Audi Q3, BMW X1, Mini Countryman, Front view 27 Photos Zoom

Comparison of the Q3, BMW X1 and Countryman: Compact SUVs with turbo-charged petrol engines

In place of the ever-present diesel, modern turbo-charged petrol engines are also required to hold their own in a compact SUV. In particular, the revised Mini Cooper S Countryman promises to be great fun on country roads. Can the Audi Q3 and BMW X1 keep up?

Of course, the improved specification of the Mini Countryman was the reasoning behind this comparative test, however, the scope of the improvements turns out to be marginal – extremely marginal. And who would ask Cameron Diaz for a second night together just because she had her hair cut half a centimetre shorter? Oh you would? Precisely our point.

Much more importantly: the compact SUV segment is enjoying strong demand, but frequently it is the high-torque diesel engines that are ordered. But what does a petrol engine have going against it? So for a change, up step the Audi Q3, BMW X1 and Mini Countryman with externally ignited, turbo-charged four-cylinder engines, 170, 184 and 190  bhp, managing the power of a manual six-speed gearbox and distributes it to all four wheels.

Unassuming Mini drive system

While the direct injector of the Q3 and X1 both have just under twice the cylinder capacity, 1.6 litres is all the Countryman to achieve the highest level of power in the comparison. The fact that at 1,432 kilograms, it weighs the least, draws you almost magnetically behind the small, three-spoke leather steering wheel. There is now time to marvel as what Mini describe as the "further enhanced premium character".

However, the Mini never had premium character, at least when this is measured based on the quality of the materials used and the level of finish. Of course improvements are to be found throughout the entire production period, however, compared to the plastic that serves as a surround for the ventilation nozzles, for example, even a bog-standard lunch box would represent better quality. What's more, the entire structure still creaks on country roads. You would be better off allowing yourself to be distracted by Ms. Diaz.

However, she isn't here right now, and so at least the drive system is there to break up the background noise a little. However, aside from the apologetic popping from the two exhaust when Sport mode is activated, the four-cylinder engine, which is six bhp more powerful than it predecessor, hums to itself, void of character. It certainly likes to be revved, and does then admittedly roar. In addition to this, it sends its vibrations to the steering wheel and pedals.

And what does it do with the fact that it has the best power to weight ratio in the comparison? In any case, the four-cylinder engine doesn't take much asking, eager to run riot in each of the six closely spaced gears, reacts snappishly for accelerator commands, readily revving over 6,000 rpm. The only problem is that the Cooper S simply cannot shake off its competitors. Its strength: surprise! The low consumption. In theauto motor und sport,consumption lap, the Mini squeezes 6.0 l/100 km from the 47-litre tank.

A Cooper S to save fuel?

But since when has a Mini been about saving fuel, especially a Cooper S? And as soon as the Countryman's radiator reaches the first corner, it wants to steer into the corner, storm into the bend, accelerate out and rampages into the next one. The occasionally fidgety, very direct steering throws British engineering into every hairpin, as the McPherson front axle and five-link front axle, together with the 17-inch wheels leave it snuffling along the predetermined line neutrally and with very little tilt. So why does it still receive fewer points for drive safety? Due to the crude function of the ESP and the moderate traction on uneven surfaces – which provides a fantastic transition into our next topic, suspension comfort. Although that said, this is something would rather keep quiet about.

The fact that the driver does not, nonetheless, slump out of the door drunk on happiness after a lively hayride comes down to the seats, which are almost completely void of lateral support and are mounted a little too high. The passengers in the back seat don't have it any better, here the seats are even more uncomfortable. Thanks to the ability to move the bench seat with a 60/40 split, at least the amount of space isn't bad.
With regard to versatility, the corporate brother from BMW cannot keep up, although it can when it comes to space.

Not surprisingly, however, it is the longest of the three at 4.48 metres. In return, the driver and front passenger are sucked into the vehicle, both sitting in a low position on perfectly cut, albeit optional, sports seats. The engine is equally sporty, for with a maximum torque of 270 Nm at 1,250 rpm, the potential start-up deficiency is a distant memory. The engine lets rip as if trying to impress a Hollywood beauty, snarling somewhat frivolously, although it too emits a really forceful sound. It is not just for a joke that the number seven sits proudly on the rev counter.

Simply having the best drive performance isn't enough, as the tested X1 turned out to be rather overweight at 1,670 kilograms. This means changing gear frequently, although in this particular model this isn't a problem as changing gear is once again light and fluffy. And when the straight comes to an end and opens up into the next turn, its back to work.

