Enter the compact luxuryhttps://indianexpress.com/article/business/companies/enter-the-compact-luxury/

Enter the compact luxury

A year and a half before entry-level SUV Renault Duster rubbed off a lot of Scorpio,Safari and even mid-size sedan sales,something similar was done by a small BMW.

This week Audi claimed to have become the largest luxury car player in India. A lot of those sales have come from its compact SUV,the Q3. In fact,the Q3 has done to Audi what the X1 did to BMW and what Mercedes-Benz hopes the B-Class can still do to it. So,what exactly are the three cars like

A year and a half before entry-level SUV Renault Duster rubbed off a lot of Scorpio,Safari and even mid-size sedan sales,something similar was done by a small BMW. In fact,it was BMW that kick-started the compact luxury SUV segment in India with the launch of the X1 and it was only because of the X1 that people who drove around in the Fortuners and Endeavours could aspire to own a BMW. Recently,the company gave the X1 a much-needed makeover—much-needed,because now the X1 is not alone. It has Audi Q3 and Mercedes-Benz B-Class for company.

The Q3 is the smallest of the Q series by Audi. Launched last year,it was instrumental in making Audi the fastest growing luxury car company in India. According to the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers,in the first nine months of FY13,the company convincingly beat Mercedes-Benz and was just about 300 units shy of luxury car market leader BMW. And just this week,the company claimed to have become the largest luxury car brand in India.

Having realised that it is the compact luxury segment that gives you volumes,the oldest luxury car player in India,Mercedes-Benz,launched the B-Class in India towards the end of last year. Not a stunner by any means as far as the initial impression goes—and it is not an SUV either—the B-Class is the first five-door large hatchback in the segment. And at a starting price of R22.11 lakh,it is the cheapest luxury car available in the country that also promises the snob value of the Mercedes brand. In fact,it is even cheaper than many sedan offerings from the mass segment such as Volkswagen Passat and Toyota Camry.

The look

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Clearly,it is the 2013 X1 that is the most ‘identifiable’ of the lot. Unlike the Q3 that looks like a small Q5,the 2013 X1,at least from the front,looks a bit like a sedan,the BMW 3-Series to be precise—and it is this feature that makes the X1 stand out. The 2013 X1,among other changes,now gets new design xenon headlights with chrome garnish and twin LED circular rings that give it a classic BMW look. The ORVMs now come with integrated turn indicators,and both the front and rear bumpers also look different primarily because of the glossy-finished plastic cladding. The three variants it comes in are sDrive20d,sDrive20d Sport Line and sDrive20d xLine—all diesel.

On the other hand,the Q3 looks like a proper off-roader—it really gets that all-important upright SUV stance right. It also gets the Audi quattro permanent all-wheel drive. A couple of months ago,Audi plonked a new,more powerful petrol engine in the Q3. The two variants it now comes in are 2.0 TFSI quattro (petrol) and 2.0 TDI quattro (diesel).

‘Identifiable’ even the B-Class is—its long front nose with sharp lines and the LED-lit bi-xenon headlamps remind one of the beautiful new C-Class. Mercedes calls it a ‘sports tourer’ which tries to behave like a sedan on the road but promises a slightly higher driving position of a small SUV. The two variants it comes in are B180 and B180 Sport—both petrol.

The comfort

The 2013 X1 improves upon the old X1’s interiors,which,according to some,were a bit dull. Now,you get optimised premium feel in the interior thanks to a newly-designed centre console that is orientated towards the driver. You also get better-placed controls and high-grade interior trim. The seating area is quite generous. You get standard equipment including climate control,fog lamps,onboard computer,sound system with CD player with eight speakers,among others. The Sport Line and xLine variants also feature a navigation system and a sunroof. With the seats in the cargo position,you get 480 litres of luggage space.

The Audi Q3’s interiors are quite roomy. A large,wraparound arc surrounds the driver and front passenger—a feature from Audi’s larger siblings. There is plenty of space in the luggage compartment of the Q3—the basic volume is 460 litres,folding down the rear seat increases it to 1,365 litres. You also get an optional sunroof.

The B-Class,too,has roomy interiors. The quality of material used is comparable to the more expensive E-Class and there is genuine feel of luxury inside. The SLS-style air-conditioning vents look catchy. A nice touch is lumbar support for the driver—backrest curvature can be adjusted to meet the needs of the driver. Owing to its hatchback design,the B-Class has maximum luggage space—486 litres of space that can be increased to 1,545 litres by folding down rear seats. The B-Class’s sunroof is quite large,with the entire roof practically glass.

