First test: Turbo Mercedes GLA facelift versus BMW X1

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Agile turbo Mercedes GLA facelift measures itself against a practical BMW SUV. In addition to the delicate design and equipment retouching, the latest model update offered the Mercedes GLA the new 2.0-liter turbo engine variant 220 4Matic. How does it fare versus the more spacious BMW X1 20i xDrive? First test via

Sometimes the deep insight into a matter is simply a hindrance. Among us testers no one foresaw the SUV trend ahead. It just overrun us. When we had rumbled up and just realized what was happening in the market, we were already threatened by our prediction that a model like the Mercedes GLA would be the absolute contender – flatter, lighter and thus more agile than most of its competitors.

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Mercedes GLA a slightly elevated compact car

A car that has significantly fewer SUV-specific disadvantages. You guess what’s coming now: Exactly, we were wrong. The bullish high seater from BMW, the X1, is clearly more successful. Our ever-repeated mistake: We judge the models purely according to what they do. According to their skill. But not what they are doing, in order to formulate it in a popular way.

A friend, even a SUV driver, puts it this way: the more martial, the better. If he is right, the Mercedes GLA does not have a better future in his second half of life, because the facelift has not made him any more martial. Still the Mercedes is the opposite of a tough car, with its discreetly redesigned bumpers does not even resemble a crossover even more, is rather a slightly elevated compact car. In addition, the seat in the second row is rather narrow.

The concept is actually stylish and useless enough for success in the market. Especially since the trend (yes, another one we already knew …) to the four-door SUV coupe in its class would have picked up very early. Mercedes should perhaps rename the model to GLA Coupé to incite the sales.

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BMW X1 – little joy in driving

The fact that it is based on the A-Class, the GLA does not hide in anyway. The fact that the BMW X1 is based on the Mini Countryman, can not be outlined on the other hand. When looking at the interior, the joystick-like gearbox selector, which is characteristic for a BMW, is missing. Apart from this, nothing reminds us of the technical alliance.

At least nothing visible. The X1’s concept is based on front-wheel drive, as with the GLA; The rear axle only comes into action to help when the front wheels start to slip. And this can happen frequently with a slippery road, because the two-liter turbo gasoline engine in the X1 is a power pack. So, if you give it full throttle, the drive is under pressure. This shows that the X1 predecessor had a decisive design advantage: the separation of steering and propulsion. Once it was typical for BMW – now the rear-wheel-based all-wheel drive system is offered only with the larger X-models.

Anyone who frequently accesses the 280 Nm in the BMW X1 20i xDrive will notice a slight drive influence in the steering. As a traditional BMW customer, you have to deal with this. Especially since the steering wheel on bad roads pushes through the chassis – the adjustable shock absorbers can hardly hold it quiet, and the driver registers from his high sitting position clear body movements. This does not exactly boost the enjoyment of driving; one leaves it rather restrained.

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GLA runs like a compact, X1 wavers like SUV

Meanwhile, the Mercedes GLA 220 4Matic runs behind closely. It could be faster on winding country roads. The new two-liter GLA 220 4Matic has a maximum torque of 300 Nm, but a maximum of 184 hp (BMW: 192 hp). No, the forward thrust is fed by the lower weight (minus 158 kilograms) and the lower center of gravity (vehicle height minus 104 millimeters). The Mercedes drives precisely as a compact, the BMW wavers like an SUV – rarely one gets the conceptual strengths and weaknesses better presented.

One must not be deceived by the fact that the X1 comes so close to the driving dynamics of the GLA on the closed test track. Here, on perfect asphalt, both candidates compete in the sports mode of the adjustable shock absorbers – in the rough tuning, which can not be used on a wavy track. On the test track, but only here, one notices the BMW X1 20i xDrive is actually sporty. Yes, it was tuned exactly for the prestige exercises slalom and fast lane changing tests. However, the wavy country road sets different parameters. And it requires a lot more from the chassis. Even in comfort, the Mercedes plays out its advantages of lower height, with spiritless, but effective, suspension tuning.

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And the disadvantages? At the same time, they are the advantages of the BMW. Not only does it perform very well, it also holds a lot of space inside. Front and rear, X1 is always ahead. Also in the trunk. Everywhere, the usable X1 outshines the smaller and flatter GLA, literally putting it into the shade. BMW’s compact SUV comes with a foldable luggage compartment too. For an extra charge you can fold the passenger seat backrest (150 euros) and move the rear seats longitudinally (350 euros). This is almost Van-like variability.

The X1 with its high seating is seniors compatible – incidentally also with the circular view, because the large window surfaces facilitate the estimation of the body corners. The GLA, on the other hand, puts everything into a dead space. The BMW also scores points with its high-resolution mid-range display and easier handling of the infotainment system via its signature iDrive.

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Safety or costs?

The X1 in the safety chapter already raises the GLA proverbially (particularly from 130 km/h), with its more comprehensive assistance systems. And with the greater choice in lighting technology. Finally, with a point more in driving safety, because the Mercedes stays on the road more stable and therefore requires less space in fast-running corners than the BMW.

The GLA wins the drive section despite its slightly higher consumption (9.3 instead of 9.1 liters per 100 kilometers) and its somewhat softer and quieter turbo four-cylinder. The Mercedes GLA 220 4Matic has just over 150 kilograms less to drag than the BMW X1 20i xDrive. As is often the case in tests, the cost chapter decides about the winner. Here the GLA is significantly cheaper. That BMW gives the X1 in the xLine more equipment, of course, we reckon against; But in terms of points, this can not offset the price gap.

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BMW, however, makes good ground with customer-friendly calculated options, especially since the X1 is more cost-effective in maintenance, reduced to five years the lower costs and the manufacturer granted a three-year warranty. This is enough to make the Mercedes outrage. However, with such a tight result, there is really no winner or loser in the classic sense – instead, two concepts that appeal to completely different SUV customers: whoever is looking for a car is taking the Mercedes, who is looking for utility value, the BMW.

Technical Data
Mercedes GLA 220 4Matic Style BMW X1 20i xDrive xLine
Base price (Germany) 37.860 € 43.700 €
L x h x l 4424 x 1804 x 1494 mm 4439 x 1821 x 1598 mm
Trunk volume 421 bis 1235 L 505 bis 1505 L
Engine 1991 cm³ / 4-Cylinder 1998 cm³ / 4-Cylinder
Power 135 kW / 184 PS (300 Nm) 141 kW / 192 PS (280 Nm)
Max. speed 230 km/h 223 km/h
Acc. 0-100 km/h 7,1 s 7,4 s
Mixed consump. 6,5 L/100 km 6,3 L/100 km
Test consump. 9,3 L/100 km 9,1 L/100 km