent they’re missing the alloy garnish of the dearer models. The control panel in the centre console that operates the audio and navigation is intuitive to use.
Generously sized, the boot has a wide and low load area and houses a space-saver spare under the floor (the others have run-flat tyres).
The Audi’s 1.4-litre turbo might be the smallest engine here, with less grunt than the BMW, but it’s also lighter.
The X2 is about a second quicker to 100km/h but the Q2 is eager enough and delivers its power smoothly and quietly through the sevenspeed twin-clutch auto driving the front wheels.
The suspension can be a touch busy over bumps but it’s not jarring, and the steering is light yet precise — the best blend of agility and comfort among the trio.
Mercedes was among the first luxury brands to join the city SUV brigade when the GLA arrived in 2014 ... which means the Benz is starting to show its age. We’ve tested the cheapest ticket into the line-up, the GLA 180 priced from $48,600 drive-away.
Despite delivering a level of comfort many can’t match and packing a full suite of safety tech — including nine airbags, three more than the other pair — it lacks some basics.
The airconditioning is single zone and there are no rear air vents. The map pockets behind
the front seats are mesh rather than fabric, so you can’t stash valuables.
It does get creature comforts such as a sensor key with push button start, leather steering wheel with paddle-shifters and Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and built-in navigation.
Its 1.6-litre turbo is the least powerful in this trio in a body that is 100kg heavier than the Audi. It feels a little less eager than the Audi and against the BMW the power deficit is more apparent.
The GLA’s twin-clutch transmission isn’t as smooth or as intuitive as a regular auto — or the Audi’s similar gearbox.
Unusual for a Mercedes, the tyres transmit a lot of road noise into the cabin and create more tyre slap over lane markers and expansion joins.
On the plus side, it’s the most plush over bumps and the styling still looks fresh against newer rivals.
At $61,500 drive-away, the sDrive2.0i starts this contest at a disadvantage. It is the most expensive of the trio by a significant margin. A cheaper model is on the way — powered by a three-cylinder 1.5-litre turbo — but it’s still about $10,000 more than the other two.
Fortunately it feels a step above the others as soon as you slip behind the wheel — fabrics and cabin upholstery are of a higher quality, there’s mood lighting in the dash and doors at night and the seats feel both more cushioned and more sporty. There’s more oomph under the bonnet, too, although once on the move the Audi isn’t far behind.
It gains radar cruise control as standard but the rest of the equipment list is a bit hit and miss.
Apple CarPlay, standard on the rivals, adds $500 — after the initial three-year subscription BMW charges $150 a year for the smartphone mirroring. Android Auto isn’t available yet.
There is another minor flaw in BMW’s plan to appeal to younger buyers in the connected generation: there is only one USB charging port. Wireless phone charging is an optional extra.
In most cars with autonomous emergency braking, the vehicle comes to a complete stop to avoid a collision. The X2 has braking assistance that primes the brakes in an emergency and slows the car. BMW’s fully fledged AEB is a $2600 optional extra bundled with a bigger navigation screen and head-up display.
Electric seat adjustment is part of a separate $2700 option pack. The list goes on.
On the road the 2.0-litre turbo feels perky but the suspension is a little too firm on bumpy back roads and the steering a touch too sharp.
Rear seat space is more snug than the other two — the X2 is definitely more of a style statement than a practical go-anywhere hatch.