What's hot: Brilliant new 1.0 litre engine, beautiful finish, dynamic on-road, fresh new price.
What's not: Oversized wheels on 1.8 TFSI 'jar' on rough surfaces, a bit underdone for standard features.
X-FACTOR: Does a very small car ever feel truly premium? This one does: it's for buyers who appreciate 'the better things'.
Vehicle style: Compact four-door hatch
1.0 litre TFSI: $26,900 (man) | $28,250 (auto)
1.4 TFSI: $27,750 (man) | $30,100 (auto)
1.8 TFSI: $39,900 (auto only)
70kW/160Nm 1.0 petrol | 5spd man, 7spd S tronic auto
92kW/200Nm 1.4 petrol | 6spd man, 7spd S tronic auto
141kW/250Nm 1.8 petrol | 6spd man, 7spd S tronic auto
Fuel consumption, l/100km:
1.0 TFSI claimed: 4.4 | tested: 6.5
1.4 TFSI claimed: 5.1 | tested: 7.4
1.8 TFSI claimed: 5.6 | tested: 10.4
The Audi A1 is the tiddler of the 'four ring' family. But, aside from having the dimensions of a size-12 gumboot, you won't find it lacking in Audi attributes.
From the tastefully crafted interior to its sporty on-road verve, the updated A1 Sportback range we have been driving in northern NSW is all Audi.
And that special Audi attribute, the premium feel and sense of style and satisfaction - like you get from a precision watch - is all over it.
Neither Mini (for instance), nor much less the compact cars from Korea or Japan, can quite manage that same feel of 'substance' that comes with this little Audi. And certainly not at this price.
In fact, it's that latter word - price - that is a little unexpected and a little un-Audi-like with the updated A1 Sportback range.
It begins at $26,900 for the A1 1.0 TFSI. That will see it in your garage for around $30k. Sure, you can get a cheaper, faster Golf for less. Ditto the Mini, but neither is an 'Audi'.
The full range of the updated A1 stretches from that $26,900 entry price, to $39,900 for the 1.8 TFSI S Line.
And, if you really want to empty the wallet on a very small car, it tops out at $49,990 for the stove-hot, rorty S1.
The price jump between each model is explained mostly by differences in drivetrain. We drove each of the new variants at launch in Queensland, the 1.0 litre three-cylinder TFSI, the 1.4 TFSI Sport and the 1.8 litre TFSI S Line.
The surprise of the new line-up, is the tiniest of the range - the 1.0 litre TFSI three-cylinder jewel.
It's the cheapest, by quite a margin, but is brimming with charm and, like a puppy in a window, almost demands to follow you home.
Which one you should buy depends upon what you're looking for - the 1.4 litre and 1.8 litre TFSI models are quite a bit faster - but each in the range can be configured any way you like it (there are no less than a million possible model and dress-up combinations).
You want big wheels, silver roof, rear blackouts, colour-keyed lip spoiler, you've got 'em… and mixed and matched in any way you want. As far as 'accessorising' to make the right fashion statement goes, the AI Sportback has the bases covered.
But the swift and alert A1 Sportback is quite a bit more than mere fashion statement.
- MMI radio with 6.5-inch display screen, single disc CD player (mp3 compatible)
- SDHC memory card reader, Aux-in connection, eight speaker 80 Watt audio
- Bluetooth with audio streaming
- Zeitgeist cloth seats (1.0 TFSI); sports seats, Tornado cloth (1.4 and 1.8 TFSI)
- Milano leather ($2000 option)
- Standard cruise control, rear parking sensors, tyre pressure indicator
- MMI navigation plus with voice control and 20GB hard-drive (standard 1.8 TFSI; or optional as part of Technik package)
- Plus three optional Style packages, a Technik package and an S Sport Line package
Yes, snug, faultlessly aligned, retrained in style, a premium 'engineered' feel to the controls and switchgear, this is an Audi interior.
It is becoming a repeated mantra, but it is true: few carmakers manage such a crafted feel to a mass-produced interior.
That said, we lop half a star off the interior rating for a feature list that is a bit light-on, unless you tick at least one or more option box.
Audi describes the A1 Sportback interior as having a 'jet fighter' inspired look.
The four circular airvents kind-of suggest it (loosely) and there is a focussed sporty feel to the small stitched wheel, clear round sports dials under the hooded binnacle, and the direct 'hooked-up' feel to the road.
Certainly, at the wheel, whether going fast or slow, the A1 Sportback feels like fun.
The seats are nicely shaped and comfortable and trimmed in fabric as standard fare. (Should you want to part with more of the hard-earned, you can option up with Milano or Nappa leather.)
The metal and piano-black highlights of the vents, the garnish on the centre-stack and console, and the solid chrome-rimmed gearshift, all add to that feel of quality that infuses the cabin.
The colour screen sitting proud in the dash also looks smart and the doors close with a premium snug feel.