The power:

The X1 gets a 1,995cc diesel engine that produces a maximum output of 135kW and a maximum torque of 380Nm. It propels the X1 to a top speed of 205 kmph,breaking the 100 kmph barrier in a company-claimed 7.9 seconds. The claimed fuel efficiency is a healthy 17.05 kmpl. The X1’s CO2 emissions are 156.01 g/km.

The Audi TFSI technology is employed in the petrol Q3. TFSI combines the advantages of fuel stratified injection (FSI) with those of exhaust-gas turbocharging. This combination of the FSI concept and a turbocharger results in better efficiency and improves engine power. The 2.0 TFSI generates a maximum power of 155kW and a torque of 300Nm. Quite powerful as the engine is,it propels the quattro-powered car to a whopping top speed of 230 kmph after it crosses the 0-100 mark in a blistering 6.9 seconds. Being a petrol,it returns only 11.72 kmpl. The 2.0 TDI diesel produces 130kW of power and 380Nm of torque. Even this is quite powerful and the diesel Q3 goes from 0-100 in 8.2 seconds before it touches a top speed of 212 kmph. Being a diesel,it returns you 15.73 kmpl. While the petrol Q3’s CO2 emissions are 179 g/km,the diesel Q3’s figure is 156 g/km.

Every B-Class has the Mercedes-Benz’s famed BlueEFFICIENCY,which means a plethora of clever technologies are used to cut fuel consumption and emissions. The B-Class gets the smallest of the engine of the trio,which,at 1596cc,produces a relatively less power of 122kW and a torque of 200Nm. This does reflect in the drive. While the claimed top speed is 190 kmph,the way it reaches the ton is not really exciting. I mean,you don’t get the growl that the other two cars here produce. Nevertheless,the 0-100 time is a decent 10.2 seconds.

The feel

In the 2013 X1,among the first things you will notice is the feather-light steering,which is a boon in the bumper-to-bumper urban traffic. On the highways,too,it is quite responsive. You also get paddle-shifters for that once-in-a-while fun driving. The rear seats are very comfortable and easily seat three. Overall,it feels richer and drives better than the outgoing model. At a starting price of R27.9 lakh,it is the cheapest BMW you get in India.

The Q3 seems to do most things right. First,because it is a quattro-powered all-wheel drive,the Q3 can,at times,behave like a true SUV. So that occasional dune-bashing can be cautiously tried out in the Q3. Then,its urban manners are good—it is a pleasure to drive and powerful engines,especially petrol,ensure stays ahead of the pack. Although the rear seating isn’t as comfortable as the X1,you hardly feel the difference. Lastly,it gets that all-important SUV stance right—and SUVs are what are currently hot favourite in India. It comes for R28.56 lakh.

The B-Class feels the most spacious of the lot. In fact,the B-Class is a really sensible car. Its simplistic design ensures that you get maximum interior space and getting in and out of the B-Class is quite easy. It is comfortable,very spacious,luxurious and doesn’t cost as much as the competition. At a starting price of R22,11,900,it is a whole lot R5,78,100 and R6,44,100 cheaper than the X1 and Q3,respectively. On the downside,it is not very exciting to drive. Primarily due to its simple design,it hasn’t been able to attract much attention,and buyers. The other reason is that it doesn’t come with a diesel option as yet—Mercedes,though,will come up with a diesel for the B-Class sometime this year.

Verdict

There can be no clear winner in a comparison that involves three wholly different cars. While the B-Class is the most affordable of the trio—as a family car,nothing beats the B-Class—it is not really exciting to drive. The 2013 X1 is a vastly improved car and can be an able choice over the Q3. Add to the fact that the BMW snob value is perhaps at its highest in India. But it is the Q3 that seems to do most things right most of the times. What works for it is that you get to choose between petrol and diesel versions. Additionally,quattro ensures it can be a decent off-roader too. Just for now,we feel the Q3 is the one to go for.

How much

* BMW X1 sDrive 20d: R27,90,000

* BMW X1 sDrive 20d Sport Line: R32,50,000

* BMW X1 sDrive 20d xLine: R32,50,000

* Audi Q3 2.0 TFSI quattro (petrol): R28,56,000

* Audi Q3 2.0 TDI quattro (diesel): R28,56,000

* Mercedes-Benz B-Class 180: R22,11,900

* Mercedes-Benz B-Class 180 Sports: R25,60,350

Prices ex-showroom,Delhi

The Scandinavian

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Yet another car will join the trio—the Volvo V40 Cross Country,due for launch mid-2013.