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Comparison: SQ5 vs. X4 xDrive35i vs. GLA45 AMG vs. Macan Turbo

Motor Trend logo Motor Trend 4/13/2015 William Walker, Christian Seabaugh

Sport/utility vehicle. Is there a bigger misnomer than that? Sure, SUVs are vehicles, and they do usually have some sort of utilitarian function, but sport? Nuh-uh. Take a look at the most popular SUVs in the United States last year, led by the Honda CR-V, Ford Escape, and Toyota RAV4. I don't think any of you would argue with me if I said sportiness is the last reason anyone's buying these.

I suspect somewhere along the SUV development timeline someone -- probably the same person who said a four-door could be labeled a coupe—forgot to tell the Germans that SUVs don't need to be sporty. And what a wunderbar mistake that turned out to be.

The small SUVs atop the U.S. sales charts lack any pretense of sportiness, but these four compact-ish Germans ooze it. This Teutonic quartet represents the sportiest small crossovers Germany makes. From Ingolstadt comes the 354-hp 2015 Audi SQ5. Munich is home to the fastback-styled 2015 BMW X4 xDrive35i. Stuttgart has two entrants: the 355-hp 2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA45 AMG, which comes courtesy of Affalterbach, and the 400-hp 2015 Porsche Macan Turbo. Each contender features all-wheel drive and some form of forced induction.

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2015 Sport SUV© Provided by MotorTrend 2015 Sport SUV

Because these SUVs, unlike most, are built for spirited performance driving, we're judging them as such over a road loop that Jonny Lieberman dubbed the Sürfschleife. This route includes Los Angeles' famous Mulholland Drive, steep hills, tight switchbacks, and some city and highway motoring thrown in for good measure. We're primarily seeking to determine which German ute is the best driver of the bunch, but fuel economy, comfort, and value will play a role in our decision, as well.

On paper, things didn't look too good for the BMW X4 xDrive 35i. This so-called SAC (BMW insists on calling it a "sport activity coupe") has the lowest power and torque output, the slowest 0-60 mph and quarter-mile times, and the second-longest braking distance of the bunch. The X4's 3.0-liter, turbocharged I-6 makes just 300 ponies and 300 lb-ft of twist. Despite the handicap -- and thanks to a ZF-sourced eight-speed automatic and the second-lowest curb weight -- the X4 wasn't that far behind the others at the track. Stomp on the gas, and the X4 will hustle to 60 in 5.2 seconds and complete the quarter mile in 13.9 seconds at 98.8 mph. Slam on the brakes from 60 mph, and the X4 will stop in 113 feet.

The Macan makes no compromises. It's among the best-driving SUVs ever made.

The X4's lackluster (for the group) figure-eight performance of 26.2 seconds at 0.71g average was reflected on the twistier sections of our road loops. "The X4 is immediately larger, taller, and heavier-feeling than the others," associate editor Rory Jurnecka noted. "Steering the X4 is like playing tug-of-war with the front tires; it really needs to be muscled around to get the most out of it." Associate editor Scott Evans agreed, likening the X4 to a big sport sedan on the canyon portions of the loop. "Body control is impressive for the ungainliness of this car," he said. "I actually enjoyed driving it hard."

Related Link: Porsche Macan Buying Specs

2015 Sport SUV© Provided by MotorTrend 2015 Sport SUV

The rest of the package was hit-or-miss up in the canyons. The X4's straight-six was a genuine treat and the best part of the crossover. The engine sounds great and loves to sing all the way up to its 7,000 rpm redline.

The X4's straight-six was a genuine treat and the best part of the crossover.

Although it wasn't impressive on the ragged edge, we expected better of the BMW during the freeway and city portions of our drive loops. For the least sport-oriented SUV in the test, the BMW X4 was not surprisingly the least enjoyable. The BMW had the harshest ride and the loudest cabin of the group, thanks in large part to the noise generated by the rubber band-thin run-flat rubber on its 20-inch wheels. Add its lackluster canyon performance to its poor city and freeway manners, and it's no surprise Munich came up short among its German rivals.

Related Link: BMW X4 Buying Specs

These four SUVs combine for 1,409 horsepower, 1,385 lb-ft of torque, 22 cylinders, four turbochargers, and one supercharger. Rad.© Provided by MotorTrend These four SUVs combine for 1,409 horsepower, 1,385 lb-ft of torque, 22 cylinders, four turbochargers, and one supercharger. Rad.