Will you fit inside it?
That depends upon your size and how many there are of you. Me? I'm compact (built for speed), and when I'm comfortably set at the wheel there's room for adult legs behind.
My travelling companion on this launch though is a log, and a very large one. With his 6'3” frame at the wheel, there is only room for amputees or garden gnomes behind.
But the little A1 Sportback is a city car for young singles and couples; there is room behind for the occasional 'four-up' excursion, but you wouldn't set off for the long country run.
The boot under the hatch is bigger than we expected; it will take luggage for two for a weekend or more away (or a trip to the snow) and easily swallow the Saturday shop.
ON THE ROAD
The character of each from the A1 Sportback range is quite a bit different on-road.
The 1.8 TFSI, with an eager 141kW and 250Nm under the toe, and with barely more than a tonne (1280kg) to haul around is a little road rocket when shown the whip.
Firing through the seven-speed S tronic twin-clutch auto (the model we drove), it will dispatch the 0-100km/h sprint in a worthy 6.9 seconds, and makes a nice little brattish howl while doing it.
It is also the best equipped and feels more the sporting drive. But, as we found, there is a fuel consumption penalty if driving too enthusiastically. You'll do much better than our 10.4 l/100km with just a little restraint.
It also has the biggest wheels (17-inch standard) and pays a 'ride penalty' for it. Those bigger wheels slap and jar on small-amplitude ripples and breaks in the tarmac. On bigger hits and hollows though, the compliance is fine.
But it is a bit of a hoot up a mountain road.
While the 1.8 TFSI is fast, the 1.4 litre is hardly slow. It too feels eager underfoot, strains at the leash like a terrier, and absolutely comes alive at 5000rpm.
Line it up, and it will hit 100km/h in a not-unreasonable 8.9 seconds.
It is certainly quick enough to keep you at the head of the pack in the on-ramp derby, and, when overtaking, fires out and around as briskly as you need.
And, like the 1.8 TFSI, it feels beautifully 'hooked up' at the wheel. The electro-assisted steering is rapier sharp at speed - you do feel like you could thread a needle through a corner - and light and easily manoeuvred at parking speeds.
Lastly, and the one we love best, is the 1.0 litre three-cylinder TFSI gem. What a great little engine, and what a wonderfully balanced little car.
It makes a sound all of its own, an off-beat thrum like an older (quieter) Porsche flat-six, and is far less powerful than its four-cylinder twins, but this is an absolute charmer.
The package, with this engine in the A1 Sportback, feels “just right”.
It is a beautifully-engineered triple (and Audi, somehow, has managed to make do without balance shafts), is as light as a feather (barely 90kg) and gives a handling balance to the A1 that you will surely love.
And it is happy to rev its head off. When giving it the beans through the hills, we had to keep reminding ourselves that there were just three cylinders on the job.
It won't set the world on fire with its 11.1 second 0 -100km/h dash, but you won't care. Importantly, there is ample there for safe overtaking if you drop it back a couple of cogs (there is not a lot of torque underfoot in the higher gears).
It is also more comfortable and quieter on its smaller 15-inch alloys.
If you're shopping for a city car, we can give you some advice right now: this is the A1 Sportback to look at first.
You can option it up any way you like - leather, wheels, coloured bits, thumping sound system, the works - and you'll still come away with change compared to the 1.8 TFSI.
And this one has the most 'cuddly puppy' charm.
The Audi A1 Sportback comes with a 5-Star ANCAP rating, and includes airbags for driver and front passenger, side airbags at front, and head-level curtain airbags.
There's also electronic stabilisation control (ESC) with ABS, ASR and EDL, and safety steering column with tilt and telescopic adjustment among a host of passive and dynamic safety features.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
Audi style and Audi feel at a sub-$30k entry point, that's the new A1 Sportback range. And that alone, for people who value a premium badge, should sell quite a few of these cars.
But we like the A1, particularly that entry-level 1.0 TFSI. Drive it, and it will re-write your expectations of what a small three-cylinder engine is capable of, and how much fun it can be.
Of course, there is the Volkswagen Polo to consider, the brilliant Ford Fiesta ST, and also the latter-day big improvers like the Kia Rio, that are all cheaper than the cheapest Audi and - the Fiesta in particular - also a lot of fun to own and immensely satisfying at the wheel.
But they don't have four rings on the nose, and none can match that elusive feel of the Swiss watch quite like the A1. And that's why you should have a look in an Audi showroom.
The new A1 Sportback range is a very pleasant surprise.
PRICING (excludes on-road costs)
2015 Audi A1 Sportback
- A1 1.0 turbo petrol manual - $26,900
- A1 1.0 turbo petrol auto - $28,250
- A1 Sport 1.4 turbo petrol manual - $27,750
- A1 Sport 1.4 turbo petrol auto - $30,100
- A1 S Line 1.8 turbo petrol auto - $39,900