Comparison test: Audi Q2 vs BMW X1 vs Volvo XC40
The newest Audi in the country, the Q2, finds itself in a bit of a sticky situation. It's the most accessible Audi in the country but for its size and what it offers, can't really be called affordable. Audi says they've brought it in as a CBU to gauge demand, and base a decision on whether to locally assemble it here later on how it does - but it's smaller than the erstwhile Q3, and more expensive than the Q3's last recorded price. Heck, in its top Technology trim, it's creeping up on SUVs like the Mercedes-Benz GLC, a whole segment above!
But it's 2.0-litre TFSI, grippy quattro AWD and compact and light build beg a second look. And while we wait for Mercedes to bring in the updated GLA next year, BMW's smallest, the X1, available in petrol and diesel guise makes a strong case for itself, with Volvo's XC40 moving to petrol power only, but still offering immense value. As the entry to each of these brand's worlds, which one makes the biggest statement?
Straight up, the Q2 looks like it doesn't belong in this company, mainly because it really doesn't. More compact crossover than mini luxury SUV, the Q2 clearly doesn't have size on its side, its dimensions putting it in a niche where something like a Mini Countryman (not available for this test) resides, while its pricing puts it in a different playground.
Still, it's got funky styling and elements like the complex creases over the wheelarches look special. Audi's singleframe grille does a good job of making the crossover look larger than it is, but there's no hiding that it's essentially the size of a VW T-Roc. One look at it from the rear and that picture gets clearer.
If you judge value in sheer sheet metal, the BMW X1 has the largest footprint in terms of length, but the Volvo XC40 is wider, taller and rides on a substantially longer wheelbase. The chrome kidneys on the X1 make an immediate statement, but on the whole, the X1 feels a little dated despite the relatively recent facelift. The rear on the X1 also looks a little heavy visually, taking away some of its sporty appeal, though, the twin pipes on either side on the BMW's rear bumper look more special than the clubbed twin pipes on the Q2, while the XC40 goes with new-age cutouts that go with the theme but aren't particularly exciting.
As far as concentrating luxury SUV lineage into a smaller package goes, the XC40 looks the part, with its vertical tail lights helping translate its actual height advantage into looking even more substantial. It's now available in the R-Design trim which brings with it classy gloss black trim, and the largest wheels (and nicest looking) here, sized 18-inches and wearing meatier tyres than the other two.
Stepping into the cabins, it's immediately apparent the Audi Q2 has the most car-like cabin of the three, with a snug seat that's set low, a high window line and a dash layout that's more A3 than Q3. We weren't expecting to be particularly bowled over by the cabin, considering the lack of certain features expected at the price, but it's dripping with quality. There are soft-touch surfaces most everywhere you set your eyes on and the flat-bottomed steering wheel is a joy to hold. Even something like the AC vents have a satisfying oily feel to adjusting them, though on the other hand, you're likely to be very turned off by the manual seat adjustment. And this on the top-variant, that's a whole Rs 17 lakh more expensive than the base, for things like that flat-bottom wheel, wireless charging, a reverse camera, drive modes and more speakers. Still no touchscreen infotainment though. That can be ignored but the MMI infotainment just feels too basic.
For that matter, even BMW's iDrive doesn't feel cutting edge but with wireless Apple CarPlay at least usability is high (no dice if you're team Android). You sit higher in the X1, on a more expansive seat, but the dash layout is again a slightly more classic BMW layout with analogue instrumentation that will appeal to more driving-oriented buyers, of a certain age at least. Again, it feels very well put together, visibility is great, but it doesn't feel special.
Which is something the Volvo XC40 exceeds in doing - making you feel special. From the materials used, to the various finishes and textures of trim, the Sensus vertical touchscreen, and the trick 13-speaker Harmon Kardon audio, this cabin feels like it belongs on a more expensive car. The front seats are the most comfortable, with extendable underthigh support, and the frameless inner rear view mirror reminds you of the no-expense-spared approach every time you check traffic. The door pockets are the largest and should hold two bottles of water, or your assortment of sanitisers, freeing up the cupholders on the central tunnel.
Close call between the XC40 here, with the edge in the angle of recline and comfort offered...
Though you can't really go wrong with the BMX X1 either
Headroom, and space, understandably tight in the compact Q2, though knee room is adequate
Coming to the rear seat space, the XC40 pulls out a slim advantage over the BMW X1 with slightly more underthigh support and a marginally more comfortable angle of recline, not to mention the nicer view out of the panoramic sunroof. Though the X1 does have an adjustable rear seat back rest, it stops a degree of two short of what the XC40 offers. Space, as you can imagine, is in short supply in the Q2 with both headroom and kneeroom just being adequate for my 5ft 11in frame.
Similarly, boot space in the Q2 is the least. AWD models gets 350-odd litres of cargo capacity, with the FWD models gaining 50-odd litres, which still won't match the X1, or the XC40, which goes a little further with hooks and separators in the boot to help segregate wet/dry luggage for example.
