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BMW X1 vs Audi Q3

20th Mar 2013 10:46 pm

The Audi Q3 may have appealed to buyers more than the X1 till now, but BMW is looking to change that with a facelift of its most affordable SUV.

When it launched in India two years ago, the BMW X1 had no competition to worry about, and went on to become quite popular. But not too long after, Audi got its act together and launched the Q3 to rival the X1.

The Q3 immediately scored over the X1 with its upright posture and premium interiors. It even appealed to buyers more because of its higher seating position and all-wheel-drive configuration.
 
Far from taking it lying down though, BMW is ready for a fresh assault in the form of the revised X1. It brings with it cosmetic, interior and mechanical upgrades that address the old X1’s weaknesses.
 
What will further help the X1’s case is its price. At Rs 23.5 lakh for the top-spec X1 sDrive 20d Sportline that we’ve tested here, it costs Rs 2.6 lakh less than the Audi Q3 2.0 TDI High.
 
So, with all its updates, is the facelifted X1 now good enough to convince buyers that it’s better than the Q3?
 
 

DESIGN & ENGINEERING

The main differences in the X1’s exteriors lie in the lower parts of the front and rear bumpers and side skirts, which now get an upmarket glossy finish to their plastic cladding. The headlamps retain the same familiar shape as before, but receive new internal elements, including LED corona rings in some variants. The X1 now also gets reshaped exterior mirrors that incorporate side repeater lights.
 
However, when parked next to the Q3, the X1 still has the distinct air of an estate car or station wagon, and this is something that works against it. The Q3, with its taller proportions, big grille and gently sloping D-pillar, stands out more prominently as an SUV. 
 
The big change on this X1 is the switch from the six-speed automatic to the eight-speeder we’ve seen on all of the more recent BMWs. It is, unlike the Q3’s seven-speed twin-clutch unit, a regular torque-converter affair. Also new on the X1 is the electromechanically assisted power steering – a switch from the hydraulic power steering of the old X1. 
 
The X1 also gets a lot of fuel-saving kit that the Q3 doesn’t have. There’s a stop-start function and an Eco Pro driving mode that alters throttle response and climate control settings for better efficiency. The X1’s lighter 1500kg kerb weight (the Q3 weighs 1585kg) also helps.
 
Like before, neither gets a full-size spare wheel. The X1 makes do with run-flat tyres, while the Q3 gets a space-saver.
 

INTERIORS

Right from the moment you slide into the X1’s near-perfect driving position and grip the chunky, leather-clad steering wheel, you know you are in a proper German automobile. The SUV now gets an all-black theme throughout the cabin, with the wooden inserts on the dashboard of the old car now replaced with aluminium-finish inserts. The high-gloss surface around the air-con controls and the chrome inserts around the display screen give the dash a nice, sporty touch.
 
Still, it’s the Q3 cabin’s lighter shades and higher seating position that will appeal to most. The cabin may not be as driver-focused as the X1’s, but it’s a friendlier place to be in, and you won’t find much to complain about with the material quality either. Adding to this is the dashboard, which is neatly laid out and places all the key controls within easy reach. The MMI controller, for example, is placed on the dashboard rather than between the front seats like the X1’s iDrive controller. 
 
 
Despite its longer wheelbase, the X1’s rear-seat legroom disappoints; the Q3 with its better interior packaging offers more space. Also, the X1’s longitudinal driveline setup means that the transmission tunnel intrudes into the cabin, making it less comfortable to sit three-abreast at the back. Also in the Q3’s favour is the seat cushioning, which is  softer than the X1’s, and the fact that it has air-con vents for rear passengers. Both these SUVs have generous boots, but it’s the Q3 with its 460-litre boot that’ll hold a bit more luggage. But when you have to fold the seats, you’ll find the X1’s 40:20:40 seat split configuration more versatile than the Q3’s 60:40 setup.
 
As for kit, the new X1 gets a lot more standard equipment than the Q3. It now comes with satellite navigation, xenon lights, seat memory, a panoramic sunroof and parking sensors as standard – all of which are only optional on the Q3. Standard equipment common to both consists of voice command systems, automatic climate control and Bluetooth connectivity.

