Compact SUV battle: Mercedes GLA versus VW Tiguan, BMW X1

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If you’d be hard pressed to choose the one segment which outgrew them all in the past few years, that would definitely be the compact SUV class. Time to put the Mercedes GLA to test against its newest and fiercest rival, the VW Tiguan, plus the BMW X1. First comparison test via Auto Bild.

In the compact SUV class, the VW Tiguan has long been seen as a safe bet. Especially in 2.0 TDI guise with 4Motion all-wheel drive, it seems to be a real all-rounder. But is it also the best possible choice for its money? At the debut of the first-gen Tiguan in 2007, we would have immediately said yes. But now other manufacturers, even the premium ones, have this field covered very thoroughly and effectively.

Take Mercedes, for example. Following the SUV recipe, Benz decided to offer something a bit more original: the GLA, clothed as a raised hatchback. The muscular looking GLA offers a more youthful alternative to its rather angular rivals, yet combining the typical soft roader virtues with the strong Mercedes build quality. Again, an all-wheel drive system is combined with a powerful 2-liter diesel engine (2.1-liter to be more precise), while the body lift ensures the GLA offers the additional ground clearance and high-seating position expected from a compact SUV.

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BMW is another strong player in the segment with the X1. The Bavarians provides a vast interior space bolted on a sporty chassis with native front-wheel drive but only the xDrive 4×4 system in top diesel guise. This is coupled to a particularly lively drive-train: the brand’s new 2-liter diesel engine with 190 HP and the proven eight-speed automatic transmission.

Leaving the Dieselgate scandal behind, VW has given the new Tiguan the new 2.0 TDI. A clean diesel with Scr (selective catalytic reduction) and AdBlue supply (12 liters, sufficient for 6.700 km) which keep the CO2 and nOx emissions low. The 340 Newton meters on tap can easily push the 1.7-ton SUV as strongly as you’d imagine, yet not proving very thirsty. The mixed consumption rarely goes above 6.5 liters/100 km. The 2.0-liter VW diesel is also purring pleasantly quiet without any of the old characteristic TDI knock: vibrations are hardly noticeable.

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However, the flexibility suffers due to the unpolished gear changes the DSG double-clutch automatic is capable off, especially in stop-start traffic. Even when shifting down to kick-down, the VW transmission can take more thinking time than, for example, the visibly faster eight-speed automatic of the BMW. Thankfully, the Tiguan’s chassis mixes with great aplomb comfort and sportiness. It can handle very agile, but can also gently roll over broken road surfaces. Even in “Comfort” mode the adaptive shock absorbers respond fine and keep body roll to a minimum.

vw-tiguan-testBoth the BMW and the Mercedes, in contrast, are less apt in this regard, proving slightly more fidgety on transverse joints and rough bumps. They both drive very lively too, with a plus for the X1 which has a faster gearbox and a better weighed, more communicative steering. The bottom line: all three SUVs drive well and are comfortable enough, with the Tiguan in the lead.

The same applies to the modularity chapter. The Tiguan trumps the GLA and X1 with best in class comfort, good ergonomics and best space. This SUV is good for long journeys. However, the new virtual cockpit (12,3-inch TFT display replacing the instrument cluster) can become tiredsome in some situations and the central 8-inch touchscreen requires a steady hand for its operation. Also, while the rear seat backrest falls automatically into its slightly oblique position, to set it back up again can prove quite difficult for someone with less powerful arms. That does not really fit the modern appearance of the Tiguan.

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The Tiguan is a true everyday hero: A huge trunk with a whopping load volume, a lot of space and very good seats make him the friend of any family. Simultaneously, it drives well and consumes very little fuel. The BMW also travels first class, however, offering less space, but more handling fun. The less comfortable and less spacious Mercedes is simply too small for this league.