The BMW X1 is agile in spite of its weight

For in spite of its weight, the BMW eagerly takes corners by the scruff of the neck, which comes down mostly to the steering. It works extremely precisely and with good feedback, without any need for artificial directness. The self-steering behaviour on the other hand has more of a tendency towards understeer than that of the Countryman, which expresses itself at slower speeds in the slalom in particular. And the suspension comfort? After five years in the making and a number of modifications, it is finally suitable. Only when laden does the BMW get flustered, occasionally tackling really terrible road conditions riding into the progression with the rear axle, thus setting the vehicle body into motion. Otherwise the chassis and steering are free of disruptive jolts and annoying rumbling, as generally speaking the finish of the X1 seems very carefully thought out – which is not always what is suggested by the materials used.

Cameron Diaz would be most impressed by the decorative trim made from open-pored precious wood and the leather upholstery with coloured piping, and perhaps even by the intuitive and extensive infotainment system, however, this makes the BMW X1 even more expensive than it already is. The fact that it is possible to achieve a minimum consumption of 7.4 l/100 km is of little good, given how fun it is to rev the engine and move up quickly through the gears. The consumption very quickly increases to over 10 litres per 100 km.

In any case, because the Audi Q3 weighs 121 kilograms lighter, its efficiency stays within the limits. The TFSI engine has the edge by a mere tenth in the consumption lap and three tenths when measured on the test equipment. Right then, let's get going, sow with the Drive-Select-Taste Dynamic and reap the best drive performance – well almost, at least. With the short bursts of speed in sixth gear, its long gear ratio ruins any chance of respectable times.

Sophisticated Audi drive system

The fact that the two-litre engine is still best suited to the Audi Q3 is due less to its power and more due to its willingness to muck in at just slightly above idle, and to understeer with commitment at over 500 revs – with a slight loss of nerve at 5,000 rpm.

In point of fact, it lulls the driver and his passengers in with its sense of balance. The direct injector makes no effort to produce a ticklish sound in the first place, but instead just keeps its trap shut. Vibration-free and well insulated, it ladles out torque so gently from the large, creamy Newtonmeter pot, quickly finding the next gear up, which engages extremely easily. Cameron Diaz would presumably also like to see this degree of balance in her love life, although – who knows.

The skilfully tuned chassis (McPherson front axle, four-link rear axle) thus fits into the overall small SUV harmony perfectly – it's no wonder, it is the only one with adaptive dampers, which alongside positive couplings costs 1,425 Euros. Thus the Audi Q3 suspension destroys its competitors, and doesn't stumble, even when fully laden – at least 561 kilograms.

High agility in the Audi Q3

On the other hand, this extra makes possible the Audi drive dynamics values, which are almost the same as the BMW X1, and sometimes even better. Only the comparatively high sitting position, which also results in a rather strange position at the steering wheel, is not really in keeping. At least the sports seats with more comfortable upholstery, available at extra cost, provide some compensation, although failing to offer the optimal lateral support of the BMW seats. Back seat passengers on the other hand sit very comfortably in nicely shaped alcoves, their biggest gripe being the lack of head room.

In terms of versatility, on the other hand, the Audi Q3 hasn't quite got it – folding rear seat back, and that's it. And the rigid, two-part luggage compartment cover is actually always in the way, regardless of whether installed or removed. At least it doesn't rattle, and neither does anything else in the Q3. Together with the stylish materials, this is where the Audi really shows the buyer what he is getting for his money. Only the operation of the infotainment system, with the switches arranged at the top-centre of the dashboard, could perhaps be more ergonomically laid out.

However, because the Audi is otherwise a more comfortable, when necessary more dynamic and higher quality representative of the compact SUV genre, it wins – followed closely by the somewhat greyed BMW with its talent for drive dynamics. And the Mini? As was previously the case, it still plays the overly playful personality. Hopefully it won't first have to go through another specifications upgrade before it finally lands on the editor's desk.

Are the cheaper petrol versions more economic?

The petrol models of the tested SUVs are all cheaper to buy than the diesel versions, and cost less to tax. In addition to this, the engines run smoothly, have a great deal of torque and are high-revving. Even the fuel consumption stays within the limits – and yet they aren't economical. Even with a lower mileage of 10,000 kilometres per year, the monthly maintenance costs of the diesel off-roaders undercut those of the petrol models. The reason: unlike conventional passenger car models, the fuel consumption delta is much greater. Thus the fuel cost per 100 kilometres in the Audi Q3 2.0 TFSI is €10.59, whereas in the 2.0 TDI it is €7.39. In the BMW X1 and Mini Countryman the difference is similar. And another little surprise: generally vehicles with diesel engines have a higher classification with insurers – not so in the case of the Audi Q3. The premiums for both third-party and fully comp insurance are lower for the TDI.



Hans-Dieter Seufert


9 February 2015
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