By on July 29, 2014


With pricing for the Audi Q3 and Mercedes-Benz GLA announced, the fight for the luxury compact crossover sales crown is officially on. It’s going to be the most important battle of the year for the luxury car market.

Crossovers are, without a doubt, the hottest sales segment right now, and one of the most profitable segments for OEMs. Take some normal car underpinnings, add a bit of cladding, a higher ride height and a two-box body and all of a sudden, you can charge a hefty premium over what you’d normally have to sell a sedan for. And what better way to lower your CAFE rating than to sell a ton of “light trucks” that get the kind of fuel economy that you’d normally find in a compact or mid-size car? These little trucklets/wagonlets are going to float the ability of the German brands to keep making AMG, M and RS cars by keeping things kosher with the Feds. Remember that when you bemoan the lack of wagons on sale today.

Audi’s Q3 starts at $33,325, versus $29,900 for an A3, though the Q3, unlike the A3, does come standard with AWD .  The Q3 is front-drive, but it does have a 2.0T engine, unlike the A3’s 1.8T mill. A Mercedes-Benz GLA starts at $32,225 for a front-drive model versus $29,900 for a front-drive CLA. The one wildcard is the BMW X1, which is both rear-wheel drive and $30,900, making it the cheapest BMW in the entire model range.

I’m going to put my money on the Q3 taking the crown, just because Audi is very much the brand of the moment. This segment is a fickle, fashion-driven one, and products live and die by how cool they are. The Audi A3 quickly toppled the Mercedes-Benz CLA from the small sedan sales charts, and this won’t be any different.

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87 Comments on “Question Of The Day: Who Will Win The Luxury Compact Crossover Sales Race?...”

  • avatar

    I join your bet, Derek. I think the Audi will win. Probably because like you say it is the it of the moment. I would like it to win, however, because it looks much better than the other 2.

    • 0 avatar

      Worldwide? Yes, probably Audi.

      Lexus stands a pretty good chance of winning North America.

      • 0 avatar

        You probably know more about that than I, psar. I know that here Lexus is a non-entity, they exist, but I’ve seen maybe 2 Lexuses in my life and that because I did some work for a company with partial Japanese ownership and they served the directors.

        Here BMW took the sales crown last year with Mercedes in second (IIRC). Don’t know about this particular segment here though.

      • 0 avatar

        Only if people can stand the looks of the Lexus NX. To my eye the thing is ghastly, but sheer ugliness never stopped people from buying anything from ToMoCo.

      • 0 avatar

        These are a segment below the NX/RDX/X3/Q5/GLK… I think.

      • 0 avatar

        Outside North America, does the Lexus service department advantage go away because the others are good too, or did Lexus not make the same commitment in other markets?

    • 0 avatar

      I find Audi’s CUV styling interesting in that I find it to be the most boring and bland of their product. I guess the name of the game is to be “inoffensive”, and in that vein the Q3 and the Q5 accomplish the goal admirably.

      Not my cup of tea, but I drove a ’12 Q5 as a loaner for several days and found it to be a very nice, comfortable cruiser. My wife, however, begged me to buy one. She loved it.

      I could easily see her wanting a Q3 to replace her Honda CRV which we’ve found to be much larger than necessary and poorer on gas in AWD trim than we were expecting. That said, I like the idea of having one ‘bulletproof’ car in the garage. ;-)

    • 0 avatar

      Why ignore Acura. The RDX and MDX are carrying the entire brand. I don’t know why anyone would buy a German CUV over a Japanese. The RDX is a nice vehicle.

    • 0 avatar

      Audi will take the crown, I think. Because, you know, Audi. It’s totally awesome, because Audi.

      I own an A6 Avant (Yes, in light brown!), and hate to admit it, but hipsters like Audi’s.

      Fortunately for me, though, I don’t worry about being labeled a hipster. Hipsters don’t own 10 year old cars. Come to think about it, hipsters always lease. Because, protesting the establishment all day doesn’t pay too well.

    • 0 avatar

      Jeep Cherokee!

