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Audi A1 Sportback review (2012 onwards)
What - Audi A1 Sportback
Where - Girona, Spain
Price - £13,980 - £21,270
Available - March 2012
Key rivals -Mini Countryman, Citroen DS3, Alfa Romeo MiTo, Volkswagen Polo, Ford Fiesta, SEAT Ibiza
Summary - The Audi A1 has gained two more doors and an extra seat to appeal to small families
We like: superb interior quality, style, contrasting roof, extra space
We don't like: not sharp enough, hard ride on sports suspension, cost can mount up
For all its elegance and quality, the three-door Audi A1 has until now faltered in one crucial area: versatility.
However, from March, your five-door wishes will be met with this new version called the A1 Sportback.
Expected to appeal to young families, the Sportback is six millimetres taller and wider and gains a fifth seat.
Exclusive to the Sportback is a contrasting roof to differentiate it from the 'smaller' A1, as well as a clever new engine that has the ability to shut down two of its four cylinders for super-economical driving.
The Sportback commands a £560 premium, with prices starting at £13,980 and rising to £21,270 before options are applied.
Let's start with that new engine, the 1.4 TFSI turbocharged petrol. It features 'cylinder-on-demand' technology that closes two valves automatically to save fuel when the engine isn't being thrashed.
Apart from a small sound change from the exhaust, the transition is otherwise only noticeable via the trip computer, which informs you when the engine moves to two cylinders.
Should you require the need for extra performance, the two cylinders are reactivated the moment you apply more pressure on the throttle pedal.
When you do call on that performance, you won't be disappointed: with 140hp, it effortlessly gathers pace. The bad news is that this engine won't be available until the summer.
If outright fuel economy is your desire, then for now your best bet is the 1.6 TDI diesel with 105hp and a phenomenal 74.3mpg. It isn't the quickest or quietest engine in the lineup, but with a healthy 184 lb/ft of torque it pulls eagerly from low revs and will get you to the national speed limit in 10.7 seconds.
If you want more pace and better refinement, a 2.0-litre turbodiesel will be available later in the year.
Other petrol engine choices include a 1.2 petrol, which is only recommended if you're on a tight budget, and a 122hp 1.4 TFSI with the choice of manual or S tronic automatic transmissions.
If you prefer a faster pace of life, then the 185hp 1.4 TFSI is the car for you. This turbo and super-charged engine, shared with the Skoda Fabia vRS, Seat Ibiza Cupra and VW Polo GTi, turns the A1 into a proper weapon.
Available with the seven-speed S tronic gearbox only, it flies to 62mph in seven seconds but looks classier than most junior hot hatches.
Ride and handling
Where the A1 Sportback can't match a Mini is in the driving experience. Where a Mini feels nimble, edgy and responsive, the A1 has a more laid-back style. The steering doesn't point the nose in with the same alacrity and nor are you rewarded with a rich layer of feedback. The body is more prone to lean in corners, too.
The engines aren't as inspiring either, but where the A1 does best the Mini is in refinement and quality of ride. Just avoid the sports suspension.
Now we're getting to the really good bit. The A1 Sportback might be at the bottom rung of the Audi ladder, but no shortcuts have been taken in the construction of the interior.
Before you even run a finger over the smooth dash or prod one of the well-damped buttons, your eyes are treated to a quality of finish you just don't expect from a supermini.
Unlike an A3 or A4, however, the interior exudes a youthful air thanks to a customisation programme that allows you to add vibrant colours to the seats and trim.
In addition, the heating controls are the same as those on the R8 supercar, and the sat-nav is incorporated in a screen which rises from the dash. Spec said sat-nav and you can connect to Google Maps from an onboard 3G card for a more detailed view of your location.
The pumping 465-watt Bose surround sound system should surely be a must-tick on the options list? The A1 is otherwise well specced from standard, with all cars receiving the 6.5-inch retractable display and rear electric windows.
Move to the rear and the additional 11mm of headroom and 13mm of shoulder room means it is accommodating... for children. Three adults across the rear bench will be a painful experience.
Economy and safety
Stop-start is fitted to all the A1's engines bar the 185hp hot hatch. The 1.6 diesel is the stand-out engine from a cost perspective, achieving 99g/km (and free road tax) and 74.3mpg combined.
The rest of the range have emissions of less than 126g/km and fuel economy of more than 50mpg, bar the 185hp motor, which achieves a still commendable 47.9mpg and 139g/km of carbon emissions.
The 1.4 with the cylinder shutdown tech should average 60.1mpg and return emissions of 109g/km, making it a great choice for those who want the smoothness of a petrol engine with the fuel economy of a diesel.
MSN Cars verdict
The A1 Sportback opens up mini-Audi motoring to more people thanks to the addition of two more doors and an extra seat. Compared with rivals, it is expensive, but this is a quality product. Audi reckons it will appeal to first time buyers, but I think many sales will come from people wanting to downsize and not lose out on a quality experience.
|Need to know||1.4 TFSI cylinder-on-demand|
|Engines, petrol||1.4 turbocharged|
|Top speed, mph||132|
|Ratings out of five|
|Ride & handling||****|
|Price||tbc (for 1.4 TFSI COD)|
|MSN Cars verdict||****|
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