Winter tires. Our 2015 Audi SQ5 was delivered to us with winter tires on a 73-degree February day. Although it obviously wasn't ideal, we were still expecting big things from the SQ5, especially because at heart it's basically a slightly lighter but much cheaper version of the Porsche Macan. Stuttgart uses turbochargers to boost its engines, but Ingolstadt prefers the instant torque delivery of a supercharger—thus the SQ5 sports a supercharged, 3.0-liter V-6 good for 354 hp and 347 lb-ft of torque. Like the BMW's, it's mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission. If our SQ5 had been shod with summer rubber, it would've performed as our 2014 tester did: 4.8 seconds to 60 mph, 13.5 seconds for the quarter mile at 102.2 mph, a 104-foot stop from 60 mph, and an impressive 25.9-second figure-eight lap averaging 0.71 g. With snow tires its track performance was still surprisingly impressive. Thanks to the extra slip allowed by the softer winter rubber, the SQ5 hit 60 mph in 4.4 seconds and powered through the quarter mile in 13.1 seconds at 104.2 mph. The cold weather tires hurt the SQ5 in braking, 123 feet to stop from 60 mph, and on the figure eight, where it needed 26.5 seconds to complete the course, averaging 0.72 g along the way.

Related Link: Audi SQ5 Buying Specs

2015 Mercedes Benz GLA45 AMG© Provided by MotorTrend 2015 Mercedes Benz GLA45 AMG

The SQ5's unhinged personality is combined with a mean exhaust note.

The SQ5 quickly won the hearts and minds of our judges during the road loops. "I think the 'R' fell off!" Evans said, hinting at Audi's RS models, after his drive. "Put it in Dynamic, and it's unhinged. The throttle is hair-trigger. The engine is always at 4,000 to 6,000 rpm."

Unhinged is an apt descriptor. The SQ5's supercharged V-6 is slightly less powerful than the related Macan's twin-turbo V-6, but thanks to the surge of torque and the snow tires clawing for grip as you leap off the line, you wouldn't know it. The SQ5's unhinged personality is combined with a mean exhaust note (which, to be fair to the others, is piped into the cabin through the stereo), a decent automatic transmission, and a good ride. Jurnecka was a fan of the winter tires on the SQ5. "Winter tires should be standard on this thing!" he said. "Lots of fun to get the car moving around," though he noted some unpredictability in that regard.

Associate online editor Erick Ayapana also noted the difference. "A textbook example of the dramatic effects tires have on handling," he said. "This SQ5 with winters is not the SQ5 I remember driving last year." Maybe it's best those winter tires aren't standard.

So where does it fall apart for the SQ5? Although testing the SQ5 and its cold-weather tires on hot, dry roads wasn't ideal, its ranking reflects more on our experiences with summer tires than this winter-ready example. Rather, it's that steering feel is more Novocain than cocaine and the fact that the SQ5 is a little too unrefined for us. It's got loads of personality but not enough polish -- inside the cabin, under the skin, or where the rubber meets the road -- to compete with the contenders above it.

Related Link: Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class Buying Specs

2015 BMW X4 xDrive35i© Provided by MotorTrend 2015 BMW X4 xDrive35i

The Audi and BMW fell into their respective places pretty easily, but picking a winner between the Porsche Macan Turbo and the Mercedes-Benz GLA45 AMG was far more difficult. Both are among the best-driving SUVs ever made. Neither makes any compromises for being an SUV, behaving like a sports car one moment and a family crossover the next. In the Porsche's case, it's an expensive sports car thanks to its $84,850 sticker, which is considerably more than the rest of the competition. That price tag isn't without perks, though, such as a 3.6-liter twin-turbo V-6 good for 400 hp and 406 lb-ft of torque paired with Porsche's marvelous PDK seven-speed twin-clutch automatic and a torque-vectoring all-wheel-drive system.

