2011 AUDI A1 SPORT REVIEW
A top-shelf tiddler takes on the Mini for premium micro-car cred.
Vehicle Style: Three-door hatch
Fuel Economy (claimed): 5.9 l/100km
Fuel Economy (tested): 7.4 l/100km
The light, micro car segment used to be cheap, and also quite often nasty.
That was then. Now, even the entry models are well-specced to accommodate first car buyers, second-car households and empty nesters.
With many in these demographics prepared to spend big on their transport, Audi has stepped in with the A1 to offer a ‘luxury’ German micro car alternative - and buyers are biting.
Quality: As is expected of Audi, the build quality of the A1 – inside and out - is top-notch. For a small car the cabin is surprisingly quiet; only on rougher roads and coarse bitumen does tyre and road noise filter through the firewall.
Comfort: The three-door-only A1 makes life a little squeezy getting in and out of the rear seats. Once settled though, there’s enough room for adults in all four seats to cruise in reasonable comfort.
But, most of the time, this car will be a one or two-person transporter.
Equipment: A kicker stereo with mp3/card reader and Bluetooth tick the multimedia box, while two necessities often missing from micro cars - cruise control and reverse parking sensors – are standard.
Storage: The 50:50 split rear folding seat offers 920 litres of boot space, but only 267 litres with seats up, despite a skinny space-saver under the floor.
ON THE ROAD
Driveability: The A1 Sport uses VW’s acclaimed twin-charging 1.4-litre engine from the Golf, which uses a supercharger for power in low revs, and swaps to a turbo for higher rpm power.
Power and torque is expanded to 136kW and 250Nm. It drives through a lovely seven-speed dual clutch automatic, pushing the tiny 1190kg car off the line with gusto.
The A1 Sport clocks 6.9 seconds for the 0-100km sprint – pretty good for such a small engine – and boasts a teeny fuel-sipping figure of 5.9 l/100km.
The downside is that this kind of performance requires premium fuel.
Refinement: With lashings of electronic aids and a seven-speed DSG mated to a smooth twincharged engine, the little A1 is more refined than many larger cars in its price range. It also goes about things with minimal vibration, even when working hard.
Suspension: The Sport has a firm ride with thicker springs, but the real treat is a front electronic limited-slip differential that uses the ABS, traction and stability control systems to transfer drive to gripping wheels, while cutting drive to slipping or spinning tyres. It effectively mimics a mechanical-slip diff.
It means grip, and lots of it, with less of that typical front-drive torque-steer and understeer.
Braking: The brake pedal is too sensitive (typical Audi), but the brakes themselves perform well.
Interestingly, Audi has utilised an energy recovery system, charging up battery power when braking or coasting, and using the saved kinetic energy to power the car and relieve the load on the alternator and saving fuel by up to three percent.
ANCAP rating: Five stars
Safety features: Front, side and curtain airbags, front load limiter/pretensioner seatbelts, rear pretensioner seatbelts, front active headrests, Brake Assist, Electronic Brakeforce Distribution, Traction Control, Electronic Stability Control, reverse parking sensors
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Three years plus roadside assist
Service costs: N/A
HOW IT COMPARES | VALUE FOR MONEY
Mini Cooper S Chilli ($43,950): The Mini’s turbocharged engine has similar power; its light kerb weight offering near identical zip and boost.
However, the Brit/German retro car cannot match the Audi in the transmission department, with the seven-speed DSG making a meal of the Mini’s lacklustre, traditional automatic. ?(see MINI reviews)
Alfa Romeo MiTo Sport ($34,990): The Mito Sport packs a turbocharged 1.4-litre four developing a lesser 99kW and 230Nm. The weight is the same, but without the supercharger and electronic diff it’s less tractable and less powerful.
Plus it’s an Alfa, and you either love 'em or hate 'em. (see Alfa Romeo reviews)
VW Polo GTI ($27,790): It comes with the same engine, seven-speed DSG and many identical features (they are, after all, close siblings). The sporty Polo however is $15k cheaper, and comes in a five-door bodystyle and five seats: a no-brainer. (see Polo reviews)
Note: all prices are Manufacturer’s List Price and do not include dealer delivery or on-road costs.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
While some may swoon at the thought of spending upwards of $40K on a micro runabout, the A1 is certainly competitive with the segment leader, the Mini Cooper S.
Beaten for value by the Polo GTI, the A1 Sport is never going to be the big seller. But it’s there for buyers wanting the four-ringed badge, at any price.