The second-generation BMW X1 has moved to MINI’s front-drive 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.
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.
Generous but tasteful applications of piano-black and chrome engender a luxurious environment in the X1.
Set in a layered arrangement with an asymmetrical, leather-wrapped 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.
Mercedes-Benz answers with a far more intimate, and darker, atmosphere. Silver aeronautical-style air vents and racy single-element 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.
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 blue-and-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 two-way 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 effortless 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” 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 different 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.
Mercedes-Benz GLA180 1.6 (A)
ENGINE 1595cc, 16-valves, inline-4, turbocharged
MAX POWER 122bhp at 5000rpm
MAX TORQUE 200Nm at 1200-4000rpm
POWER TO WEIGHT 85bhp per tonne
GEARBOX 7-speed dual-clutch with manual select
0-100KM/H 8.7 seconds
TOP SPEED 200km/h
CONSUMPTION 17.5km/L (combined)
CO2 EMISSION 133g/km
PRICE INCL. COE $166,888 (after $5k CEVS rebate)
BMW X1 sDrive20i 2.0 (A)
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)