The Macan is the heaviest crossover of the quartet, but its track numbers don't show it. The Porsche's 4.2-second 0-60 mph time is the quickest of the bunch. Its quarter-mile performance of 12.9 seconds at 106.2 mph makes it the second quickest by a tenth of a second and second fastest by about 1 mph. It stops from 60 mph in 102 feet and can pull off 0.90g average on the skidpad. Although all those instrumented test numbers are impressive, perhaps the most impressive is its figure-eight lap, where it finished in a two-way tie for first-place. Both the Macan and the GLA45 lapped the course in 25.0 seconds at 0.78g average.

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2015 Audi SQ5© Provided by MotorTrend 2015 Audi SQ5

The small, racy AMG crossover puts the “sport” back in sport/utility vehicle.

The Macan's road manners speak even louder than its track numbers. "F'ing telepathic, man!" I started my notes. "Everything from the engine and transmission to the suspension and steering seems to work together so seamlessly." As is the case with most modern Porsches, getting around a corner quickly is as simple as tapping the Sport Plus button and hanging on for dear life as the Macan does all the hard work for you. The one big drawback for the Macan is its decidedly un-Porsche-like steering feel. Although the steering rack itself is quick, feedback is numb and, well, Audi-like. "Clinical and sterile," Ayapana called it. Evans said it was "very competent and efficient at driving fast but rather emotionless about it -- virtuosity rather than passion, scales rather than solos."

The GLA45 AMG is among the best-handling vehicles on the market, bar none.

With performance, comfort, and features so evenly matched with our top finisher, the Macan falls short in value. "Nowhere is the 'you get what you pay for' adage so evident as in the Porsche Macan Turbo," Jurnecka noted. "It looks expensive, feels expensive, sounds expensive, drives expensive, and even smells expensive. And guess what: It's expensive! To the tune of some $20,000 more than the second-cheapest vehicle in the group." One could argue that options such as the $3,300 21-inch wheels could be skipped, but there's no getting around the fact that the Macan is pricey. Even a Macan S comparably equipped to its competitors is still 10 grand more expensive—and slower to boot.

2015 Sport SUV© Provided by MotorTrend 2015 Sport SUV

As enthusiasts, we're quick to pigeonhole a vehicle that doesn't fit cleanly into any of our black-and-white categories. Take the Subaru XV Crosstrek. Subaru calls it an SUV. Enthusiasts call it a tall hatchback. The Mercedes-Benz GLA45 AMG is another of those hard-to-pin-down vehicles. Evans' first line in his notes: "It's not an SUV; it's a hot hatch with a lift kit." Call the GLA45 AMG what you will. It's not only the best-driving crossover here, but it's also among the best-handling vehicles on the market, bar none.

Don't believe me? Take a look at its figure-eight time. The GLA45 AMG lapped the figure eight in the same time as the Macan Turbo—a supercar-like 25.0-second lap at 0.78g average. Its skidpad performance was equally impressive, averaging 0.93 g. And then there are the GLA45's straight-line stats. The only four-cylinder vehicle of the bunch, the GLA45's over-boosted 2.0-liter, turbocharged I-4 and its 355 hp and 332 lb-ft of torque mated to a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic rockets to 60 mph from a standstill in 4.3 seconds and finishes the quarter mile in a comparison-best 12.8 seconds at 107.9 mph. The GLA45 comes to a halt in just 103 feet in the 60-0 test. Those numbers are neck and neck with the Porsche. So where does the GLA really distinguish itself? Poundage. The GLA45 weighs nearly 1,000 pounds less than the Macan. In this case, less mass directly correlates to more fun. "Smallest guy in the group yet has the most personality -- just ridiculously fun," Ayapana said. Evans agreed: "Great power, wonderful handling, tremendous grip, and good steering. You can't not have fun in this car." They're both right. There's no getting around how much personality the GLA has. "If the GLA's turbo-four were a person, it would be a hyperactive 4-year-old on a dangerous combination of sugar and caffeine," Jurnecka wrote. The GLA is addictive. Whatever you ask of it, it delivers, whether you want a docile around-town ride, a comfortable road-tripper, or a street-going global rallycross car. The Porsche Macan Turbo and Mercedes-Benz GLA45 AMG were closely matched, but the price gap, fuel economy, and fun advantage give the small, racy AMG crossover what it takes to put the "sport" back in sport/utility vehicle and thus be crowned champ of the small, sporty German SUVs.

