Group test – Group test – BMW X1 vs Audi A3 vs Range Rover Evoque

The original X1 was something of a trailblazer. It wasn’t the first small SUV with mainly on-road ambitions, but it was the first to wear a premium badge, and so it helped pave the way for one of the most lucrative markets in the modern car world.

Mind you, while the old X1 might have been a pioneer, it was never a particularly good car, which is something this all-new model aims to remedy. Although based on the 2 Series Active Tourer, the X1 is higher riding than its MPV sibling and is available with four-wheel drive as well as front-wheel drive, the former being under the spotlight here.

To find out how good the new X1 is we’re pitting it against its closest rival, the Audi Q3. However, a £35k budget will also get you into the fashionable Range Rover Evoque, which, thanks in part to a new diesel engine, promises to be surprisingly affordable to run.


The contenders

Audi Q3 2.0 TDI 184 S line S tronic

Audi‘s smallest SUV has just had its fourth birthday, but it’s still desirable and great to drive.

BMW X1 xDrive20d xLine Sport auto

The previous X1 wasn’t BMW’s finest hour. This all-new model promises to be much improved.

Range Rover Evoque 2.0 TD4 180 SE auto

New diesel engine brings improved refinement, lower CO2 emissions and better fuel economy.


What are they like to drive?

All three SUVs have 2.0-litre diesel engines with similar amounts of power. However, the Audi and BMW are lighter than the Evoque and that helps explain why both were significantly quicker than their rival in all of our acceleration tests.

There is little to split the Q3 and X1 against the stopwatch, although the BMW’s automatic gearbox is smoother in slow-moving traffic and that bit more responsive when you ask for a burst of acceleration. The Range Rover’s is smooth enough in most situations, but there’s often a long pause between you pressing the accelerator pedal and the car surging forward, which can be rather unnerving when pulling on to roundabouts.

The Audi and BMW are squatter than the Evoque, so it’s hardly surprising they’re that bit more agile. They suffer less body lean through corners and less nose-dive under braking, and both have more outright grip than the Range Rover. Put simply, the Evoque feels more like a big 4×4 and the German cars handle more like hatchbacks.

That being the case, we question why Range Rover has opted for such quick steering; it makes the Evoque feel nervous, particularly along narrow country lanes. The X1 and Q3 have slightly heavier steering, with the BMW’s being that little more precise and confidence-inspiring at speed.

Ride comfort, rather than agile handling, will understandably be the priority for many buyers, and it’s here the Audi has a clear edge. It smoothes over lumps and bumps that bit better than the BMW, particularly over patchy surfaces.

The Evoque is the least comfortable; you notice your head being jostled from side-to-side when driving along any road that isn’t perfectly smooth and, while the problem is at its worst around town, the Range Rover never quite settles – even on the motorway. If you spend a lot of time on the motorway, you’ll appreciate the Q3’s comparatively peaceful cruising manners – it recorded the lowest decibel reading at 70mph. 

The Range Rover’s door mirrors whip up a fair amount of wind noise at speed, but that’s nothing compared with the din in the BMW; its road noise is bad enough to force you into a shouting match with your passengers. We only hope the issue was down to our test car’s non-standard run-flat tyres (which are a £180 option), because it could prove a deal-breaker for anyone who regularly tackles long motorway journeys.


What are they like inside?

Getting comfortable isn’t tricky in any of these SUVs, although taller drivers may wish the Q3’s steering wheel dropped a little lower. Likewise, anyone tackling long journeys on a regular basis will bemoan the lack of adjustable lumbar support in both the X1 and Evoque, although this feature is available as an option.

The previous X1 was distinctly underwhelming inside. Thankfully, this new model has a much classier interior; all the surfaces you touch regularly are of high quality and the majority of buttons and switches feel solid. In fact, only a lightweight gearlever lets the side down.

The Audi’s interior isn’t as modern to look at (the Q3 has just had its fourth birthday, after all), but it equals the BMW for outright quality, with just as many high-class materials on show. The air-con controls are a weak point, as they’re fiddly to use. For sheer style and drama, the Evoque’s cabin leads the way, although some of the fixtures and fittings don’t feel quite as robust as they should.