ENGINE, GEARBOX & PERFORMANCE

As is common with BMW’s mid-life updates, the 2.0-litre motor in the X1 gets a slight bump up in power and torque. It now features BMW’s twin-power turbo tech (BMW-speak for a twin-scroll turbo) and makes 181bhp and 38.74kgm of torque – an increase of 4bhp and 3.05kgm from before. The Q3, on the other hand, makes 174bhp and 38.74kgm of torque. Both engines are very un-diesel-like in the way they spin to the redline and both have a healthy mid-range that lends them a certain effortlessness. 
 
Flat out, they are evenly matched – the X1 is just 0.1sec quicker than the Q3 from 0-100kph, and this gap narrows further by the time both breach 150kph. It’s in the 20-80kph kickdown run that the BMW’s closer-stacked gear ratios come into play – it is a whole second quicker here, important when you want to duck quickly into a gap. 
 
We’ve always loved the ZF-sourced BMW eight-speed gearbox for its responsiveness, smooth shifts and willingness to downshift, and that’s exactly how it is in the X1. It’s so good, it highlights the Q3’s S-tronic twin-clutch unit’s biggest weakness – it’s hesitancy to downshift. Floor the throttle and there’s a noticeable lag before the gearbox decides it’s safe to downshift and blast away. This lag is something you will have to learn to drive around. Get past this though, and the S-tronic shifts cogs with barely perceptible pauses in thrust and feels every bit as smooth as the BMW’s gearbox.
 
As for refinement, the new X1 is noticeably quieter than before, but it still sounds a lot more gravelly than the Q3’s engine. This is especially noticeable under hard acceleration, where the Q3’s engine feels smoother and quieter than the X1’s. 
 
 
RIDE & HANDLING
 
With its lower centre of gravity and suspension arms that look like intricate pieces of modern art, the X1 is easily the one for the keen driver. Its rear-wheel-drive layout, steering response and feedback (despite the new electric assistance) and chassis balance come together to make for an interesting car. 
 
However, the soft rear suspension setup results in constant up and down movement over undulating surfaces and the ride isn’t as flat and composed as we would have liked. Still, the X1 takes poorly surfaced sections in its stride and only crashes through the sharp ridges and expansion joints. The suspension works silently as well, which is more than what can be said of the Q3’s strangely clunky-sounding suspension.
 
Ignore the noises though and you’ll feel the Q3’s impressive ride quality. On surfaces where the X1’s rear gets unsettled, the Q3 stays pliant, and it handles broken surfaces well. The flatter ride of the Q3 also makes it more comfortable than the X1.
 
But while the all-wheel-drive system gives the Q3 added security, it isn’t as much fun to throw down a hill road as the X1. The steering is light, it’s not consistent in the way it weighs up and it doesn’t provide the same amount of feel  as the X1’s system does. 
 
In traffic, the Q3 is the easier one to pilot, though. The higher seats and lighter steering make it easier to look out of and execute tight manoeuvres in. The X1’s low, ensconced seating position and a steering that’s annoyingly heavy at parking speeds make it more of an effort.
 
Neither of the two is built for heading into the wilderness, but both have enough ground clearance to tackle the odd dust trail. That said, the Q3 with its Quattro system might be a bit better on the loose stuff. 

FUEL ECONOMY

With all its fuel-saving kit (Eco Pro and stop-start) turned on, the X1 returned 10.5kpl in our city cycle. The Q3, on the other hand, returned an identical 10.5kpl in the city, which is impressive considering it weighs more. We put this down to the Q3 driving only its front wheels in these low-speed, high-grip conditions. Out on the highway, the X1 gave a decent 13.8kpl while the Q3 bettered it with a slightly higher 14kpl.
 
VERDICT
 
For the keen driver, the X1 it is. Its rewarding handling, punchy engine, willing gearbox and beautifully balanced chassis thrill you in a way the Q3 simply can’t. The upgraded interiors and longer equipment list only serve to strengthen the X1’s case. Most will also be attracted to the fact that it costs a lot less than the Q3, thereby making it the better value-for-money proposition. 
 
However, since these cars are billed as compact SUVs, and assuming that’s what you’re after here, there’s no denying that the Q3 fits the bill better. Its taller stance and chunkier proportions make it look and feel like an SUV, more so than the low-slung X1.
 
It may be more expensive than the X1, but it makes up by being easier to drive every day, being more comfortable over varied surfaces, and being a bit more spacious. The X1 is now much closer to the Q3 and is better in many ways, but it falls short. It falls short because it is a car that is less convincing at playing the SUV card than the Q3.
 

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