2015 Sport SUV© Provided by MotorTrend 2015 Sport SUV

1st Place: Mercedes-Benz GLA45 AMG

Certainly not the most “mature” crossover here, the GLA45 AMG’s playful demeanor and serious performance cred earn it the gold.

2nd Place: Porsche Macan Turbo

The tremendously capable (and tremendously expensive) Macan Turbo misses out on first place by a nose—and about 20 grand.

3rd Place: Audi SQ5

That Porsche is nice, but if value were a larger part of the equation, the SQ5 might have shaken things up a bit more than it did.

4th Place: BMW X4 xDrive35i

The BMW X4 is neither a convincing coupe nor a true performance SUV.

 2015 Audi SQ52015 BMW X4 xDrive35i
DRIVETRAIN LAYOUTFront-engine, AWDFront-engine, AWD
ENGINE TYPESupercharged 90-deg V-6, alum block/headsTurbocharged I-6, alum block/head
VALVETRAINDOHC, 4 valves/cylDOHC, 4 valves/cyl
DISPLACEMENT182.8 cu in/2,995cc181.7 cu in/2,979cc
POWER (SAE NET)354 hp @ 6,000 rpm300 hp @ 5,800 rpm
TORQUE (SAE NET)347 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm300 lb-ft @ 1,200 rpm
REDLINE6,800 rpm7,000 rpm
WEIGHT TO POWER12.4 lb/hp14.1 lb/hp
TRANSMISSION8-speed automatic8-speed automatic
AXLE/FINAL-DRIVE RATIO3.08:1/2.05:13.39:1/2.26:1
SUSPENSION, FRONT; REARMulti-link, coil springs, anti-roll bar; multi-link, coil springs, anti-roll barStruts, coil springs, anti-roll bar; multi-link, coil springs, anti-roll bar
STEERING RATIO15.9:116.4:1
BRAKES, F;R15.0-in vented disc; 13.0-in vented disc, ABS12.9-in vented disc; 13.0-in vented disc, ABS
WHEELS, F;R8.5 x 20 in, cast aluminum8.5 x 20 in; 10.0 x 20 in, cast aluminum
TIRES, F;R255/45R20 101V M+S Dunlop SP Winter Sport 3D245/40R20 99Y; 275/35R20 102Y Pirelli P Zero
WHEELBASE110.5 in110.6 in
TRACK, F/R64.2/64.0 in62.8/63.4 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT183.0 x 75.2 x 65.3 in184.3 x 74.1 x 63.9 in
APPRoaCH/DEPART ANGLE25.0/20.0 deg26.0/23.0 deg
TURNING CIRCLE38.1 ft39.0 ft
CURB WEIGHT4,373 lb4,240 lb
WEIGHT DIST, F/R54/46%51/49%
TOWING CAPACITY4,400 lb3,500 lb
HEADROOM, F/R38.1/37.7 in40.0/37.4 in
LEGROOM, F/R41.0/37.4 in40.4/34.8 in
SHOULDER ROOM, F/R57.7/56.4 in57.2/56.0 in
CARGO VOL BEH F/R57.3/29.1 cu ft49.4/17.7 cu ft
0-30 1.6 sec1.8 sec
PASSING, 45-65 MPH2.32.8
QUARTER MILE13.1 sec @ 104.2 mph13.9 sec @ 98.8 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH123 ft113 ft
LATERAL ACCELERATION0.82 g (avg)0.85 g (avg)
MT FIGURE EIGHT26.5 sec @ 0.72 g (avg)26.2 sec @ 0.71 g (avg)
TOP-GEAR REVS @ 60 MPH1,550 rpm1,600 rpm
BASE PRICE$53,625 $48,950
PRICE AS TESTED$59,525 $64,525
AIRBAGSDual front, f/r side, f/r curtainDual front, front side, f/r curtain
BASIC WARRANTY4 yrs/50,000 miles4 yrs/50,000 miles
POWERTRAIN WARRANTY4 yrs/50,000 miles4 yrs/50,000 miles
ROADSIDE ASSISTANCE4 yrs/50,000 miles4 yrs/Unlimited
FUEL CAPACITY19.8 gal17.7 gal
EPA CITY/HWY/COMB ECON17/24/19 mpg19/27/22 mpg
ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY211/147 kW-hrs/100 miles177/125 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB1.05 lb/mile0.88 lb/mile
RECOMMENDED FUELUnleaded premiumUnleaded premium
REAL MPG, CITY/HWY/COMB20.8/29.4/24.0 mpg 16.2/24.4/19.0 mpg

