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Audi A1 review (2010 onwards)
What - Audi A1
Where - Berlin, Germany
Date - June 2010
Price - £13,145 - £18,280
Available - On sale now, arrives in dealers this November
Key rivals - Mini, Citroen DS3, Alfa Romeo MiTo, Volkswagen Polo, Ford Fiesta, SEAT Ibiza Bocanegra
Summary - Audi takes aim at Mini with the all-new A1. But is classy design and engine efficiency enough to make supermini buyers think twice?
We like: looks fabulous, top quality finish, intriguing options, highly efficient
We don't like: we wish it were better to drive, 1.2 slow, S line lumpy ride
The more we look at the Audi A1, the more we like what we see. This is no ordinary hatchback - just check the way the roofline falls short of the connecting with the trailing edge of the car.
It's more like a miniature coupé. The muscular shoulderline, the clamshell bonnet and bootlid, the way the rear lights stand proud of the back panel, the rising crease through the bottom of the door - it all smacks of premium design quality.
We hardly need explain that the A1 is Audi's answer to the Mini - sales of this new supermini are going so well it's set to become Ingolstadt's fastest selling model. And that's before anyone had even driven it.
Promising every existing Audi brand asset, only in a 'more concentrated' package, plenty of you will have already decided this car is a sub-four-metre slice of pure class.
But does it really represent a level-headed choice as an alternative to the ultra successful Mini? Well, that all depends what you want from your car.
When the Audi A1 reaches UK dealerships - which, we should warn you, isn't until November - it will be available with a choice of 86hp 1.2-litre TFSI turbo petrol, 122hp 1.4-litre TFSI turbo petrol or 105hp 1.6-litre TDI turbodiesel.
We're sure there's a good reason why Audi isn't using the 105hp version of the 1.2 already available in the Volkswagen Polo, but even with the lowest kerbweight of any premium supermini, this variant of the A1 just feels slow.
Most buyers are expected to opt for the diesel. With an additional 66lb ft of torque - 184 lb ft compare to 118 - 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 loose 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 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.
Pairing this with its optional seven-speed S tronic twin-clutch semi-auto transmission rather blunts the motor's lively playfulness, but delivers one exceptionally fuss-free driving experience - particularly the way it integrates the start-stop system.
Every A1 is fitted with start-stop as standard, but where you have to knock the manuals into neutral, with the DSG you can simply hold the car on the brake and it will cut the engine, even with the 'box set to Drive.
Road noise and wind noise are all but irrelevant - serious autobahn speeds barely raise an eyebrow unless you've gone with seriously big wheels - but we did experience some strange harmonics at times; perhaps an early production issue.
Ride and Handling
Competent though they are, none of these engines exactly set our hearts on fire - even if the 1.4 manual certainly plenty of spirit - and it's a similar story with the A1's chassis.
Audi says it set out with sporty in mind. But it always says that, and only rarely truly delivers. If you want your premium supermini to be super fun don't stop here - head straight for a Mini showroom. Or consider the Citroen DS3.
Where a Mini feels instantly alive and frisky and willing, the A1 seems lead footed and uninspired. There's no infectious nippiness, no sharp sprightliness about the steering, nothing to really get you wired.
This isn't to say the A1 is terrible - far from it. But like most Audis it feels more synthetic than truly engaging, with soft fuzzy turn in and an imprecision about the body control when cornering hard.
On the plus side the A1 is hardly demanding. The electronic limited slip differential software imbedded within the ESP - Audi's equivalent to Volkswagen's XDS - means you've got to try hard to really cock-up a corner.
The A1 is stable, and it hangs on well, while the ride quality is generally more forgiving than Mini's. Watch out for the larger wheels and stiffer suspension options, however, which may prove nuggety and unsettled in the UK.
Interior and Equipment
Still, it looks good, right? So what about the inside? Audi claims this is supposed to be the really exciting bit, with a dash design influenced by aircraft wings, turbine air vents and a centre console modelled after 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.
Part of the inevitable customisation regime, which will in time extend to exterior graphic packs to compliment the colour variable roof rails, these highlights are beautifully made, and enhance the cabin to your personal preference. Just be wary of the Wasabi Green...
The turbine vents look and feel great, each controlled by the chrome knob in their centre. 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.
Then there's the Bose 5:1 surround sound upgrade, which offers not just 465 watts, not just LED-lit woofers, but a mammoth total of 14 individual speakers. Superminis have surely never sounded so good.
Various upholstery options abound - we particularly like the houndstooth check - and you'll be glad to know there's more rear passenger space here than in a Mini. A worthy feat, but Audi would have been hard pressed to do worse.
Economy and Safety
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 1.2 does 0-62mph in 11.7 seconds, hits 112mph, returns 55.4mpg and emits 118g/km CO2; the 1.4 almost matches the eco figures - 54.3mpg, 119g/km CO2 - while making 0-62 in 8.9 and hitting 126mph.
The diesel does 0-62 in 10.5 and 118mph, yet offers 105g/km CO2 and 70.6mpg; a less powerful 90hp 1.6 TDI in Europe is a 99g/km car - Audi UK is waiting for something even better.
Safety wise there are the usual six airbags and stability control, plus the passive reassurance of the same five Euro NCAP star platform of the latest VW Polo and SEAT Ibiza (the A1 hasn't yet been officially tested).
The MSN Cars Verdict
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 aspirationists, 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.
|Need to know|
|Engines petrol||1.2 TFSI, 1.4 TFSI|
|Engines diesel||1.6 TDI|
|Power hp||86 - 122|
|Torque lb ft||118 - 184|
|0-62 mph secs||8.9 - 11.7|
|Top speed mph||112 - 126|
|Mpg combined||54.3 - 70.6|
|CO2 g/km / Tax %||105 - 119 / 10|
|Ratings out of five||Audi A1 1.6 TDI|
|Ride and handling||***|
|MSN Cars verdict||****|
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