Entry-level luxury isn’t an oxymoron.
For about the cost of an average new car—any new car—luxury automakers offer something that resembles affordable. For about $37,000, which is the average price paid for a new car last year, the 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class and 2020 BMW X1 are available. They may not be the best seats in either of the automakers’ respective houses, but at least you’re through the door.
But which is better? Which crossover gets you the most luxury for the least money? Good questions. Our TCC Rating favors the X1 over the GLA—6.2 to 5.6—but there’s a caveat. Let’s dive in.
The GLA-Class costs $35,525, including destination, for a base 2020 GLA250. For that much, Mercedes includes a 2.0-liter turbo-4, a 7-speed automatic transmission, front-wheel drive, 18-inch wheels, an 8.0-inch display screen for infotainment, synthetic leather upholstery, and a power liftgate. The 2020 BMW X1 costs $36,195, including destination, for a front-wheel-drive crossover with a 2.0-liter turbo-4, an 8-speed automatic transmission, 18-inch wheels, synthetic leather upholstery, and an 8.8-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay compatibility.
There’s not a lot of daylight between the two in their base configurations, although BMW offers a better warranty: 4 years/50,000 miles bumper to bumper with 3 years of scheduled maintenance that’s included in the price. Mercedes also charges $350 extra for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility software.
Both Mercedes-Benz and BMW charge $2,000 to add all-wheel drive to the GLA250 and X1, respectively, too. From there, the prices are limited by your imagination—neither stays relatively affordable for long.
2020 BMW X1
On paper, the two are neck and neck. The turbo-4 in the X1 makes 228 horsepower, the turbo-4 in the GLA250 makes 208 hp. The BMW is predictably brighter when accelerating away from a stop, the X1 takes just over six seconds to hit 60 mph, according to the automaker. The GLA250 doesn’t take much longer, just over seven seconds, according to Mercedes.
Both steer well and are competent handlers when the roads get twisty. In essence, both are tall-riding hatchbacks—not really crossovers, and certainly not SUVs—and handle appropriately. BMW offers a few more driver-centric add-ons such as adaptive dampers and bigger wheels, but we’re not sure it’s worth the hefty $4,650 extra cost. (Mercedes offered last year an AMG GLA45 that was the automotive-zoomorphic honey badger; it’s gone, we miss it, it’s likely on its way back soon.)
2020 BMW X1
The two share similar comfort scores, although the BMW X1 is incrementally bigger. The front seats in either crossover are power-adjustable and just fine. The GLA250 offers just 34 inches of rear seat leg room, which is comparable to a small sedan. The X1 offers 37 inches of rear seat leg room that’s incrementally larger for longer legs, although that advantage vanishes once the front seats are slid back. Behind the second row, the X1 offers 27.1 cubic feet of cargo room, which is more than a full-size sedan’s trunk. The GLA250 offers just 17 cubic feet, which is made less useful by a smaller rear cutout compared to the BMW. With the rear seats folded, the GLA250’s space grows to 43.6 cubic feet; the X1 maxes out at 58.7 cubes.
2020 Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class
Both rate similarly for fuel consumption and average about 27 mpg combined, albeit on premium fuel.
On paper the X1 wins out on practicality and performance but loses on base price. The GLA250 is less expensive in very base versions—provided you can find one on a dealer’s lot—but it asks for some compromise. Strictly speaking, there are better deals to be found for about $37,000; but if it must be a luxury brand, and it must be a crossover, we’d opt for an X1.
A new GLA-Class is on the way for 2021 that could change our preference, stay tuned.