Welcome to the most important Audi for car dealers, ever. Bold claim – what leads us to make it? Well, Audi says this is going to be its best-selling car; better than the A3, better than the A4. You’ll quickly be seeing a lot of this little hatch…
Little? Indeed: The A1 is Audi’s Mini, with premium prices and top-drawer quality to match. Smaller, posher cars are going to be big news in the future, with Audi the latest premium maker to enter the fray.
BMW makes well over 200,000 Minis every single year, with healthy profit margins to match. Now it’s Audi’s turn to see some of that market.
Audi said at the launch it is a ‘shrink wrapping of everything the brand stands for. It is concentrated Vorsprung durch Technik’.
A spokesman added: ‘It is modern and edgy, but not retro. Masculine and self-confident, stylish and sporty.’ It will bring a far wider audience to Audi – particularly as it’s the ‘only A0 contender backed by a premium quality sales network’. Yes, Audi reckons dealers are going to play a big role in the car’s success.
So, what do you need to know?
Well, looks-wise, it’s not unlike a mini-coupe. It has a strong shoulderline, clamshell bonnet and bootlid, rear lights that stand proud of the boot and Audi’s trademark rising crease through the bottom of the door. Also note the way the roofline falls short of connecting with the trailing edge of the car: how cool is that?
Audi says the interior is the really exciting bit, with a dash design influenced by aircraft wings, turbine air vents and a centre console modelled on a sailing boat’s hind end. The quality is everything you’d expect from an Audi, an excellent attribute for a car in this class. We’re failing to see where the plane wing comes into it, but you can option plenty of extra colour all over the dashboard.
Like the rest of the A1, the interior is endlessly customisable – eventually, there will be exterior graphic packs to complement the colour variable roof rails, with the entire interior also offering a full suite of options to suit. Most intriguing is the ‘distinctive’ Wasabi Green option.
Links with the larger models abound. Indeed, the dual clutch S tronic semi-auto is the only DSG-style gearbox offered in the small car segment. Technical leadership that Audi is driving initially on the 1.4 TFSI engine, but will bring to other variants in time.
Audi dealers can also tempt customers with keyless go, 465-watt Bose stereo with 10 channels, 14 speakers and 5.1 surround sound, LED interior lighting tech and no end of other pricey but sweetshop-tempting treats.
‘Customisation is regarded as highly important within the A0 segment,’ says Audi. ‘The A1 will embrace the customer desire to customise in a premium way.’ Audi reckons the Sport is the most customisable trim line with six ‘packs’ to choose from, plus all the regular options.
All UK launch trims – SE, Sport and S line – get a pop-up 6.5-inch screen in the dashtop as standard, six speakers, air conditioning and iPod connection. The screen really is ‘pop-up’ – you press it with a finger to make it open and close – and a nice feature. But to properly impress you’ll have to spec the MMI+ navigation system, straight out of the latest range-topping Audi A8.
It will be available with a choice of 86bhp 1.2-litre TFSI turbo petrol, 122bhp 1.4-litre TFSI turbo petrol or 105bhp 1.6-litre TDI turbodiesel, all with stop-start. The cheapest, that tiny turbo petrol, is smooth but slow. Indeed, most buyers are expected to opt for the diesel. With an additional 89Nm of torque – 249Nm compare to 159Nm – this is much more immediate and muscular; relaxed both around and out of town.
Sound levels are well controlled on the inside – as they are on all Audi A1s – and with its smooth-revving nature you lose nothing from the everyday driving experience. The extra engine weight does, however, mildly blunt the cornering performance.
For a more spirited drive, there’s always the 1.4 turbo petrol. Complete with a six-speed manual as standard (the others only get a five-speeder), this is one try-hard little turbo with enough on-the-move shove to give much larger cars a surprise.
Even so, none of the engines really set our spirits flowing, and it’s a similar story with the handling. Mini offers the genuinely sporty choice in this sector, just as BMW does for its larger cars. The A1, in contrast, seems lead footed and uninspired. There’s no infectious nippiness, no sharp sprightliness about the steering, nothing to really get you wired.
It’s thoroughly competent, of course, but just a bit soft with it. The ride, however, is good, and the handling is secure and stable in all situations. Audi even fits a clever electronic limited-slip differential, which works well under duress.
Low weight, start-stop, brake energy recuperation, direct injection and turbocharging make the Audi A1 one clean, green supermini. In fact, it goes straight to the top of the premium compact hatchback class.
The petrol 1.2 has the lowest CO2 emissions in the sector, while the 1.4 TFSI is lowest-CO2 in its sector. All three boasting the best RVs in the class. CAP says 56 per cent after three years. Mini? 48 per cent. Alfa Romeo MiTo? 44 per cent…
Yes, the A1 is an Audi. A statement of the obvious but also an almost perfect explanation and conclusion: Audis are brilliantly built, good to look at, and high technology capable, but most of them are ultimately disappointing to drive.
There is plenty to admire about this new product – and for time it’s sure to become the must-have urban centre ride. The A1 is a comprehensively accomplished all-rounder, but ultimately we can’t see it stealing Mini’s funster crown.
The Mini has such character, which infuses everything from the driving experience to its appearance inside and out; the A1 seems certain to appeal to Audi aspirations, but leaves our emotional driving enthusiasm just too cold.
Still, the A1 is more practical, even more premium, highly efficient and blessed with a top quality badge. Audi are going to sell an absolute shed load, and if you haven’t joined the queue already we suspect you’ll be at the back of a
very long line.
by CJ Hubbard