      The public is demanding a Cherokee Overland, a Cherokee Summit and. Cherokee SRT

  • avatar

    It’s not going to win in that color. (I wonder if it has a diesel?)

  • avatar

    This is one of those segments that makes absolutely no sense to me – partly because it’s idiotic, and partly because I am 6’5 and no Compact CUV has EVER been comfortable to me.

    The saddest part is that I live in the AWD-CUV capital of North America – every transplant that moves to Denver is CONVINCED you need this crap to be safe in the winter.

    I’m honestly surprised Porsche doesn’t have a Boxster with a lift kit fighting in this segment already >.>

    • 0 avatar

      I wouldn’t have guessed you lived in Denver with those chaps.

    • 0 avatar

      That’s surprising to me. I’m 6′ 7″ and I have a compact CUV myself. I like the increased headroom. I mean let’s face it, it’s basically just a tall car. Yeah the legroom sucks but that can be said about pretty much anything on the market smaller than an F150 I suppose. For me, I like the size and fuel economy of the compact CUV without sacrificing too much haul-crap-around-room in the back.

      • 0 avatar

        I’m also #325, so I don’t like regularly driving anything with smaller packaging than an e39 5-series; I DD’d my w201 Cosworth because Cosworth – and I looked ridiculous getting in and out of it, even with the seat physically contacting the rear bench.

        I made the mistake of buying an e38 740 as my first ‘Car’ – until then, I had driven pretty much exclusively Suburbans or my dad’s DeVilles. So riding around in my friends’ mid-sizers was always a bit awkward. And I bought my e63 645i because I couldn’t rationally justify getting in a Z4 every day, no matter how much I love the car.

        I got to play around in an X1 as a loaner a few months back for a weekend, and I could not believe how small the driver’s space was – it had very upright seating, and the headroom was nice, but the space between the seat and the pedals (not to mention lateral space in the driver’s footwell) was bad. I don’t like how much most consoles intrude, causing my knee to rest uncomfortably on them. I can say pretty much the same for the A3/4. If I had never experienced anything else, I probably wouldn’t care as much, but every time I get in a compact – pretty much regardless of the classification or make – some part of the driver envelope violates me.

        • 0 avatar

          Sounds like you need to get one of what I call the First Wave of Compact Crossovers–CUVs that were AWD/FWD unibody, but were styled nice and square, like the RWD/4WD BOF compact SUVs they supplanted or replaced. 1997-2008 Forester, 1997-2006 CR-V, 1995-2006 RAV4, 2001-12 Escape/Tribute/Mariner. All back from the good old days before “sporty” styling removed all rear visibility and comfort from the vehicles.

          • 0 avatar

            If I needed to justify a Crossover, I would probably look at one of the older ones – and then shoot myself in the head.

            If I need to haul stuff (which is the biggest argument I’ve heard for them) I am happy to either keep a real body-on-frame as a 2nd car, or just borrow one of the many, many trucks in my family. But I don’t forsee having to worry about parking issues, and I don’t particularly care about fuel/insurance costs for a secondary vehicle.

            Like I said – I’m more than willing to admit I’m not the target demo :p

        • 0 avatar

          I hear ya’ loud and clear on the console issue. I’ve passed over several cars I really wanted because once I sat in them the center console dug into my leg. But at the same token, I do need for there to be a console there to rest my leg against, since I can’t stretch it out straight like a “normal” person. The best ones have a soft, rounded edge to rest my leg against.

    • 0 avatar

      I agree. I drove a Q5 for a week and cannot fathom why anyone would want to go smaller than that. I mean if you need smaller just get a traditional hatch.

  • avatar

    The X1 is an ugly car that’s weirdly nice to drive, perhaps because it has the older BMW platform under it. Sales-wise it had nothing on the X3 at the dealer I worked at.

  • avatar

    “… ability of the German brands to keep making AMG, M and RS cars by keeping things kosher with the Feds. Remember that when you bemoan the lack of wagons on sale today.”

    I’m very glad that things will work out for people that live like Bark’s fiction story from two weeks ago.

  • avatar

    I think the Cadillac offering in this segment will be the best seller. You know, the Cadillac…uhm,…er…nevermind.

