Audi has hit a massive vein of form recently. Global sales have gone through the roof, with each month seemingly better than the last – something my mailbox can attest to, having been bombarded with boastful emails on a regular basis.
Time then for the brand to dip their hand into a market they haven’t contested since the early nineties, when the overpriced, hideous A2 was revealed. Their offering now comes in the form of the A1, which is largely based on the underpinnings of the VW Polo – which let’s be honest is a good start.
You’d imagine (and hope) that with the vehicles slogan being “Concentrated Vorsprung durch Technik” there would be a few technical revolutions that add a special Audi-edge to the simple foundations.
So what separates the A1 from being no more than a Polo in a fancy frock? Let’s start with the frock. There’s nothing overly imaginative about the design, it’s restrained in a typically Audi way. Most manufacturers of small hatch backs make them kind of whacky looking, funky they call it. Not Audi. The A1 is more elegant and grown up, which in this case is actually a breath of fresh air.
Short overhangs, the prominent bonnet and the smooth slope of the rear hatch frame the body’s compact shape. Of course the A1 makes use of Audi’s trademark front headlights, while the new three-dimensional treatment of the tail lights looks neat.
My test car was powered by the 1.4 TFSI motor, which produces 90 kW. That really doesn’t sound a lot, but trust me in a car that weighs just 1.1 tons the little A1 offers plenty grunt.
Power is delivered to the front wheels via Audi/VW’s renowned 7 speed automatic DSG gearbox. I’ve never experienced the technology before, however unlike many I wasn’t terribly impressed. There was little that separated the gear change from any of Audi’s normal automatics. Furthermore linking 7 gear ratios to a 1.4 litre engine, no matter how much power it produces, just comes across as over kill.
This said it’s still a wildly entertaining car to be behind the wheel of. Motor enthusiasts, especially the older variety, rattle on about the “go-kart” characteristics of the Mini (old and new). They clearly haven’t been at the wheel of an A1. If I’m honest the Cooper has nothing on this mini Audi. It handles like a house fly that just sat on some horseradish.
Now for the main event, the A1’s interior. The clean, clear control layout is just as much a classic Audi trademark as the high level of fit and finish, while the attention lavished on every detail underscores the premium character of the A1. It’s a marvellous place to sit and far outweighs the competition in every aspect.
What really stands out is how refined everything looks and feels – nothing is made from cheap, scratchy plastic. The layout has clearly been thought through with a typical sense of German efficiency, as nothing is out of place, or poorly positioned.
The range of infotainment and multimedia systems on offer is drawn directly from Audi’s luxury class. For instance, the top-of-the-line Multi Media Interface navigation plus system is a media centre that sets new standards in the compact segment. It borrows from the system used in Audi’s A8 flagship, including a monitor that folds out from the instrument panel and one of those iDrive inspired control units.
As usual with Audi, you are afforded very little of this equipment as standard. The optional 465 watt Bose surround sound system is just one example of the high-end options available on the list. And the list goes on seemingly forever and it will all cost you a small fortune. But then again Audi’s argument has always been this; you get what you pay for.
What you, the consumer, have to consider is the list of alternatives in the price bracket – Alfa Romeo’s MiTo or Guiletta, a Citroen DS3, Fiat 500, BMW’s 1 series, Honda CRz and interestingly enough an Audi A3, and that’s not even the end of it. It’s a tough market Audi have dipped their toe into here – only time will tell if their chosen niche will pay off.
Price: R 270,500
Engine: 1390cc 4 cylinder turbocharged
Power: 90 kW
Torque: 200 Nm
Acceleration (0-100 km/h): 8.9
Top speed (km/h): 203
Fuel consumption (l/100km): 5.2 (claimed)