 2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA45 AMG2015 Porsche Macan Turbo
DRIVETRAIN LAYOUTFront-engine, AWDFront-engine, AWD
ENGINE TYPETurbocharged I-4, alum block/headTwin-turbo 90-deg V-6, alum block/heads
VALVETRAINDOHC, 4 valves/cylDOHC, 4 valves/cyl
DISPLACEMENT121.5 cu in/1,991cc220.0 cu in/3,605cc
POWER (SAE NET)355 hp @ 6,000 rpm400 hp @ 6,000 rpm
TORQUE (SAE NET)332 lb-ft @ 2,250 rpm406 lb-ft @ 1,350 rpm
REDLINE6,250 rpm6,800 rpm
WEIGHT TO POWER10.3 lb/hp11.4 lb/hp
TRANSMISSION7-speed twin-clutch automatic7-speed twin-clutch automatic
AXLE/FINAL-DRIVE RATIO4.13:1/1.98:14.13:1/2.15:1
SUSPENSION, FRONT; REARStruts, coil springs, anti-roll bar; multi-link, coil springs, anti-roll barMulti-link, air springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar; multi-link, air springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar
STEERING RATIO15.2:114.3:1
BRAKES, F;R13.8-in vented disc; 13.0-in vented disc, ABS14.2-in vented disc; 14.0-in vented disc, ABS
WHEELS, F;R8.0 x 20 in, cast aluminum9.0 x 21 in; 10.0 x 21 in, forged aluminum
TIRES, F;R235/40R20 96Y Continental ContiSportContact 5P265/40R21 101Y; 295/35R21 103Y Michelin Latitude Sport 3
WHEELBASE106.3 in110.5 in
TRACK, F/R61.7/61.7 in65.2/65.0 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT174.9 x 71.0 x 58.2 in185.0 x 76.1 x 63.4-65.4 in
GROUND CLEARANCE4.8 in7.1-9.1 in
APPRoaCH/DEPART ANGLE11.9/18.3 deg19.7-26.6/18.5-25.3 deg
TURNING CIRCLE38.8 ft39.2 ft
CURB WEIGHT3,646 lb4,544 lb
WEIGHT DIST, F/R60/40%55/45%
TOWING CAPACITYNot recommended4,400 lb
HEADROOM, F/R36.9/36.7 in38.1/37.7 in (est)
LEGROOM, F/R41.9/33.9 in41.0/37.4 in (est)
SHOULDER ROOM, F/R54.8/53.1 in57.7/56.4 in (est)
CARGO VOL BEH F/R42.0/11.8 cu ft53.0/17.7 cu ft
0-30 1.5 sec1.4 sec
PASSING, 45-65 MPH2.22.3
QUARTER MILE12.8 sec @ 107.9 mph12.9 sec @ 106.2 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH103 ft102 ft
LATERAL ACCELERATION0.93 g (avg)0.90 g (avg)
MT FIGURE EIGHT25.0 sec @ 0.78 g (avg)25.0 sec @ 0.78 g (avg)
TOP-GEAR REVS @ 60 MPH1,450 rpm1,800 rpm
BASE PRICE$49,225 $73,295
PRICE AS TESTED$65,985 $84,850
AIRBAGSDual front, f/r side, f/r curtain, front kneeDual front, f/r side, f/r curtain, front knee
BASIC WARRANTY4 yrs/50,000 miles4 yrs/50,000 miles
POWERTRAIN WARRANTY4 yrs/50,000 miles4 yrs/50,000 miles
ROADSIDE ASSISTANCEUnlimited4 yrs/50,000 miles
FUEL CAPACITY16.9 gal19.8 gal
EPA CITY/HWY/COMB ECON23/29/25 mpg17/23/19 mpg
ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY147/116 kW-hrs/100 miles198/147 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB0.76 lb/mile1.01 lb/mile
RECOMMENDED FUELUnleaded premiumUnleaded premium
REAL MPG, CITY/HWY/COMB25.3/31.9/27.9 mpg 16.9/21.6/18.8 mpg


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