  • avatar
    Car Ramrod

    It saddens me that people want these ridiculous compromise-mobiles. They don’t handle that well, the mpg’s arent that good, they dont hold much stuff, they don’t have much legroom, the interiors aren’t that high end, they can’t tow much of anything, but my God are they trendy.

    • 0 avatar

      Couldn’t have said it better myself.

    • 0 avatar

      For about $30K you could buy an X1, Q1, GLA … or a Camry XLE V6.

      The Camry is lower, slightly faster and bigger inside and outside. 21/31 mpg. 5.8s 0-60.

      The X1 (Q1 and GLA aren’t here yet) costs slightly less. Has RWD, better visibility (higher vantage point), a higher-grade interior — and a premium badge. And it arguably handles better than the Camry. 23/34 mpg. 6.0s 0-60.

      Which compromise do you prefer?

      • 0 avatar
        Car Ramrod

        For $30K, I’d spec a Grand Cherokee Laredo if I wanted space and towing, or a CPO 3 series, leftover Infiniti G, or similar if I wanted handling.

        My point was that rather than get something that does everything pretty poorly, why not something that’s mediocre in some categories but a standout in others. I’d also rather have a FWD sedan than a RWD trucklet, FWIW.

        • 0 avatar

          CPO etc are not really comparable to new vehicles.

          But the base Grand Cherokee is indeed the same price. It’s bigger, heavier, off-road capable, still RWD, decent interior, but slower and uses more gas. No premium badge. I expect that the X1 will handle better on-road. 17/25 mpg. 6.5s 0-60.

          Again, choose your poison and your compromises. There is no perfect vehicle for $30K.

        • 0 avatar

          Yeah, but really your answer is a Grand Cherokee Laredo *and* a leftover G. One for the summer, one for the winter.

          A lot of years of city living have made me understand the appeal of these trucklets. Maybe not the gold-plated ones, but something like an Escape. The trick isn’t that they’re great at anything; it’s that they *don’t* suck at much.

          I have one parking space for my condo. Getting another is difficult and expensive; ergo, it’s to my advantage to put something in it that fulfills as many of my needs as possible.

          If I compare the Escape with a Fusion, the interior dimensions are about the same in both. But the Escape is a foot *shorter* and has twice the cargo room even with all the seats up. Easier to park, easier to see out of, and will carry home most of one’s purchases from IKEA.

          A wagon would achieve most of these; they were the logical city car for ages. But CAFE incentivizes trucklets, and frankly, most city drivers don’t really drive fast enough to see the aero ruin their fuel economy. And for better or worse, most drivers like the higher position.

          I think the sporting aspirations of mini crossovers make it hard to see them as what they really are: midsize city cars. When you look at them through that lens, they make a lot more sense.

      • 0 avatar

        Carry and Accords don’t offer AWD.

    • 0 avatar

      “but my God are they trendy.”

      Nobody ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public.

      – H. L. Mencken

      • 0 avatar

        That’s paraphrasing. The full quote is:

        “No one in this world, so far as I know — and I have searched the records for years, and employed agents to help me — has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people. Nor has anyone ever lost public office thereby.”

        H.L. Mencken, (1926)

  • avatar


    What do I base that on?

    The fact that Mercedes Benz is a stronger name than BMW and Audi put together.

    It has nothing to do with driving dynamics, acceleration, braking distance, corner carving,etc,etc,etc.

    The bottom line: “which car do I want to be seen in???”

    How bout those CLA vs. A3 vs. 228i sales?

    • 0 avatar

      A3 is kicking CLA in the heiney right now – but Mercedes preemptively told the press back in January that would be due to “supply shortages”.

      I’m taking Merc’s word for it, but while I agree that Merc has a very strong brand name, arguably stronger than Audi and likely on par with BMW, I think that in the 18-40 segment Audi wins, hands down.

      Merc is considered stodgy and crusty to that demo.

      I really don’t care because the new S-Class is frickin’ *boss* and I’d love to cruise in one. But that’s another story…..

