2012 AUDI A1 REVIEW
Vehicle Style: Five-door premium light hatch
Price: $42,500 (plus on-roads)
Fuel Economy claimed: 5.9 l/100km | tested: 7.2 l/100km
Compared to its ‘two-doors only’ main rival MINI, you’ve got to extend the wallet to the Clubman to get the same kind of practicality (and then you’ll find the rear access on 'the wrong side' of the car).
With sharp looks - it’s no retro throwback - and a powertrain that has the Cooper S in its gun-sight, can the perky Audi A1 Sport become the new must-have for the style conscious?
Offering high levels of luxury and a premium feel, the A1 will make a lot of sense to urban buyers who are short on space but value quality and want a car with a bit of 'zing'.
Quality: As you would expect from a company that prides itself on interior presentation, the A1 interior is fastidiously finished.
High-grade surfaces, plenty of soft-touch plastics, and a precise quality feel to the switchgear mean the A1 excels in the light car class, even against premium competitors.
Despite the tight panel gaps (and classy touches like the smooth-rolling eyeball vents), there was one niggle: a creaky driver's seat under acceleration suggested a re-torque of the seat bolts was needed
Comfort: The sports seats of the A1 sport, trimmed in leather and cloth for S-line models, feature moderate bolstering for the base and backrest.
A little more wriggle room for longer trips might be in order, but once the road starts winding they are just right: grippy enough for a firm hold without being too restrictive.
Those relegated to the rear will find the accommodation compact. Despite the three seat belts it's really only a two-place bench as the centre is quite a squeeze.
The marginally taller roofline of the Sportback over the three-door provides more generous headroom in the rear, but getting in and out is a little cramped.
Equipment: Standard equipment includes automatic lights and wipers, front fog lamps, Xenon headlamps, climate control, leather-clad steering wheel with multi-function controls, trip computer, sports seats, LED interior lighting, eight-speaker audio with SD card reader, CD MP3 playback and Bluetooth audio-streaming and phone connectivity and standard 17-inch alloy wheels.
Options fitted to our test car included S-line trim including a sports body kit, rear spoiler extention, partial leather seats, and optional 18-inch alloy wheels, a $2,900 package.
Storage: Cargo volume measures 270 litres, that's three litres more than the three-door version but 10 litres less than the Volkswagen Polo which with it shares its basic underpinnings.
The split seatbacks fold for additional space: a weekend away for two can be snugly packed into the boot, any more will involve filling the cabin.
ON THE ROAD
Driveability: Until we see an S1, the A1 equipped with the Volkswagen group’s acclaimed 1.4 litre TFSI sits as the range topping engine.
With 136kW of power at 3600rpm backed by a thick 250Nm of torque from 1500rpm-4000rpm, it has no trouble powering the compact A1. Small it is, but it’s no slouch.
Place the little Audi on a twisty road through the hills, and it takes to it like a duck to water. It’s really lively, and will happily rev its head off.
Better still, the fluid seven-speed 'S Tronic' (DSG) gearbox is near impossible to fault once rolling, providing rapid almost imperceptible shifts. Moving off in first gear can still be a little fidgety, but this is a greatly improved DSG transmission.
For commuter duty the A1 holds up just as strongly. There’s still a brief pause from standstill, but the engine soon delivers strong and effortless acceleration away from the lights.
For lane changing vision is tricky over the shoulder and the omission of convex mirrors doesn’t help.
Refinement: Give the engine a minute to warm up and it’ll idle with nary a ripple. From inside the car there’s so little to feel or hear that it feels like the inside of a much larger, more expensive luxury car.
Wind and tyre noise is well damped, - it’s a serene interior for a small car - the only real noise comes from the engine note selectively piped into the cabin.
Suspension: Audi employs a MacPherson strut front suspension matched to a torsion beam rear axle.
Sport specification means it’s firmer and lower than others from the A1 stable. But despite the sporting leanings, the ride is fine on variable city streets, and grippy and direct out of town - firm but not jarring.
Braking: At first stab the brakes can feel a little eager, but pedal feel is good and you’ll soon adapt to it.
With four-wheel disc brakes and vented front rotors, there’s plenty of stopping power for the light and nimble A1 - in wet and dry conditions.
ANCAP rating: 5-Stars
Safety features: Front, side and curtain airbags, load-limiting front seatbelts with front and rear pretensioners, front active headrests, Brake Assist, Electronic Brakeforce Distribution, Traction Control, Electronic Stability Control, reverse parking sensors
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Three years, unlimited kilometres with three years roadside assist.
Service costs: Servicing costs vary. Consult your local Audi dealer before purchasing.
HOW IT COMPARES | VALUE FOR MONEY
MINI Cooper S ($43,050) - MINI’s attitude-packed Cooper S is where this whole personalised small car thing began.
As the benchmark, the MINI packs racier handling but is only a three-door hatch, and the rear seat is tighter. (see MINI reviews)
Alfa Romeo MiTo QV ($34,990) - You can save some money with the Mito QV, but you’ll have to make do with a manual transmission, or get into the less powerful Sport with auto for the same money.
The QV is a more sporting focused drive, despite its lower power output, and offers a touch more equipment, but is limited to a three-door body. (see MiTo reviews)
Volkswagen Polo GTI ($28,990) - Seeing as the Polo is the basis for the A1, this comparison is inevitable.
The much cheaper GTI isn’t quite as polished as the A1 Sport however, and misses some equipment, although not as much as you might expect.
A firmer ride and less customisation options shouldn’t stop you from carefully considering this one. As an added bonus, the GTI also comes as a five-door. But it’s not an Audi. (see Polo reviews)
Note: all prices are Manufacturer’s List Price and do not include dealer delivery or on-road costs.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
The nimble A1 offers chic, stylish sophistication in a right-sized city package.
For the price premium over the equivalent Polo GTI, you get Audi exclusivity, a better ride and one of the smartest small-car interiors in the business.
Importantly, it comes with enough of the finer things - plus that elusive sense of quality - to set it a little apart from the light car pack
The only question-mark we’d place over the A1 is on the grounds of value; with little change from $45k, it’s not for everyone.
But you’ll enjoy the car, and the lingering looks you’ll get from MINI owners in the office car park.