If you’re looking for a practical family car the X1 will appeal most. It’s the only one of the trio available with sliding rear seats, which, for £195, help give far more rear knee room than is offered by the Audi or Range Rover. Our BMW test car had an optional (£945) panoramic glass roof fitted, and yet still matched its rivals for rear head room.

It’s a similar story in the boot, with the X1 best not only for outright size but also ease of use. All three load bays are similarly wide and tall, but the Evoque’s is shortest and the BMW’s longest, even with its rear seats slid all the way back.

Folding the X1’s rear seats is a doddle; push a switch in the boot and they drop automatically, leaving a load bay free from steps. Dropping the rear seats in the Q3 and Evoque requires pulling a lever next to the rear headrest from inside the cabin, before hauling the seat forward.


What will they cost?

The Q3 is the cheapest to start with and that remains the case after you’ve factored in the discounts all three manufacturers are prepared to offer. You’ll need an extra £960 to buy the X1, while the Evoque will set you back a further £1293 at the outset.

However, while the Range Rover might be comparatively pricey to buy, strong desirability means it’ll pay you a lot of that cash back when you decide to sell. In fact, consider all the bills you’re likely to face over three years (and 36,000 miles) and the Evoque actually works out a cheaper proposition than the BMW.

The Audi works out most cost-effective for private buyers, despite its slightly disappointing real-world fuel economy of 41.5mpg. The X1 proved marginally more frugal (42.7mpg), but our True MPG experts weren’t able to analyse the Evoque’s fuel economy in time for this test.

It’s a different story if you’re a company car driver because the Q3’s relatively high CO2 emissions mean it’ll cost you the most each month in benefit-in-kind (BIK) tax. Over three years, and as a 40% rate taxpayer, you’ll sacrifice £530 less of your salary to run the Evoque. There’s a further £600 saving on offer if you choose the X1.

Disappointingly, though, the X1 is by far the most expensive of the trio to lease, at £421 a month. Our contract hire rate supplier charges £39 and £50 a month less for the Q3 and Evoque respectively.

All three cars come with 18in alloys, climate control, automatic headlights and windscreen wipers and rear parking sensors, while only the Q3 misses out on leather upholstery (part leather is standard) and heated front seats.

A budget of £35,000 limits you to entry-level SE trim on the Evoque, but in some respects it actually betters its rivals for luxuries, thanks to standard-fit electric front seats, cruise control and front parking sensors. Then again, it’s the only one of the trio without a powered tailgate and full LED headlights, although both of these things are on the options list.


Our verdict

BMW didn’t have too much trouble selling the old X1, in spite of its numerous shortcomings. So, this all-new and vastly superior model should positively fly out of showrooms – even considering its more optimistic asking price.

It deserves to. The new X1 is remarkably spacious and practical by small SUV standards, and its classy interior and agile handling are also big draws. It’s also well equipped, with luxuries such as sat-nav and heated leather seats included as standard on xLine trim.

It isn’t perfect, mind. Our test car suffered from far too much road noise, which we hope was down to the non-standard run-flat tyres, although that remains to be seen. The previous X1 was also one of the least reliable cars in its class, which is a reputation this new version will want to shed quickly.

The Q3 takes second spot. Its more comfortable ride and superior refinement count in its favour, and it’s the cheapest of the cars to buy and own privately. However, it isn’t especially practical or generously equipped, hasn’t proved especially reliable and it’s the most expensive to run as a company car.

The Evoque’s chiselled looks have understandably seduced many buyers already, and if you buy one you’re unlikely to feel short-changed. But compared with its rivals here, the Range Rover is average to drive and cramped inside, and while its new diesel engine undoubtedly improves refinement and reduces running bills, the competition have moved their game on, too.


1st

BMW X1 xDrive20d xLine Sport auto



For Most spacious and practical; high quality interior; tidy handling; brilliant infotainment system

Against Far too much road noise; highest depreciation; priciest to own

Verdict Good to drive, classy inside and remarkably practical. Shame about the road noise

2nd

Audi Q3 2.0 TDI 184 S line S tronic

For Cheapest to buy; most comfortable and refined

Against Highest CO2 emissions; safety tech; reliability

Verdict A fine car, but cheaper Q3s make more sense

3rd

Range Rover Evoque 2.0 TD4 180 SE auto

For Styling; resale values; plenty of safety kit

Against Choppy ride; so-so performance; pokey boot

Verdict There are better cars, but few as desirable