Surprisingly, all variants of the Audi Q2 offer eight airbags as standard, while the BMW offers six, and the Volvo's count stands at seven. Though, the Volvo does also offer the added peace of mind of a lane change warning system, and adaptive cruise control, both of which work well even on part marked roads. As always, these systems can only be relied upon as a backup for when your concentration falters.
Engine, performance and efficiency
All three of the SUVs here are pretty evenly matched in the engine department, on paper at least, with the Audi Q2 gaining the advantage being the only one to be offered with quattro AWD as standard, and with a 7-speed DCT the others being paired with 8-speed torque convertor automatics. The BMW X1 is the only one here offered in diesel as well, the other two being petrol-only.
Since the X1 petrol wasn't available, we've used the X1 sDrive20d as a sort of litmus test to see if diesel is still the fuel to go for in the segment. The X1, as a result, is the torquiest with 400Nm, though the Q2's 320Nm isn't too far behind. In fact, given the relatively low weight of the Q2, and the excellent gearbox tuning, the Q2's low and mid-range performance almost feels diesel-like, with a ready reserve of torque at your command mostly anywhere in the rev range you find yourself. The X1 diesel, in comparison, feels like you have to work less hard for it, while in the XC40, you'll find revs well above 3,500rpm if you want to make quick progress.
That also highlights the fact that the XC40's motor sounds the most gruff. At lower engine speeds, NVH is very well controlled but extend it a bit and you won't like what you hear. The Q2 and X1 sound and feel far more refined, with the Q2 making trips up to the redline enjoyable for the enthusiast, while the X1 sounds most refined for a diesel, and with all that torque, short-shifting actually ends up being more fun.
Speaking of, the Audi's DCT gearbox is easily the most intuitively tuned and responsive. In fact, the entire drivetrain feels alert and alive, even in Comfort mode, while switching to Sport and using the paddleshifters makes it feel something of a hot hatch in the way it builds speed so willingly. The X1 and XC40 feel a lot more relaxed in comparison, with the XC40 tending towards a smidge too relaxed at times.
Though Audi claims 6.5s for the 0-100kmph dash, the best we could get out of it was a 7.9s, with the X1 nipping on its heels at 8.1s, while the XC40 took a far more relaxed 9.4s. The three were closer in roll-on acceleration, with the XC40 being nearly half a second quicker to respond at lower speeds (30-50kmph) than the other two, but then falling off in the higher speed 60-80kmph pull. The Q2 is the most fuel efficient, despite the AWD, and quite appreciably ahead of the other two.
Ride and handling
If you guessed the Volvo would be the softest, most comfortable riding SUV, and the BMW the most sporty, you'd only be partly right. The Q2 actually beats the X1 to the best driving crossover/SUV, with a ride/handling balance that's hard to fault, but only if you're of a slightly sportier bent of mind. The Q2's damping over bad roads will have you feeling all of it, but it doesn't throw you around either, while you can feel the X1's suspension working hard to filter out the rough stuff. In typical German fashion, the ride gets better the closer you get to 80kmph and beyond. In comparison, the XC40 has the better low speed ride, which is amazingly pliant at city speeds, but tends to get a little upset at highway speeds over dips and crests. For most people, the X1 will be just right, the XC40 proving to be for a more mature and relaxed driver.
Surprisingly, the Q2 has a steering that offers more feel than usual, and is well-weighted and precise enough to get an enthusiast's thumbs up. In a set of twisties, it's the most level, with the least amount of lean or body roll, even letting you lean on the excellent brakes (as evidenced by our braking tests) quite heavily, with the quattro making sure you can put your foot down anywhere in the corner, and still stick to your line considerably quicker on the way out.
The X1, with its heavier steering, feels even more direct but you feel the weight moving around a lot more, in the way the body slowly leans over in a corner stressing the outer front tyres and eliciting squeals from the tyres to let you know you need to back off. Given the diesel's torque, it's also got quite a bit of torque steer, and unplanned throttle use on even a gravelly road will have you correcting at the steering wheel.
The XC40 feels the most bent out of shape if you attempt the same higher-than-usual speeds through a corner, but feels more than acceptably composed at a regular pace. The steering is the easiest to work around the city, though we wish it weighed up just a tad more on the highway.
This has been one of the easiest comparison tests to call; the Q2 drives amazing, and would be the pick of the choice despite the lack of space and features - if it was priced at about Rs 40 lakh or thereabouts. At its asking price, it just doesn't make sense. The BMW X1 makes a strong case for itself if you're an enthusiast, you don't mind that it feels a little outdated, and you can save some more money by choosing the petrol variant. But as an overall package, we all agreed we'd like the Volvo XC40 the best - it's the SUV that makes you feel the most like you've got your money's worth.
Photography: Anis Shaikh
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