    • 0 avatar

      Mercedes is 3rd in brand perception among 18-25 year-olds in brand perception for luxury marques for both male and female demo’s. It trails both Audi and BMW.

      Outside of a small niche in the North-East Coast, the MB is an old man’s (and woman’s) car. Head to your nearest high-end shopping center in a market not dominated by Guidos and Jersey-shore wannabes and you will see far more Rings, Propellers, and L’s than you will Stars.

      Hell, walk into the dealerships now and look around. I can’t remember the last time I saw someone else under 30 in the MB showroom that wasn’t accompanied by daddy (or at least, Daddy’s lease.)

      Also, I don’t think I’ve actually heard about a CLA ‘sale’ – they may exist, in the faraway realm of Make-Believe, but most ownership I’ve heard about is from the Kingdom of Lease-land. If you have the cash to actually BUY a MB, you aren’t spending it on the bottom end of the range – you are getting an E.

      EDIT: OF COURSE THE NEW S IS OUTSELLING THE 7. Who in their right mind is going to want to drive a 5 year old 6-figure car to the Country Club and listen to Reggie talk about how his wife loves the ride in the new Benzo?

      • 0 avatar

        18-25 year olds are so saddled in debt, the only German cars they can even look at are USED with a whole lotta miles.

        All I’m asking for is sales data.

        The E350 is still America’s #1 selling luxury sedan (according to Forbes) wile the RX350 is America’s number one crossover (Forbes).

        Give me sales data overall for the CLA vs. the A3 and 228 please TTAC.

        • 0 avatar

          The E-class is outselling the 5er, by about 20%. But the 3er/4er outsells the C-class by 70%, and BMW leads M-B in every crossover segment they compete in.

          Or in other words: M-B leads in declining segments with older buyers; BMW leads pretty much everywhere else.

          You may be right about 18-25 year olds, but at least anecdotally, I don’t know a lot of 35-45 year olds who want a Merc. They all want BMWs or Audis. And brand preference tends to stick.

          • 0 avatar

            And 18-25 year olds grow up. Some of them even manage to put together a penny or two. Then, they’ll probably buy what they dreamed of when younger.

            The future is tough on Mercedes. They do need to work on their image. It’s just so evident.

        • 0 avatar
          Car Ramrod

          This is going to sound incredibly sexist, but I’ve always thought of MB as a woman’s car. Every 7 or 8 years from 1978 to 2006 my mom got one, perhaps that’s why.

          I’d never drive an MB myself, but then again it’s been a couple of years since you could buy a manual MB in the USA, and I hate autos. Even then, it was the old Cheap-class. My kid’s power wheels Mustang had a nicer dash.

        • 0 avatar
          Richard Chen

    • 0 avatar

      228i is coupe only, and is not really a competitor to the CLA and A3.

    • 0 avatar

      And there you go. I detailed this recently in another article (and got flamed for it !) but you hit the nail on the head.

      Q5 is the hot mama’s truck in my area….or Q7.

      Mechanicals are almost irrelevant. Its all about what the neighbors see you in when you slow down and wave. These folks are fickle, and after the three years are up, there is little brand loyalty.

  • avatar

    Q3 FTW, no doubt about it. Here’s the kicker: the existing Q3 is based on the previous generation A3 platform, 8P, dating back to 2005.

    A3 sedan is on track to do 30,000+ units annually in North America (based on April-June sales). Q3 has the potential to easily double that figure.

    Audi’s in an enviable position in that the A3 hasn’t stepped on the A4s toes (yet), the Q5 hasn’t cannibalized any Q7 sales (Q7 is arguably selling better today than it ever has, amazingly), and I see the Q3 doing the same: adding to the aggregate instead of eating the low hanging fruit.

    Toss in the A3 cabrio, e-tron, TDI Sportback, new A4 and Q7 next year and refreshed A6 and A7. Audi has their strongest lineup and best product cadence in their history at the moment. They have the potential to crack 200k this year if Q3 sales ramp quickly in Q3-Q4.

