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Audi A1 quattro prototype review
What - Audi A1 2.0-litre TFSI quattro prototype
Where - Audi secret test facility, Sweden
Date - March 2011
Price - £TBA
Available - Early 2012
Summary - We drove a concept A1 quattro in Canada at the beginning of this year, but that was a 1.4-litre TFSI. Now we've got our hands on the 2.0-litre TFSI quattro prototype, which is all set to be the first of the all-wheel-drive A1s to go on sale.
We like - A tiny bundle of fun with performance and handling to match any hot-hatch. A free spinning engine with a superglue grip all-wheel-drive system just adds to the pleasure.
We don't like - Bland interior and limited cargo space and cramped rear seats.
Audi don't do things in half measures. They bring a car to market and then give it every type of conceivable permutation to ensure it'll appeal to as many people as possible. So we shouldn't be too surprised to learn that they are about to unleash a version of the A1 that will have boy racers of all ages biting the back of their hands with delight.
From the outset it doesn't appear that different from its smaller, less powerful siblings. It has all the usual cabin refinements and build quality we've come to expect from Audi, yet when it's given the full-beans this supermini takes on a whole new persona. No more is it the thinking man's rival for the likes of the MINI, no siree, it's now become all wanton with a faint whiff of psychosis.
In essence, what Audi has done is transform the A1 into the automotive version of Charles Manson, waiting to wreak havoc wherever it goes. The quattro just adds to the fun - and then there's the noise which is expelled from the exhaust pipe. Nothing this small, or this refined, should have a roar so loud it can frighten sleeping children into peeing themselves.
The 2.0-litre petrol is the same 208bhp turbocharged unit that's used across Audi's range. It is a peach of an engine, rasping and snarling to its power peak and in our car this was coupled to a six-speed manual transmission.
No figures have been released, but Audi has said unofficially that a 0-62mph time of 5.9 seconds is possible - a full second faster than a Golf GTI - and top speed will be electronically limited to 155mph.
Ride and handling
It uses the same Haldex all-wheel-drive quattro system found in the TT and the hotter TT-RS, so we knew how well it worked before we even drove it, but in this smaller car, it proved to be even more fun. Power and torque is swapped 100% from front to rear instantly and keeps the A1 exactly where it has been pointed.
Our session to drive this car was on a frozen lake at Audi's very secret test facility somewhere in Sweden (seriously, that's as much as we can tell you) and at no time did it ever feel out of control. Even when we turned off the electronic safety nannies it just danced over the ice as if it were a full-pedigree rally car.
The ride is expectedly firm, with shocks up-rated to match the A1's new performance (the Audi engineers were keen to stress the suspension setup still hasn't been finalised), yet it's not so harsh that you feel your vertebra fusing together if a speed hump is taken with too much verve.
There are few surprises within the cabin. It's the same layout as the rest of the A1 range: the back is a bit cramped for adults and the cargo area is not exactly voluminous and, if we're being really, really truthful, the interior can be a little dull.
So, Audi, if you happen to be reading this, on the full production model; please include a few touches to remind the driver this is no ordinary A1.
Economy and safety
Because this is still at the prototype stage we have to wait for official figures to be published, but from talking to the engineers we gathered they are working towards it returning an average of at least 40mpg and hope it won't spew out much more than 180g/km of CO2 emissions.
Also, expect to see a full range of safety acronyms - ABS, EBS etc - included in the finished product.
The MSN Cars verdict
Putting such a large engine into the A1 doesn't seem like overkill. Despite its supermini dimensions, the quattro system ensures that the A1 has the grip to match the power.
What's more, Audi has retained perhaps the A1's biggest asset - its 'big car' refinement. But now it has the performance to worry larger rivals too.
|Need to know|
|0-62 mph, secs||5.9|
|Top speed, mph||155 (limited)|
|Mpg combined||40 (estimated)|
|Ratings||Audi A1 2.0-litre TFSI quattro prototype|
|Ride & handling||****|
|MSN Cars verdict||****|
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