    • 0 avatar

      The A3 sells better than the CLA right now as a new release, but not as well if compared to when the CLA was a new release, too.

      the Q7 is ridiculously cheaper than it’s BMW/MB/Lexus competition, so it’s an easy sell.

      I don’t see a lick of appeal in the Q3, but that likely means that it will sell well. Of the segment, the BMW X1 is the winner to me, and it’s the cheapest thing any of the three premium German brands sell with 300 hp. It’s a jacked elder platform 3 series wagon with the same motor as the 335i. It even comes in brown (but no manual)

      • 0 avatar

        Don’t disagree, Fracture. Merc hit the ground running with the CLA, but whether it’s due to consumer preferences or supply-side issues as Merc says, sales have been petering out:
        CLA dropped off pretty quickly: first full month of sales was October 2013 with 4895 units. That dropped to 3285 in December and 1658 in June.

        Audi moved 2159 in April (first full month), 2261 in May, 2452 in June. If they can keep up that kind of organic sales momentum plus add in the S3, e-tron, Sportback, TDI, etc., they should be in good shape to move around 2500 units/month.

  • avatar

    I like brown on most cars but it makes this car look even more like a turd. I’ll probably see millions of them.

  • avatar

    Buick Encore anybody?

  • avatar

    US sales only – first 12 months of full availability ranked by expected volume:
    Lexus NX
    Merc GLA
    BMW X1 Sept 2012-Aug 2013 – 24,875 sold
    Audi Q3

  • avatar

    How about the Acura RDX (3485 sales in June) or MDX (4890 sales in June).

  • avatar


  • avatar

    Audi’s are the best looking and they have less pissed off former customers.

    Not unimportantly, sometimes you get a nicer seat in the crossover upgrade from the sedan. At least guys like me generally find them nicer if it’s not the same. If nothing else, the higher roof usually means raising the seat off the floor.

  • avatar

    Lexus NA is already seeing a 19.3% jump in sales this year compared to last. The sales of the RX is pushing this number. But I’m not sure if the RX belongs in this CUV contest because of size and price. The RDX may have the lead but Audi is fast approaching.

  • avatar
    el scotto

    Bah,they’re both lease fodder.

  • avatar

    I would go with the Audi here. The Encore is too small to be in this segment and Lexus buyers would go for a bigger model.

  • avatar

    Lincoln MKC will win the sales race in 2015. Really!

  • avatar

    I in the market for a mid size cuv, Is it just me or is there a lack of true mid sizers???

    I view the Edge/MKX and RX350 as mid sizers. The Q5, XC60, tiguan, RDX, whatever infiniti is selling etc are all a half class smaller. Step up to the next class (mdx etc) and youre talking 7 seater beast.

    Is it just me?

    • 0 avatar

      I think the issue with mid-size CUVs is that they’re not a lot bigger than the compacts, and not a lot cheaper than the three-rows. So the market’s limited to people who really want that specific size.

      That said, there are a few more in that class — Venza and Murano, at least, and the outgoing Crosstour. The X5 is really about that size, though they cram in a third row if you insist.

  • avatar

    I’d bet on the Q3, but the design of the rear shelf is awkard. It’s hard, doesn’t lift and you can’t store it anywhere in the car. Look at the picture in this article:

    The GLA is truly a smallish car. Same height as a Prius. Yes. No joke. Some inches lower than a Juke. And the Juke is lower than a Soul. Despite the low height road presence is surprisingly good. Looks wider than it is. The first chop top hot rod by Mercedes.

    The X1 sells well, it’s spacious, it’s fast, but it’s so dated.

    In my eyes the Q3 could win the race. You don’t have to explain that you bought a new luxury euro SUV. And that’s what conspicuous consumption is all about.

  • avatar

    Not even a single mention of the Lincoln MKC? It competes in this segment too…

    • 0 avatar

      Loki –

      Great point. We drove past a Lincoln dealer the other day and they had a beautiful white MKC out front that immediately caught my wife’s eye. I think there’s a lot of potential with that model if Lincoln markets it correctly.

      That said, it shows you how little brand awareness they have that the MKC hasn’t once come up in this conversation….

  • avatar

    My money’s on Lexus.

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